The following is a Christian Work Project sponsored in part by a grant from the Boston Baptist Social Union.
Interfaith Youth Initiative (IFYI)
Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries (CMM) is the greater Boston area's oldest interfaith social justice network of congregations, with approximately 70 member congregations (including several American Baptist churches such as First Baptist, Myrtle Baptist in Newton and First Baptist in Lexington) as well as numerous partner agencies. CMM was founded during the Civil Rights Movement by Massachusetts clergy concerned for social and racial justice. Since 1966, CMM has remained faithful to its mission: "to mobilize congregations and communities across economic, religious, racial, and ethnic boundaries so that, in partnership, we may work more effectively for a just society."
As described in the cover letter above, CMM's Interfaith Youth Initiative is a powerful expression of our organization's mission to care for the most vulnerable and to support the next generation of faithful leaders. IFYI is also a natural outgrowth of a highly successful program called the Faith Youth Institute, which was founded from 2001-2007 by the Lilly Endowment and Boston Baptist Social Union and held at Andover Newton Theological School. (CMM'S current Executive Director, Alexander Levering Kern, also directed this program. ) CMM'S IFYI program is now working in partnership with other Christian bodies including the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS)and the Eliot Church of Newton (where CMM'S offices are housed), and with new partners in the Brandeis Interfaith Chaplaincy and Harvard University's Pluralism Project. IFYI is a year-round program of theological education, interfaith leadership development and peacemaker training for high schools college, and seminary students. It now focuses on five core areas of engagement: Building Bridges, Training Leaders, Engaging Faith, Serving Others, and Making Peace. Youth and young adult participants are recruited from local seminaries and from CMM's member congregations in the Boston area and from across the region. The program emphasizes theological education, leadership development, spiritual formation, vocational discernment, community building, interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue, constructive action for peace and justice, and direct service to others.
Need & Response
There is a tremendous need for the kind of leadership development that the IFYI program offers. Violence, poverty, and bigotry in our communities devastate youths taking away their sense of safety, hope and even faith. Violence in the Middle East and around the world fuels hostility and mistrust between people of faith at home and abroad. Local economic realities make it difficult for youth to stay employed during the summer, to find the resources they need to attend college, or to believe that there could be a viable alternative to gang membership, drugs and violence. In our communities of faith, young people too often are either absent or marginally involved, coping with crises of meaning and purpose without the rich spiritual resources that religion can offer, and navigating the complex challenges of religious pluralism on their own.
In the midst of these pressing concerns, we as people of faith must mentor and train a new generation of spiritually grounded leaders. Our communities need young clergy and lay leaders who are confident in their own ability to make a difference in the world, who can lead by example, and who can articulate a new vision of what the world might become.
The IFYI program is addressing these needs, helping young people develop skills for leadership in an intentionally multi-cultural and multi-faith setting. CMM believes that by teaching young people how to reconcile and combine their faith and their commitment to the greater good, we will be providing our communities with emerging leaders who can offer the hope, healing and vision we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
Specific Program Goals
To help participants develop a confident and effective leadership style, empower them as valued leaders in their communities,
* To offer training in peacemaking, leadership, conflict resolution, and theological reflection skills;
* To teach cross-cultural/interfaith respect and understanding;
* To provide educational opportunities which emphasize the positive role communities of faith can play in our society, and introduce youth to community leaders through visits to Boston area places of worship and faith-based nonprofit agencies;
* To engage youth and young adults in volunteer service learning, and encourage them to become "citizen leaders for the 21st century;"
* To train seminarians and graduate students to be effective educators in interfaith and multicultural settings; to encourage interested younger people to explore the possibility of pursuing seminary, divinity school, or rabbinical school training.
Specific Steps and Time Frames
The IFYI program has several components, including staff recruitment and training retreats, an eight-day residential summer institute, retreats during the year (for example, at Myrtle Baptist in February 2009), year-round educational opportunities, one-on-one centering for youth, direct service volunteer projects (including a major Spring Day of Interfaith Youth Service for Greater Boston, scheduled this year for March 29), online spiritual community through a list serve and Facebook, and creative arts/multi-media projects.
In terms of specific steps in the CMM IFYI work plan for the timeframe of April 1, 2009 - March 31, 2010, we will recruit youth and seminarians; design and implement the program; continue to fundraise; design service trips and retreats; offer centering, college and graduate school recommendation letters; launch and maintain an online journal; and involve teens and seminarians in the wider work of their schools, congregations, and CMM.
Evaluation and Modifications
By all measures, IFYI 2008, with the help of the BBSU, was an extraordinary success. The Summer Institute represented a huge step forward in IFYI's growth as a program. As mentioned above, we achieved record-breaking attendance and diversity from youth, college and seminary students. We were astonished at the demand for the program among each target population.
The summer institute is an eight-day (overnight) experience organized around daily workshops on social justice, along with outlets for conscious creative expression and public social justice witness. In 2008, our college students, graduate students, and seminarians again received significant opportunities to develop their leadership skills. In addition to daily workshops, gatherings, and prayer times, participants joined in field trips to congregations off campus, the group participated in service learning at worthy sites such as Cradles to Crayons and the Prison Book Project designed and lead a peace walk (an extraordinary experience this year in Harvard Square), and collectively created a multi-media performance, the Celebration of transformation, as the communal capstone of-the weeklong experience.
CMM's new partnership with Episcopal Divinity School as a seminary setting is strengthening our ability to offer theological education for youth participants, seminarians and college students. Our 2008 summer institute on the campus of EDS allowed youth to take advantage of the excellent resources of the seminary as well as the cultural resources in Harvard Square and surrounding areas in Cambridge. EDS faculty and staff helped lead the program, serving as workshop leaders and presenters.
We are pleased to report that IFYI is gaining wider recognition and exposure in greater Boston. Since 2007 three Boston Globe articles have focused on CMM and IFYI's work. Public events in the summer and year-round have showcased the work of IFYI participants, and educated our communities about the important needs and experiences of seminarians, young religious leaders, and youth.
We have begun to identify IFYI's "niche" within the wider ecology of faith-based youth and young adult programs. Other excellent youth programs focus exclusively on "at-risk youth" in their home communities or, alternately, engage interfaith issues in rural camp contexts. IFYI is pioneering a new model of youth empowerment and leadership development: housed in an urban setting, partnering with congregations and higher educational institutions, and bringing together largely low to moderate income teens with peers from other class backgrounds. If this past summer was any indication, IFYI is singularly interdisciplinary and innovative in its curriculum. The dynamic IFYI model emphasizes personal healing and spiritual growth, vocational discernment, service learning, the arts as a means of expressing faith and social changes deep theological reflection, concrete peacemaker skill-building workshops and visible collective public action around issues of violence impacting youth and their communities. There are no other venues in greater Boston where young people can touch the depths of these riches in one integrated immersion experience.
In addition to learning new things about youth violence and inter-group relations, this year we also came face to face with the depth of financial need in the program. While many come from middle class backgrounds, the overwhelming majority of our teen participants require significant scholarship assistance to participate in the program, even on a sliding scale from $0-750.
Moving forward past the summer institute, CMM helped to launch the Boston Interfaith Mural Project, bringing together 15 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim teens to create public art together and learn about their differences and similarities. This extraordinary new program, cosponsored by the Muslim American Society, Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, the Center for Jewish-Muslim Relations, the A1 Huda Society, and Art Builds Community (ABC) was an amazing experience for all involved, meeting for 6-8 weeks this fall and winter at the West End House in Allston.
IFYI teens also participated in the nonpartisan CMM Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner, following the US Presidential Election, on the theme "Creating Change Together: Faith and the Justice Agenda." Here they learned from religious and civic leaders about putting their faith into action to build safer, healthier, and more sustainable communities.
In February, we held an extraordinary retreat at Myrtle Baptist Church in Newton, with excellent attendance from summer participants. We are launching an online journal of spiritual writing from young people, religious leaders and other authors called Speak to Exist: Religion and Culture, Justice anyplace. (The title is taken from Genesis 1, where God speaks creation into existence, and recognizes that as people of faith we too are called to create the world anew as God would have it.) On March 29, we will again organize the Greater Boston Day of Interfaith Youth Service and Civic Engagement. IFYI continues to mentor youth regarding succeeding in school, pursuing higher education, and, funding permitting, implementing leadership projects in their neighborhoods. We also hope our teens will participate in the Boston Mother's Day Walk for Peace, and we plan in the future to dedicate a memorial stone for Amada Cann's mother, Beth Cann, in the Garden of Peace Memorial for Homicide Victims in downtown Boston.
Each of these is a sign of the growth of IFYI. None is possible without the prayers and financial support of friends like the Boston Baptist Social Union.
As we move forward. we will continue to evaluate our success and make modifications to the program based on the following:
a. Extensive participant and staff evaluations (available upon request)
b. The size and diversity of our application pool, growing significantly each year
c. Our ability to build trust and respect and resolve conflict in an increasingly diverse group
d. The growing numbers of returning participants and younger siblings joining the program
e. Our capacity to provide year round assistance to participants through centering, referrals, references, etc.
f. The expansion of in youth-designed leadership efforts in their home communities
g. Improvement in academic or vocational performance (i.e. pursuit of higher education, completion of vocational certificates or GED, and graduation from high school or college). All IFYI teens of appropriate age have graduated from high school, and most are pursuing college.
h. The needs of our communities and youth, the discernment of our Board, the availability of funding, and most importantly, our sense of where God is leading us as a community.
Looking Ahead: Summer 2009 and Beyond
We look forward to our July 2009 summer institute on the theme "Doing Justice, Being Peace," scheduled for July 12-19, and we are actively seeking teen participants, seminary and college students to serve as staff, and funding for the program. This work will not be possible without the ongoing support of the Boston Baptist Social Union, and we invite you to nominate teens, college students, and seminarians to join us.
Our program's vision and measurable outcomes are unparalleled, yet our funding resources for this mission are relatively modest. We know that the demand and need for an IFYI experience among youth and young adults is huge. The hunger for authentic community, leadership training, and spiritual growth is endless, as is the need for safe, structured summer environments.
In 2008, the IFYI summer institute drew over 60 youth and young adult staff participants, with representatives from, among others, the American Baptist and National Baptist (African American Baptist) traditions, Freedom House in Roxbury, the UCC, Andover Newton Theological School, Episcopal Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, the Muslim and Jewish community in Greater Boston, and even two members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Nearly 100 people participated in our April 2008 Day of Interfaith Youth Service in Greater Boston, remembering the 40th anniversary of Dr King's death. Hundreds of audience members have been moved by the presentations of IFYI youth and young adults in two major CMM events. Thousands have been served by the work of CMM in calling for funding for youth violence prevention programs. Hundreds have been served through our young people's volunteer efforts.
IFYI aspires to be an authentically multicultural, cross-class, and interfaith community, and expects to grow, insofar as budget and program scope will allow. Participants include many youth from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, communities of color, low income and new immigrant communities. Each year we attract significant numbers of youth directly affected by family hopelessness, gun violence, and domestic abuse and neglect. This year was no exception.
Specifically, those we served in the summer 2008 institute include:
Youth: Last year the program served 43 youth, an incredible increase over the 27 youth in 2007. Youth ranged in age from 15-18, and came largely from the Greater Boston area and New England. The majority of teens were people of color, and many were low-income, requiring significant scholarship assistance. Each year, we are finding that IFYI is increasingly, intentionally, and exceptionally diverse for an interfaith program based in New England. For example, among teen participants in this year's summer institute were 18 African American participants, 1 Asian, 3 Latino/a, and 1 Middle Eastern. Nations represented in the 2008 IFYI community (from new immigrant and/or adoptive households) included Haiti, Liberia, Belize, Jamaica, Peru, Costa Rica, Israel, Pakistan, Morocco, Cambodia, South Korea, and Sudan.
Seminarians and Young Religious Leaders Serving as Mentors: This group was mostly comprised of Andover Newton, Harvard Divinity School, and Episcopal Divinity School students and recent alumni/an. Most were young adults in their twenties and thirties. The group included African American, Belizean, and Pakistani leadership. All receive a modest stipend for this experience of ministry training, service, and exhausting work. None would be able to participate as volunteers, given their educational expenses and family needs. Most are making a considerable financial sacrifice to participate as staff.
College Interns: With seven wonderful college interns in summer 2008 (an increase over three in 2007), IFYI expects to continue in this direction, building and maintaining relationships with former program participants as they move into college, and providing these leaders with dynamic experiences of learning and growth.
Homelessness and Other Urban Ministry Agencies: Members of the homeless and economically disadvantaged communities the program serves include the many hundreds served by Haley House, the Prison Book Project, Pilgrim Church in Uphams Corner, Cradles to Crayons, and many others.
Congregations: Another community served through IFYI has been clergy, religious educators, youth directors, families, and churches who send IFYI teens and seminarians. Over the years, FYI and now IFYI have served hundreds of churches in the Greater Boston and New England areas. Congregations benefit from the leadership training, spiritual growth, and vocational discernment that IFYI offers their youth, and IFYI participants return to their home communities as "servant leaders" with new ministry skills, and new vision, dreams, confidence, and clarity about their vocational and church commitments.