This profile was last updated in 2006
A Project is Brewing
In July 2001, Allison Fromm was helping to plan a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt which would be presented the following spring by the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (BACH). A soprano and new board member, Fromm hosted a summer barbeque with Music Director Chester Alwes and a few friends to discuss the possibility of bringing the community together through the story of Israel in Egypt. Just as the Hebrew Bible story of the exodus in Handel’s piece resonated with her own tradition of Judaism, Fromm realized that this crucial story of slavery and freedom would also appeal to people of other religious traditions, such as Christian and Muslim groups, as well as other ethnic groups in the area, namely the African-American community. (1) The performance was not at a theater or a church; rather, it took place in a shopping mall in order to be more open and less intimidating to the public.
From Exodus to Job to Whirlwind
The Project picked a new theme for 2003, the book of Job. In trying to make sense of the events of September 11th, the planners chose a biblical book that explored how impossible it is to justify reasons for evil and human suffering in the world. In the book of Job, God speaks to Job from a whirlwind. In light of this reference, the Project board decided to change the Project’s name from the Exodus Project to the Whirlwind Project. A year later, they discussed whether to keep the name and decided that the idea of a whirlwind spoke to more than just Job. It is like the whirlwind of people’s lives, and the energy that stirs people together. (5)
The Next Two Years
The 2004 theme of the Whirlwind Project was an exploration in different forms of meditation. Activities included concerts, poetry readings, interfaith meditations and experiential workshops. In 2005, the Project shifted gears again, and came up with the concept of ‘Chaos-Creation-Creativity,’ a theme that would explore creation stories in many different faiths. The opening international potluck dinner brought in creation storytellers from Hebrew, Muslim, Native American, African, and Hindu traditions. (8) There was also an array of concerts, exhibitions, festivals, and literary readings.
A Whirlwind of Activities in 2006
The board of the Whirlwind Project wanted to branch out more into the Champaign-Urbana community in 2006, and consequently came up with a theme titled ‘The Art of Being Neighbors.’ This theme has opened the project up to a wider variety of community members, especially to families and people from eastern cultures and traditions. New events and programs have been formed, and are described in detail on the Project’s website. (9) Activities include bread-baking workshops where participants learn about different cultures through baking; a bread/exchange to allow community members to share stories and food; a writing activity that invites young writers and creative writers to share poetry and prose investigating the theme of neighbors; a block party so that the four families receiving homes through Habitat’s Home Builders Blitz 2006 can meet their new neighbors; and a community concert titled ‘Songs of Our Neighbors,’ which will feature the Whirlwind Interfaith Choir.
Only recently has the Whirlwind Project board started to keep track of the number of community members who attend its programs and events. Fromm knows that the block party had 224 people, while the opening concert of the 2006 season had 300 people. The Project’s last poetry reading had a mere 25 people, yet the local TV station covered the reading. (11) Sometimes there are 4 people baking bread in a private kitchen or 20 people congregating at the mosque baking challah, a popular bread in the Jewish faith.
Fromm describes the biggest challenge for the Project simply as time. The volunteer members of the board have duties to other organizations and fulfill other leadership positions, so it is difficult to find time to work on the Project. This also leaves little time to publicize the great public events that the Project offers. Additionally, there is no formalized payroll or staff. However, with the 2006 Art of Being Neighbors theme, the Whirlwind Project has been able to draw in more volunteers and generate more publicity than before. (13)
Hopes for the Future
The Whirlwind Project hopes to carry on its broad based community effort, and would like more people to be informed about the Project and use it as a model for other interfaith initiatives.
Also, the need to continue to build trust in the community and learn more about the customs and traditions of other religions and cultures remains imperative: “The goal [of the Whirlwind Project] is for members of a local community to relate to each other on a human level and to develop greater appreciation for each other’s traditions.” (16) Nevertheless, Fromm expects that the Project is working, and finds personal meaning through its endeavors.
Leadership: All volunteer staff; 12 people on board, broad representation; community leaders run events and programs
Funding: Private funding and donations
Keeping the Faith Radio Program, on air May 14, 2006, March 14, 2004, February 15, 2004:
Letter to the News-Gazette:
Habitat for Humanity Block Party:
1. Phone interview with Allison Fromm. 14 June 2006.
7. “Whirlwind Project Homepage.” Online at http://www.whirlwindproject.org/. Accessed 5 July 2006.
8. “Community United Church of Christ Webpage.” http://www.community-ucc.org/whirlwind/index.html
. Accessed 28 June 2006.
9.”Whirlwind Project Events Page.” Online at http://www.whirlwindproject.org/events.html. Accessed 5 July 2006.
10.Phone interview with Allison Fromm. 14 June 2006.
15. “Whirlwind Project News Page.” Online at http://www.whirlwindproject.org/newsgazette.html/. Accessed 5 July 2006.
16. Phone interview with Allison Fromm. 14 June 2006.