Project Interfaith closed its doors in February 2015. The website, RavelUnravel.com is not currently active. Other Project Interfaith resources are now hosted by WorldFaith.org.
“Relationships are at the heart of who we are and what we do.” Beth Katz, the founder and executive director of Project Interfaith, explains that this core value guides their partnerships, programs, and use of social media. Some 35 partnerships, including business and arts organizations, in addition to traditional partners, enable Project Interfaith to engage a broader audience in interfaith work. Innovative programs, such as speed-dialoging events and educator open houses, help to maintain interest and engagement. Social and digital media, such as the Interfaith Youth Service Project Videos, serve to expand the organization’s impact. Katz notes that, “we really do believe that we are a stronger, better organization when we have more people involved and feeling some ownership of what we’re doing.” She adds that this “ownership” is what is going to make Project Interfaith part of a “sustainable movement.” Today, the Omaha-based Project Interfaith is emerging as a national leader, in part through their creative use of digital and social media.
Project Interfaith began using social media, Katz explains, “because it was free.” From Twitter to Flikr, Facebook to YouTube, Project Interfaith utilizes media as a tool for relationship-building and education. This is most evident, perhaps, in the RavelUnravel Project (initially known as the Community Mosaic Video Project). Launched in September 2010, a group of 35 diverse volunteers ranging in age from 20 to 80 years old, set out with the goal of “Telling Omaha’s Story, One Story at a Time.” Volunteers were paired up, given a flip-cam, and provided with a set of questions: “How do you identify yourself spiritually and why? What is a stereotype that impacts you based on your religious and spiritual identity? And how welcoming do you find our community for your religious or spiritual path?” At the end, they would encourage open-ended reflection and storytelling. The strength of RavelUnravel is not merely the product — an interactive website featuring the edited video clips of 720 Omaha area residents along with a variety of educational resources — but the process. Katz recalls that when they put out a call for interviewers, one of the applicants was a young mother who indicated that she had a fear of Muslims and a concern about religious diversity, but wanted to learn more. She was paired with a Muslim participant. The two young women worked together closely, conducting interviews at the Hindu Temple and other sites, and became friends. Katz added, “It just sort of organically happened. And from that relationship, they were really able to address each other’s concerns and to really hear each other and to grow through this process.”
Through the video project, people in Omaha came together in conversation in new ways, and at new places. Interview teams visited businesses, community centers, and different places of worship in Omaha, including the Nebraska Zen Center Heartland Temple, the Islamic Center of Omaha, and with different community groups such as Omaha Atheists. They also held open houses where people could drop-in for an interview. Katz reports that the response to the project was so positive that the interview period was extended by three months to accommodate all of those interested in telling their stories. Now, Omaha’s story, in more than 720 videos, will be accessible online in April 2012. The site (ravelunravel.com) will also feature academic resources on major world faiths and identity groups, links to social media to facilitate further conversation, and four discussion guides for dialogue and self-reflection. Users will also have the opportunity to select and share their favorite video interviews as well as have the chance to upload their own video answering the interview questions about their own community. Katz, a young and dynamic interfaith leader, adds: “…we’re really excited about it. We think it’s going to be something very different than anything that’s been done before.”
When Katz started Project Interfaith in 2005, she thought to herself that if interfaith efforts could be successful in Omaha, “…people would say, ‘Oh my God. This is happening in Omaha, Nebraska! This can happen anywhere.’” Katz adds, “And that’s exactly what we need. Because for this to really be a sustainable movement, it has to happen everywhere.”