Website: https://interfaithaction.org/category/youthconnection, https://tcinterfaithyouth.wordpress.com/about/
The Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition, a collaboration of the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and the Islamic Civic Society of America, creates spaces for religiously diverse youth in the Twin Cities area to build bridges across religious and other barriers that divide, investing in and equipping youth as leaders and change-makers.
The Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition (IYLC), founded in 2006, is a collaborative effort between local and national interfaith organizations with a focus on youth leadership. The Saint Paul Area Council of Churches (SPACC) founded IYLC in partnership with “Inspired to Serve,” a national pilot program by the Interfaith Youth Core and the Search Institute. The fledgling IYLC quickly found its niche, growing both in partnerships and acclaim. IYLC had added a second partner in 2008; the Jewish Community Relations Council brought to the relationship additional support for IYLC’s evolving interfaith youth leadership programs.
IYLC’s commitment to youth leadership is paramount. With supervision from IYLC’s Director Meghan Paul-Cook, an interfaith group of twenty to thirty multifaith teens (the “Youth Leadership Team”) plan, execute, and facilitate the majority of IYLC’s programs, including IYLC’s most popular event, the annual Interfaith Youth Day of Service. The Interfaith Youth Day of Service regularly draws over three hundred local youth to spend a day doing interfaith service work throughout the Twin Cities. The Youth Leadership Team also organizes video projects, interfaith community gardening service events, interfaith teaching sessions for local youth groups and congregations, and workshops to foster leadership skills and training. Together with Paul-Cook, the teens work together to nurture interfaith understanding, reduce prejudice and misunderstanding, and act together on common values through service and justice to transform their worlds. In the process, these young people are empowered to be capable interfaith leaders, both within their own communities and beyond.
IYLC attracts a variety of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Unitarian, Baha’i, and secular youth, as well as school groups who represent a variety of neighborhoods, socioeconomic classes, genders, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. IYLC’s programmatic reach extends throughout Saint Paul and the Twin Cities metropolitan area and its participants reflect the religious and ethnic diversity of the Twin Cities at large. In this way, IYLC produces citizens “who are not afraid of other people, or people that are different than them… everyone who has a leadership role in our community has to see people from different areas, and if they already have that [interfaith] background, then they are already accepting and understanding,” says Isabel, a former Youth Leadership Team member and 2011 IYLC intern. “It’s better for the whole society.”
The central goal of equipping youth leaders for today as well as building interfaith leaders of tomorrow remains consistent throughout IYLC’s programming. “I think a really important part of this is that we’re building up that next generation of leaders,” says Paul-Cook, “and we’re giving them experiences to act as leaders now.” “We want to be shaping leaders who are concerned about interfaith activity and interfaith dialogue,” adds Rachel, a 2011 IYLC intern and member of an IYLC partner TVbyGirls. “[These young people] will hopefully rise up and be politicians and religious leaders in the future.” As perennial funding challenges to IYLC’s popular programs loom, Paul-Cook and IYLC teens remind themselves that the success of interfaith youth work is often measured not by quantity but by quality. Indeed, IYLC has been recognized for their quality work; in 2009, the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Faith-Based and Community Service Initiatives awarded IYLC a “Best Practices Award,” while the national Interfaith Youth Core awarded the group the inaugural “Bridge Builders Community Award.”
At the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition, empowering youth leadership, engaging local diversity, and equipping youth for the present and future is at the heart of both their work and their success.