Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

IRSC member Lyla Spath

My IRSC service through the CIC is an ideal AmeriCorps experience. I have an opportunity to meet, serve, and learn from individuals and organizations that I would not have met otherwise. My late grandfather was a minister. He once said that he and Grandma gave to home missions and away missions. Serving in the IRSC is as close as one can get to giving of one’s home and away missions at the same time.

My Experience

Some other IRSC members

  • Counseling services are crucial for Indy’s immigrant community Damaris Franco is serving at Christian Theological Seminary’s counseling center as an AmeriCorps member for the Center for Interfaith Cooperation’s Immigrant and Refugee Service Corps.
  • IRSC member Mussie Zena Immigrant Refugee & Service Corps member Mussie Zena serves at Catholic Charities, where he helps immigrants and refugees with employment appointments and interviews
  • Ben Leslie, IRSC Program Director Ben is responsible for recruiting, training, evaluating, and facilitating the service of 12 AmeriCorps members while reporting progress on increasing access to health and healthcare for immigrants and refugees
  • IRSC’s Katey Humphries Katie Humphreys is a first year IRSC team member whose host site is Exodus Refugee, where she organizes and implements Cultural Orientation
  • IRSC member Liz Irk Liz’s duties focus on reaching out to immigrant and refugee communities impacted by cancer, including organizing cancer-related educational opportunities for refugees and immigrants, recruiting and managing bilingual volunteers, coordinating outreach interpreters and managing material translations

An example: Latino pastors’ training in April. I have the chance to collaborate with IRSC Demaris Franco at the Christian Theological Seminary Counselling Center and Erin Tock at the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Hector Hernandez, a former IRSC member, also serves on the organizing committee. The culturally appropriate training is in Spanish. It’s intended to help pastors identify congregants with mental health needs, know when and how to refer them to a therapist, and have a list of bilingual therapists available.

Another part of my service is developing an ESL model for faith-based institutions. I also have the opportunity to tutor and teach immigrants and refugees in partnership with CIC’s refugee support initiative.

An example: A six year old from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She is learning a new language and coping with a new culture at the same time she is in a classroom learning reading, writing arithmetic, the coinage system, measuring and the alphabet. At the same time both her parents are attending university. They have no extended family in the US, but do have to care for four kids between the ages of 2 and 10. The six-year-old was flunking first grade when I started tutoring her. I go to see her in her home 2-3 evenings per week, develop activities to engage her, help her with her homework. I see every report card. Her mom says, “I want to help her, but I don’t know how.”

I was asked to teach English conversation and vocabulary building for women who know some English and meet in an Islamic Center. I know a grandfather from Saudi Arabia who would benefit from this class, but I can’t serve him because of the separation of men and women in the Islamic Center. Part of serving immigrants and refugees is being sensitive to their culture.

Another aspect of my service is continuing to build bridges between immigrants and refugees and local faith-based institutions. Recently I contacted the women’s representative of the Islamic Center where I’ll teach the English class about how much an Iraqi family needs toys for their children. I explained that when I visited their apartment to give the mother an English lesson I saw only one toy for the two preschoolers. The women in the Islamic Center collected more new and used toys in two weeks than I could fit in my car.

Huda Children Toys

One of the CIC’s big initiatives is the annual Indy Festival of Faiths. I have the privilege to serve on the Festival’s Core Committee of organizers. On a sunny Sunday afternoon (August 30th this year) the Festival draws people representing diverse faith traditions to meet thousands of Festival-goers, to share a little about their faith, and help encourage peace and tolerance.

I am charged with developing interactive art activities for the Kids’ Creative Zone. We’re seeking faith-based institutions that would like to join in this endeavor. My philosophy is that if you spend time coloring with someone from another faith, you have developed a bond.

As a result of my service in IRSC I am now on the planning committee for the Indiana Latino Roundtable and on the board of the Indianapolis chapter of Hadassah, a Jewish women’s service organization.

Twice each month the IRSC team members come together for enrichment. This encourages team-building and a chance to learn what other members’ agencies are doing. It also provides leadership opportunities. Members take turns planning and hosting an enrichment. At Exodus Refugee, where Katey Humphrey serves, we helped sort donated clothes.

I grew up in Huntington and graduated from Huntington University. Growing up in an all-white community the only diversity of faiths was “Catholic or Protestant,” I wondered how I would react when I met those form other backgrounds. Today I am probably one of the few women in Indiana who’s involved with women’s groups at a synagogue, a Hispanic Lutheran church, and an Islamic Center. I am proud to say that my experience with IRSC reflects my belief that there are no “Others.” I am part of “Them.”

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