Engaging the Faith Community through Shared Intentions
SEPTEMBER 19, 2017
BY: KATY WHITE, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AND INNOVATION, MANY
Faith and spirituality are known to be key protective factors for youth, particularly those who have been, or are at risk of being sexually exploited (Countryman-Roswurm, 2012). In serving young people, naming the value of someone’s relationship with the Universe/God/Spirit/Higher Power, and how they see it is a powerful part of many interventions and should be given space in the mentoring world. The faith-community has been a long-time supporter of mentoring efforts, as well as in joining the fight against human trafficking and supporting victims of sexual exploitation. Integrating spirituality is an important aspect of holistic services and the faith community offers much as a community resource.
Understanding the difference between spirituality and religion can be helpful as you consider how to incorporate spirituality into services for survivors of CSEC and other youth at risk. It is not about elevating one religion over another or insisting that program participants associate with a certain religion. Rather, it is about helping them to explore, understand and express their own views on spirituality.
However at times, some faith communities have taken stances that put many of the very youth they want to serve at odds with the values and stances of the faith community, particularly among LGBTQ youth. So how do we make the most of powerful partners like faith communities without making youth feel excluded? More importantly, how do secular mentoring programs engage faith communities in a way that honors the unique role they play while we also protect and respect the values of the youth we serve?
Catholic Charities of the East Bay has worked hard to find this balance as they expanded their support to youth who have experienced sexual exploitation. Claire’s House, a therapeutic living community specifically for child survivors of child trafficking, and DayStar, a community mentoring program for survivors and those at risk, are the agency’s newest effort to support these youth.
Here is some of the guidance they, have shared regarding successful partnerships with faith communities.
- Shared intention is the key to successful partnerships with the faith community. Identify faith communities that would align well with your goals and intention. Look for places that are already active in the community and who have a history and reputation of being open to young people, girls and women, trauma survivors, system involved youth, etc. As your find those natural connections, it will be helpful to identify the best way to engage. As you do so, think about how do you honor people’s faith but make sure that they are in alignment with the values of the program. How do you figure out where they best fit? Maybe someone who wants to volunteer would be better as a fundraiser than a mentor. The goal - like with any mentor - is to answer how you can utilize them in the best interest of youth. When developing partnerships with faith-based communities, ensure that there is an understanding of the diverse range of youth you serve, and a respect for varying beliefs and values.
- Don’t discount any congregation! Small neighborhood faith communities may not have as much capacity to partner, but they have the knowledge about what is going on in the area. Larger faith communities may have the capacity to fundraise, set up events, and offer a larger pool of potential mentors. In doing this work, there is space for creativity and possibility in serving our youth, as we engage faith-based communities to find the intersections of social justice and equity in their faith.
Wichita State University Center for Combating Human Trafficking and MANY, in partnership with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, developed “Shining Light on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Toolkit to Build Understanding,” which provides information on a variety of topics related to human trafficking with a specific focus on mentoring for youth who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation. The module lays a foundation for the value of engaging faith communities, as well as offering practical means of engaging on a micro (individual), mezzo (service provider), and macro (community) level. Keep an eye out later this month on the toolkit webpage for the latest module focusing on involving the faith community in your work.