Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) works to inspire, equip, and connect leaders and institutions to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity. IFYC is a new Independent Sector member working to advance interfaith cooperation.
We spoke with Amber Hacker, vice president of operations and finance, about the values that inform their work and how it has evolved over the years to include addressing some of today’s most pressing issues. She has been a member of the team at IFYC for 14 years.
IS: Tell us about your organization’s areas of interest and the communities you serve.
AH: Our vision is that religious diversity and interfaith cooperation are foundational to achieving the promise of the common good. Our mission is to inspire, equip, and connect leaders and institutions to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity. Some people may have misconceptions about the meaning of the word “interfaith.” To us, interfaith work, or civic pluralism, means that we may have different religious beliefs and political views, but we have shared values that we can put into action and use as a basis to build bridges and advance the common good.
A large focus of our work is in higher education, where the minds and values of emerging leaders are shaped and conversations take place that steer broad cultural change. We engage with leaders across the campus environment — faculty, staff, administrators, and students.
We offer the tools, guidance, opportunities, and networks needed to bring interfaith learning into their campuses, classrooms, research, and lives. In response to the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice, we’ve since expanded beyond higher education in strategic ways, such as our interfaith work in public health and our racial equity and religious cooperation initiatives.
IS: As an Independent Sector community member, what are you looking forward to that will help your organization better achieve your mission and serve your community?
AH: We are excited to be part of Independent Sector because IS is the only national organization bringing together a diverse group of organizations across organization types and missions.
The civic mission to strengthen civil society is important to us, and we are excited to be part of the network and looking at how IS brings together individuals, organizations, and communities into their work. That is unique and something that resonates with the work we do.
Already we have seen how the efforts of IS members working together can make an impact, such as through our collective efforts on encouraging vaccine acceptance.
IS: What are some of your organization’s special programs?
AH: I’m most excited right now about our Faith in the Vaccine initiative. IFYC worked throughout the spring with civic organizations, colleges and universities, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago to train 2,000 people from diverse faith backgrounds to engage in vaccine outreach in their religious communities. These Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors are based on the community health worker model and trained to engage people through their religious and ethnic communities.
We published research about vaccine hesitancy from a survey conducted with the Public Religion Research Institute, and the survey found that faith-based approaches can encourage communities to increase their confidence and acceptance of the vaccine. It also demonstrated the potential impact of faith leaders in the community to encourage vaccination, particularly for people who may be hesitant, but not resistant, to being vaccinated.
IS: Tell us about aspects of your work that help support or advance collaboration with individuals and the nonprofit sector to create a healthier sector and a racially equitable and just nation.
AH: I’d like to highlight our Interfaith America Racial Equity Media Fellowship – these fellows include activists, artists, and thought leaders who are involved in racial equity work within higher education and American public life.
We also have a campaign, called We Are Each Other’s, to activate and support interfaith leaders responding to these current national crises. We Are Each Other’s equips young people to engage in acts of interfaith cooperation, anti-racism, and service with their communities. IFYC has awarded over 150 educators, students, and alumni grants to build stronger bridges on their campuses and in their communities.
And, our public conversation series features Rev. Fred Davie, who has recently joined IFYC as Senior Advisor for Racial Equity, in conversation with partners in the Black Interfaith initiative to reflect on the past year that has been and look ahead, while considering what it would mean to center the stories and leadership of Black people in US interfaith cooperation work.
IS: What is one of the most memorable moments that has occurred at your organization in which you realized that your work contributed to a healthy and equitable society?
AH: This is a personal reflection, but when I first saw the job opening at IFYC, as a committed Christian I felt skeptical of the term interfaith, yet I was very interested in work in support of the common good. I had read April Kunze’s bio, and found it surprising that an evangelical Christian was working for an interfaith organization. April worked with our founder, Eboo Patel, to start the work of IFYC. When I heard more from her about her story, I was transformed by her commitment to loving your neighbor and the real power of IFYC’s mission. I later told April: “I walked that room wondering if you were ‘really’ a Christian. After hearing your story of standing up for another religious community that had suffered harm, at great personal cost to yourself, I wondered if I was really a Christian. “It challenged my own understanding of what interfaith leadership means and inspired me to join the IFYC team.
IS: What else would you like to add?
AH: I am so proud of our work and our commitment to our values. As much as we take our mission seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We pursue excellence with grit, grace and energy, and have fun doing it! And we love to laugh.