Center Announces Thematic Working Groups: Problem-Solving Begins this Fall

Selection 2018-2019 Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs thematic working group members (clockwise from top left) - Rabbi Aaron Meyer, Mr. Josh Perme, Ms. Carolyna Bilal, Rev. Lawrence Willis, Rev. David Rodes, Ms. Mary Wahl
August 30, 2018

The Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs is pleased to announce the partnership of the following practitioners. These practitioners will collaborate in the Center’s work to strengthen the capacity of faith-based organizations (FBOs) to respond to pressing social problems.  They will join one of three thematic working groups to consider questions related to FBO responses to homelessness and the housing crisis in Puget Sound. The groups will be rolled out in the fall and are tentatively arranged as follows:

Working Group on Encampments

Ms. Jenna Dubas, Volunteer Engagement Specialist, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission
Mr. John Hull, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Everett Gospel Mission
Ms. Cara Kiggins, Social Justice Coordinator, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church
Mr. Nick Leider, Regional Network Builder, Catholic Community Services
Rev. David Rodes, Senior Pastor, Puyallup Church of the Nazarene
Ms. Cinda Stenger, Board Member, Alki United Church of Christ
Dr. Ruby Takushi, Director of Programs, Recovery Café
Mr. Michael Yoder, Executive Director, Associated Ministries of Tacoma Pierce County

Working Group on Tiny Houses

Ms. Carolyna Bilal, Trustee, Idris Mosque
Ms. Christina Kim, Program Director, VA Puget Sound Health Care System
Ms. Jen Manlief, Director, The Bridge Care Center
Mr. Josh Perme, Program Manager, The Bridge Care Center
Ms. Mary Wahl, Regional Network Builder, Catholic Community Services
Rev. Lawrence Willis , Pastor, True Vine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Deacon Brian Wright, Missioner for Veterans Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia
Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick, Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Am

Working Group on Emergency Shelter and Permanent Housing

Mr. Joey Ager, Lead Community Organizer, Church Council of Greater Seattle
Mr. Mike Anderson, Faith Relationship & Risk Manager, Compass Housing Alliance
Mr. Marty Kooistra, Executive Director, Housing Development Consortium
Rabbi Aaron Meyer, Rabbi, Temple De Hirsch Sinai
Rev. Melanie Neufeld, Pastor, Seattle Mennonite Church
Rev. Britt Olson, Vicar, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Ms. Jen Paddock, Executive Director, Acres of Diamonds
Mr. Rizwan Rizwi, Executive Director, Muslim Housing Services
Ms. Cheryl Sesnon, Executive Director, Jubilee Women's Center
Mr. Rob Stewart, Executive Director, New Horizons Ministries

“These thematic working groups,” explains Center Director Dr. Manuel J. Mejido, “will be spaces for problem-solving around how to more effectively address homelessness and related social problems.  Practitioners will come together, not to deliberate about the world, but rather to reflect on how the FBOs they represent can contribute to changing the state of the world.” 

“In other words,” continues Dr. Mejido, “local stakeholders will come together to engage in what Charles Sabel has called ‘democratic experimentalism’ – that is, they will learn from the comparison of good practices and develop interventions and strategies for their organizations that cannot be determined ex ante, but must instead be discovered in the course of problem-solving.”

Group members will engage a “puzzle” or challenge their organization is facing. They will access the expertise and insight of their peers, compile and examine good practices of faith-based interventions, and problem-solve together to develop sustainable and effective solutions that will be useful for their respective organizations. This work will contribute to the Center’s knowledge base and will be disseminated for use by other FBOs and community partners as they respond to homelessness and related social issues.

Organized around three types of intervention where FBOs have played a particularly important role – encampments, tiny houses, and emergency shelter and permanent housing – the groups will engage important questions in need of further exploration: What are the unique contributions FBOs (as opposed to non-sectarian organizations) make to civil society and community development?  What does it mean for an FBO to be innovative in its responses to pressing social problems?  Given their limited resources and capacities, how do FBOs balance providing for immediate needs and addressing the root causes of social problems?  How do FBOs ensure that the work they do and services they provide do not undermine the agency of their clients and congregants?  How can FBOs more effectively collaborate with other stakeholders, such as City Hall, the private sector, and other nonprofit organizations?  How do FBOs go about learning from each other, and develop the resources and constituent support they need?  The considerations of the working groups around these questions and others will also inform the Center’s future research agenda.

Each of the three thematic working groups will meet once a month between October 2018 and June 2019.  They will be joined in their work by Center “practitioner-in-residence,” Mr. Rizwan Rizwi, Executive Director of Muslim Housing Services.

In spring 2019, the Center will offer a two-and-a-half-day professional development workshop open to nonprofit executives, religious leaders, social service providers and community organizers in Puget Sound and across the country.  The workshop will, among other things, provide an opportunity to consider working group outputs. More details on this workshop will be made available later this autumn.

For more information about these thematic working groups please be in touch with Rev. Margaret Breen, Community Engagement Manager, Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs, at, or 206-296-2657.