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One Tree Many Branches Interfaith Friendship Org.: Keeping our Interfaith ties strong during a year keeping us apart

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By Ramona Brand and Alison Litvin

One Tree Many Branches, Interfaith Friendship Org. was founded in 2019 with a mission of bringing families from faith communities around Richmond to social events to foster friendships, communication and camaraderie.

Our slogan, “celebrating unity, while honoring diversity” guided our programming over the past two years. Faith leaders from numerous Richmond faith communities participated in planning and hosting seasonal events.

Pre-COVID, events and activities were designed primarily around pot-luck suppers. Naturally, after March of 2020, that all had to change.

We are extraordinarily proud this program continued to grow during an unprecedented year.  Despite the challenges this past year presented, One Tree, Many Branches Interfaith Friendship Org. provided quality events both virtually and in-person during the past six months.. Additionally we have strengthened existing partnerships and have developed new interfaith and community connections throughout Richmond.

Teens and youth leaders zoom together on Jan. 31 for a virtual program called “Unpacking 2020: Sharing our Perspectives and Navigating the Path Ahead.”

Guiding Teens

The objective of this program was to assist guiding teens in unpacking emotional responses based on events of 2020 including, social isolation, pandemic, fear, extreme division in country, political unrest and uncertainty, racial injustice, etc. and to provide tools with which to move forward to healing, understanding, self-care, etc.

Presenters included faith leaders from three faith organizations who gave short presentations on how traditions, text, teachings etc. from each denomination can help us navigate difficult times, find resilience, find introspection etc.

Special guest, Aimee Loth Rozum, Health Professional and Art Psychotherapist guided participants through an art activity to promote constructive conversation techniques, active listening and to present topics for examination.

After participating in the art activity, teens held open discussions in breakout rooms and then back to the main room for facilitated feedback and open discussion. At the conclusion of the program, Mental and emotional health resources were shared with the teens

Teen participants were very forthcoming with dialogue about emotional and social issues that they had been dealing with. They held very open and honest conversation, shared experiences, and provided emotional support for one another during the program.

Because this was a virtual program and geography was not an issue, we had teen participants not only from three faith congregations in Richmond, but also from Massachusetts, from where Aimee Loth Rozum was ‘zooming’ in from, and from a synagogue in Albuquerque, NM.

Perfect Balance

As COVID restrictions began to life, we imagined how we could provide a meaningful in-person event that also met safety standards during the pandemic.  We found the perfect balance by developing an interactive driving tour on the app Actionbound that highlighted learning about Richmond’s diverse interfaith history which has shaped our city since its inception.

The tour incorporated history, geography, philosophy and social justice elements and concluded at the Statue of Liberty at Chimborazo Park where families read “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus!

Before embarking on their journey, families met at Richmond First Baptist Church for some socializing and to receive One Tree Many Branches, Interfaith Friendship Org. T-shirts, water bottles, and snack-bags, as well as information about the organization and future activities.

This event was really a lot of fun, brought families from many different communities together!

The tour remains permanently available through Actionbound and can be accessed at any time. You can access the Scavenger Hunt on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OTMBRVA

One Tree Many Branches Interfaith Friendship Org. was supported by Richmond Jewish Foundation and the Rachel B. Banks grant.

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