As the Faith in Action Program Manager at Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity in Colorado Springs, Chloe Henry, 26, wears a variety of hats. She’s an event planner, community organizer, volunteer recruiter, a student of religious and cultural traditions and occasional construction worker. “Construction is a little less frequent,” she says with a smile. “But I do love getting out there when I can. There’s never a dull day and that’s what I like about it.”
Among the projects she oversees for Habitat is the Interfaith Build for Unity. Throughout the year local volunteers from different congregations work in tandem with one another to build a Habitat home. The Interfaith Build house is one of five affordable homes the organization will build in 2023.
Henry is regularly out in the community, networking and developing relationships with local clergy and faith leaders, looking for ways to collaborate. It’s something that comes naturally to her. She grew up in the area and is a self-described extrovert. “Even when I am more nervous, I want to engage,” she says laughing. “That’s kind of my default.”
Raised Christian, she attended First Presbyterian, a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterian denomination in downtown Colorado Springs. Active in the church, her summers were spent volunteering for vacation Bible school and her mom often hosted the camp in their backyard.
In 2014 Henry left the security of everything she thought she knew to attend Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college in Southern California. But during her sophomore year, her worldview began to shift. Service trips through the school’s Center for Student Action to neighboring Los Angeles put her in a room with a diverse group of community organizers.
The city’s rich mosaic of religions and culture also broadened her understanding of the role of faith in the context of community development. “If you really want to be able to engage the community in a helpful, meaningful way, you have to know about people’s faith,” she said. “Otherwise you don’t know about them.”
That exposure continues to inform her work today but the learning curve remains steep. “When you are engaged in any sort of interfaith work, there are just a lot of gaps in knowledge,” she said. “One of the things I had to learn as I started this role is that there are lots of different denominations within Christianity.”
Colorado Springs is sometimes referred to as a Christian “mecca.” Conservative evangelical organizations like Focus on the Family, the International Bible Society and Young Life all have their headquarters here. Of the 550 churches and religious organizations in the area, over 90% are Christian, representing a broad cross-section of denominations. Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Native American communities, while smaller in size, have a vibrant presence here as well and reflect the country’s growing religious minority population.
Working with a diverse community has been humbling for Henry. “I realized I have to come with little to no knowledge and come to the table just willing to learn and to engage and to ask questions,” she said.
Feda Jodeh is Muslim and has been doing interfaith work most of her life. She grew up in Denver where her father was one of the founders of the movement in the area over 40 years ago. Today she continues that legacy in the outreach work she does on behalf of her mosque, the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs. She is one of Habitat’s Interfaith Build for Unity’s committee members. “Living in Colorado Springs, where it’s predominantly Christian, we have to participate in these things, so that we can bring awareness about Muslims and Islam,” she said. She also believes Habitat’s mission aligns with the values of her faith – housing as a human right. “It’s about being a part of a good cause,” she said. “Because in Islam that is what we are supposed to do. Having shelter and a roof over one’s head is part of the religion itself.”
Having shelter and a roof over one’s head is part of the religion itself.
Jodeh recognized Henry’s sense of humility from the beginning. “She did not come in saying, okay, I know what I’m doing. I know how this goes,” she said. “She was like, I need your help to adjust to this.” Henry leads by example, according to Jodeh, and “she empowers the group to be a cohesive network where we can achieve whatever goals we set out for ourselves as a group.”
Roberta Huttner is a social worker who volunteers for Habitat with members of her synagogue, Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs. Her community finds the work appealing because of the sweat equity involved and the way it unites a diverse group of people around the need for affordable housing. “We’re a really inclusive, lovely community,” she said. “Sometimes in the news, we’re not portrayed that way. I love meeting new people, people who have different values, different religions. Just being a part of that in the community – I think it’s really important.” She finds Henry’s leadership and enthusiasm for the work contagious. “That heart for people and community comes from the top and then it filters to everyone she works with,” Huttner said.
While Habitat for Humanity was founded as a Christian organization, its commitment to interfaith engagement has long been part of its mission. The organization’s first interfaith build happened in Sacramento in 2016 in response to a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. Since then, Habitat affiliates across the country have joined the initiative.
In Colorado Springs, the organization dedicated its first interfaith build house in March 2022. A second house was completed in the Spring of 2023.
Like most places in the country, the need for safe, affordable housing in Colorado Springs and El Paso County, has never been greater. According to the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the median cost of a home is $440,000.
Since coming to work at Habitat in September 2021 Henry likes being part of a team that wants to help fix a complex problem. “There’s actually a verse in the book of Jeremiah that talks about seeking the prosperity of the city,” she said. “That’s honestly what I felt like I wanted to do is to find a role and position where I feel like I am able to do that.”
Watching the ways the community shows up for one another after meeting through an interfaith build is also satisfying. “They see each other at different events now and they’re more willing to go and visit that other faith community or call and ask a question or ask if they would come speak at their own congregation,” she said.
“At the end of the day, people want to be seen and they want to be known. And I think that’s what we get to do through our work – to hopefully come alongside them and to make their life a little bit easier.”
Liz Kineke is an award-winning journalist and television producer. During her 14-year tenure as producer and writer for the CBS Religion & Culture series she created 45 half-hour shows that looked at faith and religion as they relate to racism, white supremacy, climate change, immigration, and cultural heritage, among other timely issues. Her most recent reporting can be found in Religion News Service (RNS), Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and AP Global Religion.
She is the recipient of seven Religion Communicators Council Wilbur Awards and three Religion News Association awards. She also received a Henry Luce Foundation Public Theologies of Technology and Presence grant. She lives in New York City with her cat Ziggy.