We are incredibly excited to announce our 2023-2024 Interfaith Innovation Fellows!
This cohort of outstanding emerging interfaith leaders will convene over the next nine months to leverage their collective knowledge toward shared action and participate in a series of intensive trainings. Our Innovation Fellows will also receive ongoing support to grow their leadership skills through mentorship with senior-level Interfaith America staff and $5,000 to launch a project that addresses a need in their community through an interfaith lens.
Our Innovation Fellows were selected from Interfaith America’s Emerging Leaders Network because of their proven commitment to constructive interfaith cooperation and demonstrated ability to make meaningful and longstanding impact in their communities.
We look forward to celebrating and uplifting the necessary work of this cohort, who are advancing a pluralistic vision of our country united around a common good.
You can learn about each of our Innovation Fellows below.
Anne Marie Witchger
The Rev. Anne Marie Witchger is priest in-charge at St. Marks Church-in-the Bowery, an historic and vibrant Episcopal Church in New York City. She is a lifelong New Yorker who graduated from Earlham College in 2011 with a BA in religion and from Union Theological Seminary with an M-Div in 2015. She also holds a Master of Arts in Ministry from General Theological Seminary. Anne Marie is passionate about the arts and social justice and believes that faith communities have a crucial role to play in imagining and leading our nation toward a more just future.
Anne Marie’s project seeks to offer hope and foster peace among New York City residents through community engagement with the arts. The project will bring together a diverse range of faith communities, and community members more broadly, to make art together that can be shared and displayed in public spaces. The art projects will engage themes of diversity and racial equity, peace, and hope, and imagining a more just and cooperative future.
Chloe is the Faith in Action Program Manager for Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity in Colorado overseeing Pikes Peak Habitat’s Faith Programs and global work. Chloe’s previous experience in the nonprofit sector is comprised of working with various organizations including Homeboy Industries, the Prison Fellowship, and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Chloe graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a BA in Political Science. She continued her education, receiving her Masters in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and is currently in a part time law school program. Chloe is passionate about serving the local community, and lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Marcos.
Chloe’s project focuses on Pikes Peak Habitat’s Interfaith Build for Unity (IBU) which brings together diverse faith communities to raise walls, funds, and prayers to build a house alongside a family in need of affordable housing. Throughout the building process Pikes Peak Habitat offers scheduled build days for two faith groups from different belief systems to pair up on our construction site for a day to work on the house. The groups work together, share lunch, and stand unified as friends and equals. During the fellowship specifically, we hope to expand the number of faith groups represented, engage college-aged students, and implement a comprehensive survey.
Isaac Jones is a recent graduate of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology where he earned a M.A. in Behavioral Science. His thesis was on Doxastic Circumscription in Christian Messaging, which focused primarily on the evolution of coercive belief and practice in Christianity. The areas of special interest to him include the psychology of deconstruction, hermeneutical injustice, brainwashing, spiritual abuse, and religious trauma. He believes in using psychology to promote people-first spirituality rather than dogma-first spirituality. He is also committed to ensuring such discussions are grounded in interfaith communities to ensure that all experiences are considered and validated.
Religious deconstruction is becoming increasingly common, and these populations are chronically unsupported. Because of this, Isaac’s mission is to better understand both the experiences of such people and how their communities can provide more support, validation, and agency as congregants explore their spirituality. The end goal of this is to help foster open and shame-free discussions so that, in their effort to love others, religious communities do not inadvertently coerce people into following what they believe to be true. With the reality that spiritual abuse may preclude a person’s ability to practice their faith, this will also increase the feasibility of them renewing their faith if they choose to.
Jeevanjot “JJ” Kapur
Jeevanjot “JJ” Kapur is a Sikh American and a proud Iowan. After graduating from Stanford University, he returned to his hometown of Des Moines to serve with CultureALL, a non-profit bringing together Iowans from diverse backgrounds encompassing race, religion, sexuality, nationality, and dis/ability. Specifically, JJ focuses on the Open Book project, inspired by the Human Library in Denmark, in which storytellers from underrepresented backgrounds are “books” that “readers” can “check-out” to practice engaging in healthy dialogue. For JJ, interfaith dialogue can benefit from oral storytelling; if we create the right contexts for story-sharing–empathy, trust, and bridge-building will follow.
For JJ’s Interfaith Innovation Fellowship Project, he will partner with 4-H Connect, which is dedicated to focusing energy and attention on uplifting culturally diverse youth across the state. JJ’s goal is for 4-H Connect youth to find trusted adults (e.g., family, friends, and mentors) in their local communities from different faith and cultural backgrounds whom they think would be excellent Open Book storytellers. Rather than driving across Iowa’s 99 counties to search for the next Open Book storyteller, this grassroots model has the potential to create an Open Book movement across Iowa by mobilizing young people as “story-gatherers.”
J.T. Snipes + Ryan Lutker
Christian // Reformed Judaism
J.T. Snipes, Ph.D is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Prior to his faculty appointment he worked for over 15 years in higher education administration. Currently, his research interest focuses on religion and spirituality in higher education, African American collegiate students, and critical race theory in education. His research can be found in the Journal of College Student Development, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, and the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. His latest edited volume Remixed and Reimagined: Innovations in Religion, Spirituality, and (Inter)Faith in Higher Education invites readers to rethink religious scholarship and practice in higher education and student affairs.
Ryan Lutker is a fourth-grade teacher in the Ritenour School District in St. Louis, MO. He graduated in 2019 and holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from Bradley University. Ryan first became involved in interfaith work in college, as a means of connecting to his own faith identity. Ryan is committed to growing interfaith dialogue in the community he grew up in. Ryan believes that when faith communities come together and get to know one another, everyone benefits.
J.T. & Ryan’s project seeks to build a sense of community among folks from diverse backgrounds in St. Louis. To build bridges across the Delmar Divide that separates the St. Louis community racially, economically, and at times, religiously. The project targets two religious communities: St. John’s, a predominantly Black church in north St. Louis, and MaTovu, a predominantly White Jewish neighborhood center in south St. Louis. While very different, both communities are deeply committed to making St. Louis a better place to live for all of its residents and strive to breathe new life into their respective religious communities by reinventing what it means to be a religious community.
Jude Fahoum is a 4th year medical student at Ohio University in Cleveland, OH who is interested in pursuing Obstetrics & Gynecology. She confounded the Interfaith Healthcare Cohort (IHC) where she helped organize events that highlighted the role of interfaith in improving healthcare for patients and healthcare workers. Jude is passionate about Narrative Medicine and its potential in supporting medical student and resident wellness and growth. Jude believes that interfaith is a powerful tool that can be used to strengthen community, foster peace and reflection, and stimulate change in the healthcare community.
Jude’s project centers on providing a space of reflection, connection, and inspiration for healthcare workers and medical students through the practice of Narrative Medicine. Healthcare is a stressful field to learn and work in, and the personal stories of patients and illness weigh heavy on the hearts, minds, and bodies of those who take care of them. By hosting Narrative Medicine sessions throughout the year where a piece of art is used to stimulate reflection and discussion, Jude’s project seeks to support medical students at a critical time in their education while strengthening the sense of community among healthcare workers.
Jewish / Secular Humanist
Matt Segil is the Workshop Director at Boston Tech Initiative (BTI) where he is responsible for the development and delivery of youth robotics programming. Matt has over five years of experience as an educator and holds teaching licenses in both middle school Mathematics and General Science. Matt earned his B.S. in Neuroscience from the University of Vermont and an M.Ed from Boston University. In addition to his work as an educator, Matt is a certified volunteer mediator with the MA Judicial Courts. He also founded and runs programming for the Boston-based interfaith group: The Bread Breakers.
Matt’s project aims to build a purposeful community centered around building awareness of diverse worldviews through conversation and action. Matt’s project will center around 1) monthly, interfaith Shabbat dinners, 2) local service projects, and 3) a large-scale “Mege-Shabbat” hosted with community partners. It is Matt’s goal to develop and run a spiritual community where members can learn about diverse perspectives, celebrate in community, and make decisions about how they want to live an ethical and meaningful life.
Mohammed Jibriel is a biomedical and public health professional with backgrounds in molecular biology, emerging infectious diseases, and global health security. He is currently a Ph.D. student in public health. His research focuses on exploring the impact of religion on individual health behaviors and outcomes, as well as its influence on health practices. Mohammed is also an interfaith leader. He co-founded the Belk Chapel Muslim-Jewish Interfaith initiative and serves as co-chair of the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance. Identifying as a Muslim, he derives inspiration from his faith to actively promote unity and drive positive change. Mohammed believes that interfaith engagement transcends religious or faith traditions, emphasizing that our shared differences can be as unifying as our commonalities. Mohammed is also an interfaith leader. He co-founded the Belk Chapel Muslim-Jewish Interfaith initiative and serves as co-chair of the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance. Identifying as a Muslim, he derives inspiration from his faith to actively promote unity and drive positive change. Mohammed believes that interfaith engagement transcends religious or faith traditions, emphasizing that our shared differences can be as unifying as our commonalities.
Mohammed’s project seeks to expand the impact of the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance (CBJA). CBJA is a coalition of young Black and Jewish leaders, dedicated to cultivating understanding and authentic relationships through honest conversations, deep reflection, and community engagement. The objective is to unify Black and Jewish leaders to identify practical responses to combat hate and to promote social justice. This objective is achieved through numerous activities: engaging in meaningful training sessions; visiting historical Civil Rights sites in Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma; and organizing programs designed to facilitate questioning, learning, and growth. Mohammed will collaborate with organizations and faith communities to enrich the journeys and experiences of the CBJA cohort.
Muzzammil Ahmadzada is a founder and director of Anees: Spiritual Companionship for Muslim Patients. He graduated in 2022 from Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and is currently a first-year medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine. With a strong interest in combatting local and global health inequities, specifically for minority populations, Muzzammil seeks to utilize the power of interfaith cooperation to achieve a more peaceful and secure society, committed to racial equity and justice for all.
Muzzammil’s project seeks to address the lack of faith-specific spiritual support available to hospitalized Muslim patients and their families throughout the United States. The purpose is two-fold: 1) to bridge the gap between interested community members and medical institutions, so as to facilitate community support for patients and families who need faith-specific spiritual and emotional support, and 2) to invite non-Muslim providers to learn the nuances that exist when treating Muslim patients. Muzzammil will collaborate with hospitals, academic institutions, and local Muslim communities to serve individuals from a plethora of backgrounds who need companionship and support.
Sabina Pappu founded Se.cure, a space for emerging Indian Christian leaders to receive leadership training, mentorship, and community. She holds a B. A in Counseling from The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and an M.A. in Christian Leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. Sabina was raised in Gurgaon, India, surrounded by a beautiful diversity of religious backgrounds, and hopes to bring interfaith conversations to Se.cure, equipping the next generation of Christian leaders to collaborate with interfaith communities and develop genuine friendships with their neighbors.
Sabina’s project addresses the lack of safe leadership development spaces for emerging Indian Christian leaders. She will organize the first in-person Se.cure retreat for the community during the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship. The goal of the Se.cure retreat is to provide leadership training, facilitate community-building conversations, and focus on moving towards the common good for the communities. Sabina will collaborate with other leaders who can speak about the importance of leading from one’s story and help emerging leaders be secure in who they are and confidently step into their dreams.