Interfaith Appalachia

Bringing people together across differences of faith, politics, and environmental perspective for service, dialogue, and community development.

Staff

Jules Corriere, Creative Director, lives on the edge of southern Appalachia outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Her two children, Cassidy and Ian, have taught her almost everything she needs to know about life, some of which she wished she’d known before they were born. She is sure they could have shown her everything, but they decided to leave a few things to mystery.

In addition to spending years being a mom, room mother, Brownie and Cadet leader, Soccer Mom, and the lady on the street whose house you could go to and be allowed to paint or play in the mud, she has also managed to write thirty-eight plays and edit several books of oral stories. These plays have one intention– to strengthen communities by bringing people together across barriers of age, race, religion, culture, socio-economic differences and other differences that can serve as a stumbling block to understanding. The plays are based on stories, gathered from these diverse groups, and performed by these very people in large scale theatrical production, which serve to bond the community more closely together.

Her plays have been performed around the country and abroad, including her play “Um Caminho Sobre O Muro”, which was translated into Portuguese and performed in Rio de Janeiro for the Centennial Celebration of the Instituto Methodisto do Povo. She also writes and directs a monthly story-based radio show in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Her production of Scrap Mettle SOUL’s The Whole World Gets Well won the Presidential Points of Light Award and toured in London and Edinburgh. Other playwright credits include “Let My People Go! A Spiritual Journey” which performed at the Kennedy Center, and Turn the Wash Pot Down in Union, SC, featured in People Magazine and named by the state legislature as the First Official Folk Life Play of the state. American Theatre magazine said of this play, “Even if Turn the Washpot Down doesn’t save Union ‘s life, it has already saved its soul.” She appears in the 2010-2011 edition of Who’s Who for her work in the field of Theater Arts and Social Activism.

jules bio pic lavonia

Chad McKnight, Outdoor Education Coordinator, is a Freewill Baptist Preacher, coal miner, bushcrafter, husband, and daddy to two beautiful little girls. He was born and raised in the mountains of Harlan County, Kentucky, and hates the thought of living anywhere else. He is frustrated that the area receives bad press, and is the subject of negative stereotypes. Central Appalachia helped secure independence from the British, and has inspired a rich heritage of music, art, films, literature, and more. The community is one of wonderful people who live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Rooted in such a beautiful place, the culture is family-based and people tend to take things slower, valuing time in a unique way. There is little need for things like cell phones, and Chad enjoys that no one can get a hold of him when he is in the woods.

The opportunity to address misunderstandings about the people and culture of the Appalachian region prompted Chad to become involved with IA. As he got to know David Fisher, IA Director, and became life-long friends with him, they started talking about how to share the beauty and culture of the area. This is what led to the creation of the Outdoor Education Session with IA. Chad guides students out into the beauty of the mountains, sharing a day of fun and conversation. It is a blessing for all that are involved. He is now on a mission to find the perfect place for a semi-permanent camp spot for IA. He plans to have the students build, and improve the site as time goes on. Students will also maintain hiking trails with the camp as a base, which will show off the beauty of the area.

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Ryan Coots, Outreach and Facilitation Fellow, is in the 2014 class at University of the Cumberlands. He is an Art Major with dedication to Christian and interfaith ministry. His interest in IA was actually forged from his interest in interdenominational Christian work. He always had a passion for the unification of Christian denominations. This summer, he was able to work alongside his church in pursuing unity in Cumberland, Kentucky. He helped facilitate an event (Baptism, BBQ, pool party) to which the church personally invited every church leader and congregation in the area (Cumberland, Benham and Lynch). The invitation process was trying on the front end (questions, tensions and awkward moments abound), but rewarding and powerful in his own spiritual growth and impactful in the community.

Such experiences have allowed and sometimes forced him to truly assess what he believes in and why he believes it. He believes the focus is similar in interfaith work. It is an opportunity to face many avenues for pursuing truth, but also an avenue to test his own as worthwhile. Ryan sees interfaith understanding and mutual respect as central to Christian ministry today, and essential in truly opening up oneself to growth. Also, the value of mutual respect and challenging, yet loving conversation is all-too-uncommon in America. He feels that IA presents a unique opportunity for students of many various and often distant backgrounds to connect across their differences along the basis of respect and community service. (headshot to be posted shortly)

Ryan Coots

Charlie Feick, Outreach and Facilitation Fellow, is helping to lay groundwork and implement pilot programming in summer 2013. She is a 2013 graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education studying Learning and Teaching. She earned a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies from Southern Utah University.  Charlie grew up in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and has lived in places big and small.  She is a Humanist and a vegan who is committed to community building, education, and sustainable living. She took part in a 2013 alternative spring break in Harlan County with the Humanist Graduate Community at Harvard, and the experience inspired her to help build bridges between rural Appalachian culture and the urban Northeast.

Out for Tea with VivienAnita Peebles, Student Liaison Coordinator, is a junior at Oberlin College, double-majoring in Religion and Environmental Studies. She helped to coordinate a January 2013 trip for Oberlin students. As additional campuses join IA programming, Anita also works as a peer resource for their students.

David Fisher, Director, is a 2012 graduate of Oberlin College with a degree in Jewish studies and environmental studies. He also completed extensive coursework in religious studies and peace and conflict studies. His experiences provide the foundation for working to establish a non-profit, interfaith social venture.

He has held positions including a Dialogue Facilitator for the Auburn Seminary’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith program, a Research Fellow for the Sustainable Endowments Institute, Theatre Educator at Prozdor Hebrew High School, and several positions at Oberlin College’s Bonner Center for Service and Learning. David is a member of the Dalai Lama Fellowship’s Global Learning Community, Udall Scholars Alumni Association, AmeriCorps Alums, Interfaith Youth Core Alumni, and Arava Institute for Environmental Studies Alumni. He has published writing on the intersection of peacemaking, religion, and the environment, and received multiple grants for research in this area while an undergraduate. David recently became a Contributing Scholar for State of Formation, a forum of emerging religious and ethical leaders.

David brings financial and project management skills that have supported IA’s establishment as both innovative and effective. In fall 2010, David served on the Financial Committee of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, a multi-million dollar non-profit organization, and helped to lead a six-figure re-allocation of investments into community banks. As peers and mentors joined Interfaith Appalachia’s efforts, David has found joy in working with a diverse and talented team. In June 2012, he co-presented about Interfaith Appalachia at the Global Conference of Chaplains in Higher Education, at Yale University. Through the support of IA’s network, David served as the youngest of 150 attendees at a White House Forum for Faith-Based Social Innovation in July 2012.

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