Youth camp works to end bias, bigotry and racism: “Ten years ago, I had never met a Muslim.”

Camp Anytown

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Robyn Lebron. You can read more of her work here

URI North America is thrilled to welcome one of our newest Cooperation Circles. We know that we are stronger together!

CAMP ANYTOWN  – Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Contact Person: Rico Ocampo, Program Director,
  • Mission Statement: Our mission statement is “To create communities based on inclusivity, respect, and understanding through youth leadership and empowerment.”
  • Areas of Focus: Youth, youth leadership development, youth diversity education
  • Website:

“We value youth because Anytown works from the premise that we live in a multicultural society and that young people are the nation’s future. Therefore, youth need to be sensitized to the experiences of diverse groups if- as decision makers- they are expected to make fair judgments in improving the quality of life for the entire nation regardless of ability, ethnicity, faith/religion, and gender.”

When Rico Ocampo, Camp Anytown’s Program Director, first heard about URI, it was at a conference in San Diego.

“I didn’t have a full grasp of what URI was … it kinda blew my mind!” Ocampo went onto to add that, because of that experience, he now knows he can reach out to others and learn from their programs.

Continue reading “Youth camp works to end bias, bigotry and racism: “Ten years ago, I had never met a Muslim.””

Why Mourning #Orlando in Diverse Communities is Powerful and Necessary

interfaith vigils orland
Community members gather in Phoenix, Arizona for an interfaith vigil.

By Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI North America

With Sunday’s shooting in Orlando, Florida, our hearts break. We mourn. We grieve. We weep.

In this difficult time, we are grateful for those creating opportunities for ALL of us to be together, mourn together and heal together.

“Through our tears, we connect to those who suffer, and we humanize a situation caused by the dehumanizing actions of others.”

These are words from the Rev. Victor Kazanjian, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative, a global grassroots community of people who stand for the equal inclusion of all people, not in spite of, but because of — and in appreciation of — our differences.

We are a community built on the conviction that there is power and beauty in our diversity. We believe that we – people of all religions, spiritualities and convictions – need each other, to bring peace, justice and healing to our world.

God event Reno June 12, 2016
Leaders gather in Reno, Nevada to mourn the Orlando shootings.

In the good times, we need each other to build programs that educate students in the Golden Rule, to care for our homeless neighbors, to support refugees and immigrants. And, on days like today, we need each other to cope with our grief.

I have heard many complaints that vigils and prayers are not enough. And I agree that, if we stop there, they are not. But today, tomorrow, in the coming days, we need to BE together. Together, people of various beliefs and backgrounds around the world create safe places for all to mourn. And only together can we “awaken to our deepest truths…to manifest love and justice among all life.” When we gather together, we tap into the power of mourning in community –  a power that transcends our individual capacities. We tap into something deeper.

In being in a place where what is unique about each person is appreciated, we come up with solutions — previously unseen — to help heal our communities.  We inspire one another and come one step closer to making our world a place where peace, justice and healing prevail.

“As our hearts break, let them break open as we extend our love to all those who were affected, and our solidarity to those who feel increasingly vulnerable as the targets of hate and bigotry,” Kazanjian wrote on Sunday.

Rev. Erin Tamayo of the Arizona Faith Network speaks at an interfaith vigil in Phoenix, Arizona.

Today, many URI members and other interfaith organizers around the United States, are creating these spaces:

  • In Sebastian, Florida, the interfaith intentional community Kashi dedicated their Sunday Evening Arti and prayers to all the victims and their families.
  • In Phoenix, Arizona, Mayor Greg Stanton, Equality Arizona, and allied organizations and faith leaders, including members of URI Cooperation Circles Sun Devils Are Better Together and Arizona Faith Network, convened a candlelight vigil in solidarity for the victims.
  • On Sunday, the San Francisco Interfaith Council invited faith leaders to assemble at Harvey Milk Plaza for a vigil to honor, remember and pray for the victims who lost their lives.
  • In Toronto, Ontario, Toronto’s Church and Wellesley village hosted a multifaith vigil attended by hundreds of community members. Toronto MP Rob Oliphant spoke at the gathering, denouncing the violence against the gay community whilst also denouncing anyone blaming the violent tragedy on the Muslim community. He shared, “While I heard the news and the numbers of those fatalities kept growing in the morning, my body reacted and I had two impulses,” he said” The first he said was to reach out to his gay and lesbian friends and seek solidarity with those who have experienced homophobia. “But my second response was to reach out to my Muslim brothers and sisters to say hate can never be met with hate; hate has to be met with love… We know better than anyone else that it is by love that we are saved.”
  • The community of Bainbridge Island, Washington, including URI member Interfaith Council of Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap, gathered Monday for a community vigil and to write messages on scrolls that will be sent to both Orlando and Charleston.
  • Multifaith leaders in Reno, Nevada gathered on Sunday to condemn the shooting and to light lamps in honor of those who have passed.
  • The Tri-Cities Interfaith Council in Fremont, California will gather Thursday for interfaith prayers and remarks before moving to stand together near the road as a visible reminder that they refuse to stand for these hateful actions.
  • On Thursday, the Sundial Bridge NorcalOUTreach in Redding, California will sponsor a vigil in solidarity with the communities, families, and victims of the massacre.
  • In Cary, North Carolina, the Community Peace Project and Islamic Association of Cary hosted an interfaith and community vigil on Monday.
  • The Interfaith Alliance of Idaho gathered on the steps of the state capitol in Boise Sunday for a vigil and a call to exercise love and not hate.
  • In Austin, Texas, interfaith leaders and the LGBTQI community gathered Sunday at the Texas State Capitol for a vigil.
  • In Olympia, Washington, Interfaith Works, Capitol City Pride, and Unity in the Community held a vigil Sunday at Sylvester Park.
  • In Kingston, Ontario, Anglican Bishop Oulton sponsored a vigil Monday at Springer Market Square and encouraged parishes and individuals to contribute to an interfaith book of condolences that will be sent to the mayor of Orlando.

There are many more interfaith vigils and events than can be shared in this post; to read about them click here for a full list. is also a website that has been setup to track vigils, of all kinds, happening across the United States; follow that link for more information.

In these days, may we mourn and grieve and weep together. And, in these spaces and many others, may we also be inspired to act together, for the well-being of our communities, our countries and the world.

The United Religions Initiative is the world’s largest network of grassroots interfaith peacebuilders, with 787 member groups in 95 countries all working with coalitions of people of multiple religions, spiritual expressions or Indigenous traditions to create cultures of peace, justice and healing. To find out how to get involved, click here