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Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada — Las Vegas, Nevada

Promising Practice: Challenging Stereotypes through Conversation and Education

Labeled the fastest growing city in America for over ten years, Las Vegas’ ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity continues to expand. In light of this diversity boom, the interfaith infrastructure of metro-Las Vegas is working diligently to keep up with demand. The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada is a key player in this effort, recognizing the need for greater interfaith dialogue and education in the city and offering meaningful programming for youth and adults. Founded in 2005, the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada continues to garner strong support from nearly sixty individual members, religious communities, and faith-based organizations.

The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada’s roots can be traced to the Las Vegas chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), formerly the National Conference for Christians and Jews. NCCJ programming on eradicating bias, bigotry, and hatred included organizing an Interfaith Council subcommittee to host panel discussions in the Las Vegas area. When the local NCCJ chapter began to wane, members of the Interfaith Council subcommittee continued to meet informally. Within three years, the Interfaith Council became a stand-alone non-profit organization, and Karen Boyett transitioned from volunteer organizer to Executive Director of the fledgling Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada (ICSN). Today, ICSN seeks “to promote mutual understanding, respect, appreciation and cooperation among people of various faith and cultural communities in Southern Nevada and in the world as a whole by appreciating the sacred, extending hospitality, offering educational opportunities, encouraging compassionate leadership, sharing in service and working for justice.”[1]

Since the organization’s founding, the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada has benefited from Boyett’s leadership and guidance. A native of Las Vegas, Boyett’s interest in religion began at an early age and she credits the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Capetown, South Africa in 1999 as her “immersion” into interfaith work. After completing her Master’s Degree in Contemplative Religious Studies at Naropa University, Boyett returned to Las Vegas and began volunteering with the Interfaith Council subcommittee of the NCCJ. After “seeing the need in the community for a more functional interfaith presence,” Boyett became increasingly involved and emerged as a natural fit to lead the nascent Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada. She explains that when she first started working at the ICSN in 2005, she was only twenty-seven years old and unburdened by financial responsibility, allowing her “…to take this on and create something out of it.”[2] In addition, Boyett’s role as co-chair of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) Young Adult Scholars program, brought access to interfaith mentors from across the country, including Bettina Gray, a founding member of NAIN leadership.

The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada envisions “a world where all faiths, spiritual paths, cultural traditions, and communities cooperate for the benefit of all and are honored, respected, and celebrated.”[3] The diverse communities and organizations that comprise ICSN live out this vision by hosting numerous educational programs such as  an “Interfaith Table Talk,” the Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues, and a series of Interfaith Forums every autumn that culminate in an interfaith Thanksgiving celebration. The annual forums focus on a specific theme or topic and include representatives from five different faith traditions who speak before the floor is opened for public comment. Camp Anytown and the Mayors Prayer Breakfast are two of ICSN’s recognizable and well-attended events.

Camp Anytown is a “nationally recognized, award-winning, 45 year-old training program for youth in leadership skills, human relations, and diversity,” historically rooted in the NCCJ.[4] The three-day experience is provided free of charge and aims to sensitize youth participants to issues of diversity within the United States. Objectives include teaching about the multicultural diversity in America, recognizing prejudice and discrimination, as well as modeling techniques for conflict management and effective communication. Boyett states, “I can just see the stereotypes and misconceptions just melt away about all aspects, you know, race and ethnicity but especially with religion. It is a really beautiful thing [to see this transformation].”[5] Today Camp Anytown meets twice a year, attracting 60-65 youth for each training session.

The Mayors Prayer Breakfast began nearly forty years ago when former Las Vegas Mayor Oran Gragson attended President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Moved by this experience in the nation’s capital, Gragson brought the idea back to Las Vegas where he modeled the city’s event after the National Prayer Breakfast. Today, the Mayors Prayer Breakfast is one of the main fundraisers for the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, and proceeds directly benefit Camp Anytown. The event brings together Mayors representing the areas of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Boulder City, Mesquite, and Henderson, as well as County representatives, to celebrate the city’s unity and diversity. Roughly half of the 700-900 attendees are business leaders, community members, and politicians, and the other half are local high school students, providing an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue. The Mayors Prayer Breakfast culminates with a town hall-style meeting where youth are able to speak with local officials and are encouraged to take on leadership roles within the city.

The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada provides valuable programs that enhance the strength of Las Vegas’ interfaith infrastructure. Through programs like Camp Anytown and the Mayors Prayer Breakfast, ICSN instills in future generations the value of diversity and the importance of community. The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada works tirelessly to create a foundation of education and dialogue upon which the diverse residents of Las Vegas might build lasting relationships.


[1]  “About Us” page on ICSN website. Accessed October 16, 2011.  < http://interfaithsn.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19&Itemid=54 >

[2] Phone Interview conducted by Kathryn Lohre 

[3] “About Us” page on ICSN website. Accessed October 16, 2011. < http://interfaithsn.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19&Itemid=54

[4] Camp Anytown Page. Accessed October 17, 2011. < http://interfaithsn.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55&Itemid=65

[5] Phone Interview conducted by Kathryn Lohre 

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