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Sheila Sonnenschein to receive Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award

Sheila Sonnenschein

For the past 12 years, Shelia Sonnenschein has been a beacon of light in the Kansas City interfaith community. She has volunteered diligently to build relationships among people of different faiths, especially Jewish and Muslim women.

Her volunteer work is recognized by many in the interfaith community. On Nov. 12, they will recognize it publicly when Sonnenschein will be presented the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award at the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner.

Sonnenschein’s involvement in the interfaith community began by happenstance. She took a writing class in January of 2002, after she and her husband, Ken, returned to the Kansas City community.   

“In that class I met an American Muslim woman, Mahnaz Shabbir,” Sonnenschein said. “I saw that we had a lot in common. We each had four kids; our husbands were psychiatrists; and we both knew what it felt like to be targeted because of our religions. We met people from our respective communities. That’s what started my multi-faith journey in Kansas City.”

The journey has taken Sonnenschein all over the world. But first it led to her involvement in the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. Shabbir took Sonnenschein to her first meeting in 2005, as an alternate.

“Soon after, I became a Council director,” she said. “I have been on the board ever since.”

She has served as a director of Kansas City for Refugees and the Kansas City Interfaith Youth Alliance. She helped found the Table to Table program for Yachad, the Kosher food pantry. As a member of the interfaith community she was involved in the Festival of Faiths committee; started the Facebook online initiative Mothers on the Side of Peace. She also helped to start chapters of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom in the Kansas City area. She is the first non-Muslim board member of the Crescent Peace Society and is a former board member of National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Kansas City Section, where she helped with their interfaith luncheon.

Among the friends she has made during her interfaith activities is Inas Younis, who was born in Iraq but now lives in Overland Park. Younis, who was the Muslim woman behind bringing Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom to Kansas City, says this about Sonnenschein: 

Sheila is “is a social engineer with an intuitive capacity to bring people together who would have otherwise never crossed paths. Never cynical, always earnest, Sheila practices what most of us only preach. She takes conscious steps to ensure that everyone feels included and valued. She is a credit to our interfaith community and I am proud to have her as a friend.”

The Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom (SOSS) takes up much of Sonnenschein’s time now. She has helped with the formation of two more sections. Three are now active in the Kansas City area. She also has been to the SOSS annual convention at Drew University in Madision, New Jersey, where women of both faiths come together to share and learn. This year the meeting was held Nov. 3-5.

She has traveled to Albania to meet with interfaith communities. And she has brought the information she learned back to Kansas City. Two years ago, she was part of a group who arranged for the movie, “Besa,” (Faith) to be shown in Kansas City. This movie is about an Albanian Muslim family who safeguards religious books of a Jewish family during the Holocaust. The besa, promise or faith, is to one day return the books to the family.

“I think it’s important to listen to each other,” Sonnenschein said. “I encourage adults and youth to attend programs that promote getting to know people of other religions and cultures. … Interfaith Youth Core (IYC) founder Eboo Patel says that if we catch people when they are young so they don’t fall into the hands of extremists, we can do a lot of good for our world.”

The Heartland Chapter — Alliance of Divine Love (ADL) and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council are sponsoring the dinner. The Heartland Chapter-ADL “is part of an international interfaith ministry, which recognizes and honors the validity and wisdom of all faith traditions,” according to its website.

The event will be held on Sunday, Nov. 12, at the new Islamic Center of Johnson County in Overland Park. The organization preparing the meal is NourishKC, which is a nonprofit that provides restaurant-style food services in community kitchens. All donations from this year’s dinner will benefit NourishKC.

Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at http://interfiaththanksgiving2017.brownpapertickets.com.