Donor Impact Summer 2014

Kaufman Interfaith Institute works to broaden understanding

by Nate Hoekstra

Two years ago, Doug Kindschi, director of the Sylvia and Richard Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley, was busy supervising and planning a year that would see more than 300 events take place all with the central aim of exploring commonalities and differences in the religions of the world.

2012 was the institute’s “Year of Interfaith Understanding,” the most ambitious grouping of interfaith events in the history of the organization. Grand Valley created the institute in 2007 to honor Sylvia Kaufman and her 20-plus years of dedication to promoting understanding among faiths in West Michigan. Since the conclusion of the Year of Interfaith Understanding, Kindschi has been working to establish long-term goals for the institute and establish programs that will help diversify the community and make a positive impact on the business community in West Michigan.

Kindschi said understanding people of different faiths is today’s most critical issue. With impacts ranging from success in business to promoting peace on a global scale, Kindschi said understanding the deep faith traditions of different groups is essential.

Doug Kindschi and Sylvia Kaufman

Doug Kindschi, director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, and
Sylvia Kaufman, whose work Grand Valley honored by creating the
institute in 2007.


“When religion combines with governments, armies and dictators, and when it’s misused it can and does lead to real war,” Kindschi said. “I’m convinced that if we can get people of different religions to understand each other, they might not be misused by despotic political leaders. If we don’t, there may not be another century to have to worry about, that’s how strongly I feel about it.”

Kindschi said the rapid-fire pace of the Year of Interfaith Understanding was fantastic, especially with community involvement from faith organizations, cultural organizations and student groups, but holding that many events for an extended period of time wasn’t sustainable. The year’s events were showcased on PBS’s “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly” last year; the program won a Gabriel Award.

“We are working now to move toward institutionalizing activities,” Kindschi said. “We are working with faith groups, student organizations, the Interfaith Youth Corps, and businesses to give them all a stake in continuing the conversation on a regular basis.”

Kindschi said all religions share some basic tenets, but the interfaith conversations they are encouraging shouldn’t gloss over the details of a person’s faith traditions. Kindschi calls it thick dialogue instead of thin dialogue. “Anyone can sit down and agree on a few basic things between two religions,” Kindschi said. “We encourage people to bring the richness of their faith and beliefs to the table. We’re not just looking for agreement, we’re looking for understanding. The goal is to learn, not judge, not to convert or proselytize.”

Kindschi also said business is a key player in the institute’s future goals. He said a community that’s understanding of different religions is one that’s welcoming to people of different cultures and from different countries.

“We’re working with business leaders to bring interfaith understanding to our community,” Kindschi said. “One thing that’s important to the business community is new business startups. The business community knows the growth of the economy will be enhanced by immigrants, who statistically start more businesses than native-born people. In order to be an appealing location to immigrants, we need to welcome various religions. There’s a variety of religious perspectives, and it’s important for businesspeople to understand other cultures and religions so they can meet the needs of new customers.”

Sylvia Kaufman said Kindschi’s leadership has expanded on her vision of interfaith understanding and made the institute sustainable.

“With excellent leadership, quality programs reaching out to diverse audiences, and strong administrative support, the Kaufman Institute will remain a national model for interfaith understanding and acceptance, and the West Michigan community will continue to become more pluralistic and religiously inclusive,” Kaufman said.

The ongoing work of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute wouldn’t be possible without the gifts from the Kaufman family that established the endowment that supports the institute today. Funding from the endowment helps bring in outside speakers to share their point of view and religious beliefs, and helps the staff work toward meeting the needs of the program.

More than 50 donors have helped support the institute’s programs and mission. There are two ways donors can support it: the Kaufman Interfaith Institute Program Fund, and Sylvia and Richard Kaufman Interfaith Institute Endowment; more information about giving to the institute is online at

Giving Matters

Ott-Stiner Fellowship offers match

Arnold C. Ott and his wife, Marion, have influenced Grand Valley since its earliest years and will continue to impact the university thanks to their daughter, Jackie, and son-in-law, Les Stiner.

The Stiners have continued to uphold Arnold and Marion’s strong belief in education, philanthropy, and assisting others through the Ott-Stiner Fellowship in Chemistry and Natural Sciences. The fellowship assists students financially and provides mentoring for students in areas of chemistry, physics, biology, geology and astronomy. Jackie and Les Stiner have generously offered a matching opportunity for gifts made to the Ott-Stiner Fellowship in Chemistry and Natural Sciences.

Gifts given to the fund by November 1 will double the impact on Grand Valley students. All gifts to the fellowship will be matched dollar for dollar up to the goal of $10,000. Visit to learn more.


Athletics campaign challenges alumni

Laker athletics announces the inaugural “Varsity Athlete Challenge,” a friendly competition between varsity teams that encourages alumni who were student-athletes to donate to funds of their choice. Grand Valley has more than 3,620 student-athlete alumni and this challenge provides them with a great opportunity to get involved and give back.

Gifts of any amount will impact a number of different funds and also count toward one of 20 varsity teams. The team with the highest number of donors will win $1,000 for their team. Teams with the highest participation and greatest participation growth will win. For more information, contact Kim Schmidt, Alumni Relations, at (616) 331-3590 or [email protected].


Study abroad giving

Established in 2006, the Mark A. and Elizabeth C. Murray Scholarship helps to financially support students who otherwise would not have been able to study abroad.

Since its creation, four to eight Grand Valley students every year are given the opportunity to engage in international study. These experiences help students realize their potential and inspire them to achieve great personal and professional success. In addition to the Murray family, the generosity of individuals, organizations and
businesses in the West Michigan community has contributed to the continuation of this scholarship. For more about this scholarship and others, visit All donors and scholarship recipients will be honored at the annual Scholarship Dinner in the fall.

Page last modified March 21, 2017