Lydia Shafik: Can you talk a little about your background?
Dan Brilhart: I grew up in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh and in sight of the Appalachian Mountains. I grew up in a Mennonite church, but oddly my parents were the owners of a hardware store, providing a rich perspective of the local community. That background is an important piece of who I am today. I graduated from Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana with an Interdisciplinary Major in biology, religion and art. At the time I was still seeking to understand who I was, what my Mennonite roots meant to me, and where I was going. I ended up pursuing a graduate degree in peace and justice, which is one of the key reasons I’m involved in CRIS. This education really nurtured my care and interest in justice for people and the Earth. From that, I ended up managing an educational film and video store where I worked with churches and schools to provide them with educational materials. A few years later, I decided to become an elementary school teacher, which for me links my interest in peace, justice and education. I taught in Columbus City schools for 10 years and then enrolled at The Ohio State University to get my doctoral degree and now I prepare teachers to educate children across the state of Ohio, and beyond. I have been involved with CRIS for about 6 years now and I believe my interest in social justice has been a thread through all of my life experiences.
LS: Can you describe what your role is like on the Board?
DB: My role on the Board was pretty quiet the first few years. I was mostly listening and learning. I was encouraged to work at educating the surrounding community about who we are here at CRIS. More recently, I have been a part of the creation of the 5K Run4Refugees, which is in its second year. I’m also involved on the Development Committee that is working on how to think long-term on those issues. My role has primarily evolved into promoting who we are and to do this while also fundraising.
LS: How has CRIS evolved since your initiation into the Board- what strides have been made?
DB: As a Board we have tended toward discussing all issues in the larger Board context. We are beginning to move away from being hands on everything and are delegating more responsibility to committees. The Development Committee would be one and we also have an active Financial Committee. The committees will discuss their issues and come back to the group — so the Board is growing in that way. We also will have temporary committees meet around a specific question or need. Those changes are helping us be a more effective and responsive Board.
LS: Being a seasoned Board member, how has your satisfaction increased with the work that you’re doing here?
DB: The Board has been working hard for several years to make sure that CRIS is on strong financial footing. It has been hard to establish what that looks like and what it means for this kind of non-profit organization because we rely so much on Federal Government grants and funds (you can’t predict if you’ll get those in the next months and years). The satisfaction is doing better, being able to see from a bird’s-eye view (from the Board view) CRIS’s financial setting. We have a better sense of how we’re situated and how we can move forward. So, my role in the Board is around development in finances and planning. We are seeing how that is an important piece and we are excited to see how we can build.
LS: What advice would you give someone freshly stepping into a Board role at CRIS?
DB: My first piece of advice is that there is a need to both listen and try to understand who the Board has been and how it works. There is a listening aspect, but some days you have to speak up and get involved and say “yes, I’ll work on that!”. Then you start to not only understand how the Board works, because you are functioning within it, but you also start to learn your own strengths and abilities. So you say “yes” and become a part of a committee, then you have responsibilities and reasons to speak up at a Board meeting. I would also say to come by the CRIS offices! The Board is working on developing stronger ties with the people that work here and that does not just occur by happenstance, it has to be sought out. So being a part of the Board is also listening to and learning about the people who work at CRIS.
LS: Why do you feel CRIS’s work is important?
DB: For me, once I received my Masters in Peace Studies, I started to focus on how we could bring about a peaceful world and how to bring about change in a place where we can make a difference. I believe that those without power, whether young, poor or a stranger, need to be invited into community and they need to be empowered. They need to be cared for, educated, listened to and understood for the power that they have. My whole view on life means that I need to be involved with helping people stand on their own feet and be strong. So CRIS’s work is important because these people, our clients, have been strong in other places and in other times and now they are near me and in my community and I want to help them regain that strength and empowerment. It makes our world stronger. Locally, I think having a diverse group of people is exciting. The communities that I like to be in are ones that are rich with culture. There is some disagreement and confusion in America as to how to treat the immigrant, refugee, stranger, and I want to be one to say, unequivocally, that we need to care and reach out and help.
LS: Looking to the future a little bit, what things would you like to see done within the organization in the next five years?
DB: One of the things I think about is creating a development plan where fundraising and development are thought of year-round rather than simply during a single, major fundraising event. We must also think about becoming more recognizable and having a network of people that support CRIS. I found that the Run4Refugees was a great way to initiate this long-term goal because people come out and participate, and then, hopefully, spread the word. Then, they might just become more aware of who we are. We want that growing sense in the community, that people know who we are and what we do. Another thing to consider is having our own building and our own place- knowing it’s a major financial commitment- it is something I dream about!
LS: Can you talk a little about events and fundraisers on the horizon?
DB: Yes, I sure can! The 5K Run4Refugees is our second annual 5K fundraiser run/walk happening on April 11th. We were incredibly successful last year for our first attempt, and are hoping this year to double our funds raised and double the participation, too. We seek to have businesses, community groups, schools and churches involved. We hope people will come to be side-by-side with the richness of CRIS and its community.