our history, our partners

We've been around since 2001, and the road has been full of twists and turns. Here's the short story.

The idea of UrbanSpirit began in 2000, as the focus of an academic paper. The next year, we started putting it together, in the vacated home of Grace Lutheran Church in Louisville's Portland neighborhood. With the partnership of the Disciples of Christ (and the DOC Women's Quadrennial), we prepared our space and welcomed our first program group in 2003, a campus ministry group from the University of Illinois. In the early days, we were a destination for groups who wanted to do "service trips," but we knew we had to do more than give people a chance to feel good; we wanted our focus to be education. 

In 2005, we launched our poverty simulation, a way of helping youth and adults who are not poor feel the reality of poverty, rather than just seeing the symptoms. The simulation has grown and evolved over the years, and remains a powerful and vivid memory for those who have experienced it, including the adults who thought they were just coming along as chaperones!

In the years since, hundreds of youth and adults have experienced the simulation or our middle school intro to social justice, and many have completed the advanced leadership programs. Others have completed internships, fellowships and advanced academic requirements.

Along the way, we’ve hosted some pretty special groups:

CIW tomatoes copy.jpg

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers came to Louisville in the spring of 2005 to amp up the Taco Bell boycott (since the parent company is located in Louisville), and we were excited to celebrate when labor won and the boycott ended that week. Such a party!

palestinian mural bw.jpg

Later, we were host for the Al-Rowwad Children’s Theatre from Aida Refugee Camp of Bethlehem, one of three stops on their first U.S. Goodwill Tour. We learned first-hand that common language — or even common faith — isn’t necessary for sharing a common meal and developing friendship.

For our programs, groups have come from 24 US states, from both coasts, and northern and southern borders; from a variety of faith traditions including Christian, Jewish and Muslim, from churches including UCC, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian and Methodist; and from colleges and universities, from D-I to small and private. Our participants have been black, white, LatinX, Asian/Pacific Islander. Adults who have experienced our program are teachers, ministers, social workers, graphic designers, business owners, builders, drivers, attorneys, professors, parents and grandparents. 

"My hope for this trip was that the youth would catch some of the passion I have for justice and understand the social realities that create injustices. Little did I know that I would be so inspired myself! This week, while draining me physically and mentally, has fanned the flames in my soul to fight for all those who are less fortunate.... I know I will always remember this experience..."

In 2016, we relocated to the Russell neighborhood of Louisville, 2 miles SE, to the historic Plymouth Settlement House. The Settlement House is a remnant of the early 20th century, a former boarding house for young black women moving into the city. We lived there in partnership with the United Church of Christ for a couple of powerful seasons.

In 2018, we parted with Plymouth, and decided to go on the road.

Our new season may find us in your neighborhood, as we keep working to invite well-meaning people into righteous conversations.