What happened: Soon after Nancy Splain was hired three years ago as an outreach coordinator for a religious-oriented charity in Phoenix that promotes the well being of older adults, she set out to look for volunteers beyond the organization's usual sources of local synagogues and churches. A former lawyer who had also done Foreign Service stints in North Africa and the Middle East, Ms. Splain felt that bringing local Muslims into the fold would strengthen the organization.
Through a Muslim friend, Ms. Splain recruited about 10 volunteers to her organization, Duet — Partners in Health & Aging. After a few months working at the charity, the volunteers were invited to its annual December fund-raising gala, the Poinsettia Tea.
About a half-dozen Muslim women said they would attend the afternoon event. In preparation, Ms. Splain talked to the event committee and the hotel's representative. "Where one meets and what one eats can be more exclusive, even when we're trying be inclusive," she notes. The menu was checked to ensure that it didn't violate Islamic dietary rules. And she alerted the hotel's representative that the event might overlap with the Muslim women's afternoon prayer time. The hotel contact reassured her: "We have a room that we use for that kind of purpose all the time."
Ms. Splain was shown, across the hall from the banquet room, a quiet, clean, carpeted room, free of images of people or animals that would be distasteful to devout Muslims. Perfect, she thought.
On the day of the event, she recalls, "Everyone had a wonderful time together." As the afternoon drew to a close, Ms. Splain confidently led her Muslim guests out of the banquet room and across the hall to the space set aside for prayer, all of them happily chatting. And then, she says, "as we opened up the door, the loudspeaker was blaring ... 'Santa Baby.'"
What she learned: Having a sense of humor — and a ready apology — helps when the best-laid plans go awry.
The episode didn't destroy the ties the charity had built with its Muslim supporters, she says: "As with any human relationship, there are going to be foibles, there are going to be missteps. Don't let that stop you from taking the journey."