Who We Are

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Sara Joy Proppe, Founder

Sara Joy Proppe (‘Pro-pay’) has a passion for cities, stories, and the Church. She loves to imagine how churches can be active and faithful participants in city planning and development in order to bring hope and redemption to the setting of our stories. In 2014, she began Proximity Project as an avenue to integrate her faith and her work. She desires to equip churches to be strategic stewards of their properties for the common good within the contexts of their neighborhoods. Through the avenues of placemaking and real estate development, she empowers churches to connect their mission and their story to their physical place in the neighborhood in creative and dynamic ways.

Sara Joy’s professional experience includes several years of private real estate development, managing over $100 million of new market-rate development, affordable housing, and historic rehabilitation projects. As a passionate placemaker and educator, she co-developed a placemaking workshop and toolkit, which she leads in small and mid-size Main Street communities throughout the Midwest. She also regularly teaches an Introduction to Small-Scale Development class for the City of Minneapolis.

Sara Joy writes and speaks on several local and national platforms about the intersections of theology, placemaking, and design for dignity. She sits on the Congress for the New Urbanism – Members Christian Caucus Board, is a committed member of her community garden, and an avid bicyclist and cook. Sara Joy holds a B.A in English Literature and a Masters in Community & Regional Planning.

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Edward Dunar, Project Assisant

Edward Dunar loves exploring the possibilities of creative ministry that connects churches with neighborhoods and cities. Since becoming involved with Proximity Project in the summer of 2018, he has helped develop resources for churches interested in organizing placemaking projects.

Edward is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor at Fordham University. His research focuses on the church’s foundation in the Holy Spirit and call to mission in the built environment. As an extension of this work, he is in the process of publishing articles related to how theologians can contribute to conversations about urban space, the relationship between race, theology, and urban design in U.S. history, and methods for using pop culture to teach theological ideas. He has also served as a lay minister in interdenominational settings.

Edward lives in New Haven, CT with his wife Kate, a hospital chaplain. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, theater, and podcasts. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Yale University and an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School.


Maggy Otte, Communications Advisor

Maggy Otte earned a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Minnesota with a focus on housing and community development. Her professional experience includes affordable housing development, advocacy, and fundraising. She helps with communications outreach and social media related to Proximity Project. She also serves on the board of and is a performing member with the Encore Wind Ensemble. You can find her at hoppy hour with her rabbits Griz and Dotcom.


Renee Spillum, Project Advisor

Renee Spillum journeyed through an understanding of social justice to identify the built environment as the arena where she can best participate in promoting human flourishing as a means to live out her faith. She has a passion for looking beyond the benefits of a congregation to see how God’s love can be shown in practical ways to communities. Her background in place-based missional development for a local nonprofit has shown how critical it can be when churches show up – or don’t.

Renee’s skill set includes feasibility analysis, financing, and economic development. She brings a pragmatic view of real estate projects alongside a vision for the role churches can play in community development.

Renee has been a board member and development committee member of her neighborhood association since 2009, recently joined the board of the Creative Enterprise Zone in St. Paul, serves the Metropolitan Council’s Community Advisory Committee funding innovative development projects in the region, and is a member of Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis. She lives in St. Paul with her husband, two preschool boys and two cats. She loves playing her cello and bicycle commuting.