Fall semester marks the beginning of the academic year with new professors, courses, and textbooks. This year, fall semester brought a new addition to campuses around the country: The President’s Interfaith & Community Service Campus Challenge.
This spring, over 270 public and private colleges and universities as well as community colleges and theological schools signed up to participate in the Challenge, which is sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Participating schools committed to engage students of diverse set of religious and non-religious backgrounds in interfaith service initiatives to impact their communities and build relationships across differences.
The participants of this Challenge are already stepping up to the President’s call for service in inspiring ways. In the aftermath of a devastating tornado, Alabamians have been focusing on disaster relief efforts in Birmingham. Contributing to that common cause, students from different faith traditions in the University of Alabama at Birmingham are lending their hearts and hands through their official partnership with some of the metropolitan service organizations. Additionally, students from Soka Shining Spirits, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Muslim Student Association with other groups in the campus are leading yearlong training seminars alongside monthly service projects. Some of these projects include organizing a Hunger Banquet, cross-city day of service, and joint collaboration with the Alabama Poverty Project. The students are also participating in an interfaith dialogue series called “Free Food for Thought” to promote interfaith cooperation.
Clusters of local campuses participating in this Challenge are also collaborating to address problems facing their community. The Western New York region has been home to many immigrants, from the days of the Erie Canal till today. Erie Community College, along with Buffalo State College, Canisius College and Daemen College, Houghton College, Niagara University and SUNY- Buffalo launched an initiative called “Making Buffalo Home” as a part of The President’s Interfaith & Community Service Campus Challenge. These schools have dedicated a year to meeting many of the needs of refugees, including housing, health, and education. A Research Symposium on refugee community challenges and a capstone Diversity Festival is planned for May,2012.
Campuses from diverse geographic regions are working on this initiative to alleviate some of the pressing problems in their communities. At Claremont Lincoln University, students are working with Rock Hill Farms, a drug and gang rehabilitation programs located near Bakersfield, CA. Through their service, students are helping to build their local community and spread the word about educational opportunities.
Among the campuses addressing educational opportunity and domestic poverty is University of Michigan- Dearborn. This campus of 10,000 students launched an Interfaith Service Corps program along with institutional partners and student organizations. In late spring, the Dearborn campus will organize its first state-wide Interfaith Conference.
The fruitful collaboration of students of diverse backgrounds as a part of President’s Challenge are advancing the work of the common good and securing a future free of ignorance and intolerance. Through impactful programs such as these, we see how the citizens of this country are truly creating a better future.
Michael Wear serves as Executive Assistant to the Executive DIrector of The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.