Last year, over 400 campuses responded to President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Launched in March 2011, this challenge calls for campuses to advance interfaith service and interfaith engagement over the course of one year. Over 250 of those campuses organized successful interfaith service and interfaith engagement events with over 50,000 people reporting involvement – and that was only at the half-way point!
Because of the overwhelming response to this initiative, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Corporation for National and Community Service are proud to continue the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. All institutions of higher education across the country are invited to join this initiative to make interfaith service a national priority. Additionally, on July 9-10, 2012 in Washington, DC, all institutions of higher education are invited to come to celebrate the accomplishments of the Challenge, to gain useful information about organizing interfaith/community service at your institution, and to network and learn from others along with key leaders from President Obama’s administration.
Campus communities have been taking the lead through the creation of new interfaith partnerships, large-scale days of interfaith service, and student-led campaigns for interfaith action. For example, Grambling State University in Louisiana trained the entire first year class of 800 in issues of disaster preparedness. Despite their historic rivalry, students from Georgetown University and Syracuse University teamed up to raise over $2000 and gather over 1300 pounds of food to support the local food pantry (announcing their accomplishments at halftime of the two school’s NCAA basketball game!).
At Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Connecticut, over 300 students gathered for events promoting interfaith cooperation and diversity such as the Thanksgiving Luncheon, while they also gave back to the community by providing blood pressure screenings and a Men's Center food and toiletries drive. Students at Claflin University, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, coupled their community-wide interfaith forum with an innovative project called Panther Reading Express. Students traveled to a local school to read and donate books.
Campuses involved in the inaugural year of the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge have been public and private, religiously-affiliated and secular, community colleges, HBCUs, and seminaries. President Obama wants to grow the number and diversity of institutions who will champion the cause of interfaith cooperation—values he has promoted throughout his administration.
More information about this program, including the July 9-10, 2012 gathering, can be found at www.ed.gov/EdPartners. The site includes a program overview and a form for institutions to indicate their interest in participating in the Challenge. Institutions interested in joining the Challenge in the coming year are encouraged to attend the July 9th-10th event to learn more!
The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge is led by the White House and supported by the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). This initiative was developed in part by the recommendations of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Mara Vanderslice Kelly is the Deputy Director and Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.