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White House Interfaith Community Service Challenge Launched

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell

The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, urged participants of the symposium not to discredit the power of their contributions to interfaith and community service.

September 2, 2011 – Georgetown launched its program to fight poverty and improve educational opportunity in the community yesterday as part of President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

The challenge invites institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus.

“In a sense, the White House challenge is one we’ve been assuming for the last 220 years,” said Kevin O’Brien, S.J., the university’s new vice president of mission and ministry, referring to the Jesuit tradition of women and men for others.

Maximizing Impact

Georgetown’s program seeks to deepen connections between campus faith communities through joint anti-poverty action, enhance faculty-student interaction around interfaith and social justice issues, and strengthen Georgetown’s ties with the local community.

It also will reach out and partner with diverse faith communities and interfaith initiatives and create a website highlighting interfaith-service links in the Washington, D.C., area.

The Sept. 1 kick-off symposium included the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Kenneth Bedell, the center’s senior advisor.

“We often ignore parts of our community, parts of our ministry, and yet all of those parts of us shape who we are,” Girton-Mitchell said. “Don’t minimize the impact of what you can do.”

Engines of Action

Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs is leading the challenge along with the Office of the President, Campus Ministry, the Center for Social Justice, Research, and Teaching, and many other university departments and student organizations.

“The challenge encompasses the Jesuit and Catholic identity of the place,” said Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center. “It’s really the students who are the engines to our action.”

Student representatives from every faith-based and community service organization on campus were invited to the symposium. A Facebook page and a listserv will be created to keep the campus community informed on the initiative.

The President's Interfaith Challenge webpage on the Berkley Center website lists events and engaged organizations and will house written and video reflections on the importance of faith and service in campus life. Those interested in participating should send an email here.

Pioneering Challenge

One Task Force student leader, Eitan Paul (SFS ’12), said that leading Arab-Israeli Living Room Dialogues and taking part in the International Relations Club convinced him that “we’re ready to pioneer a challenge of interfaith.”

Paul organized the dialogues program to provide a safe, informal environment for students to share their perspectives and experiences.

Some of the challenge activities throughout the year include a 25 Days of Service Initiative, an interfaith essay and/or video contest and an interfaith campus retreat.

Service and Engagement

In the spring of 2012, the White House will recognize the best examples of student service.

“By bringing together faculty, students and staff from different faith communities, we can strengthen our commitment to service and engagement with the pressing needs of our neighbors throughout the Washington, D.C., metro area,” said Georgetown President John. J. DeGioia after the symposium. “I am thankful to the White House for providing this challenge, which speaks to our mission as a Jesuit institution.”

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