President Obama established the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge to build bridges of understanding across our differences, especially among rising leaders, and to serve our neighbors. Interfaith service involves people from different religious and non-religious backgrounds tackling community challenges together – for example, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Jews, and Muslims and non-believers building a Habitat for Humanity house together. Interfaith service impacts specific community challenges, while building social capital and civility.
The President’s Challenge has resonated with leaders in higher education. In some schools, programs were already under way and gathered momentum because of the challenge. Other schools launched new interfaith service programs in response to the challenge. Actions like these have resulted in opportunities for millions of students and the betterment of countless communities.
The challenge has not been restricted to one model of higher education. Instead it has flourished in a variety of settings including large research universities, four-year colleges, tribal colleges, career colleges, and historically black colleges and universities. Each institution provides a unique perspective on what it means to have an interfaith commitment to campus.
As part of its ongoing work to support faith-based and community organizations across the nation, the Department of Education partnered with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (WHOFBNP) to host a “Community Partners Action Summit.” This gathering brought together a variety of public, private and philanthropic partners to help build the organizational capacity of non-profit organizations that work with underserved communities.
After a welcome message from President Obama, participants attended numerous workshops focused on promoting service, learning, and engagement across faiths and cultures. During the conference’s closing session, “Living with Hope in a Post-9/11 World, Clifton and Michelle Cottom, who lost their daughter, Asia, in the September, 11, 2001 plane crash at the Pentagon, shared memories of their daughter and spoke about how they turned tragedy into triumph by creating the Asia SiVon Cottom Memorial Scholarship Fund. In their speech, the Cottom’s expressed how through their Scholarship’s they empower others to reach their educational goals and how they dedicate their time by speaking to individuals in grief and dealing with loss.