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University participating in Obama's Interfaith Challenge

Initiative to focus on food and water security and poverty

The entire community is invited to join the Ohio University Office for Diversity, Access and Equity and other OHIO offices, departments and student groups, United Campus Ministry (UCM): Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice, and other local organizations in the inaugural President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

The Interfaith Challenge was recently created by President Barack Obama as an incentive for higher education institutions to commit to one year of interfaith cooperation and community service programming in order to build understanding between diverse communities and contribute to the common good.

The White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Corporation for National and Community Service will evaluate all of the campus initiatives and invite the most exemplary ones to the nation's capital next summer.

The Ohio University Interfaith Challenge partnership, which will focus on local food and water security and domestic poverty issues, will kick off its initiative during an open house on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the UCM house located at 18 N. College Street in Athens.

Melissa Wales, executive director of UCM, said the partnership's Interfaith Challenge initiative is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

"Ohio University will have a chance to show itself as a leader in interfaith service and parents can see that this is an inclusive and welcoming university that encourages student participation and engagement in the community," Wales said.

She said the partnership's initiative will build on the success of the Ohio University Interfaith Youth Core's "Better Together Campaign," which successfully promoted interfaith activities on campus and in the community. In fact, the campaign was mentioned as an example of outstanding interfaith efforts on college campuses by President Obama on his blog when he announced the Interfaith Challenge.

Here are a few of the planned Interfaith Challenge projects and events:

•    The partnership, with the help of Residential Housing staff, will recruit students for Thursday Supper and Saturday Lunch, interfaith watershed clean-up days and education and outreach events on the issue of hydrofracturing in Appalachia Ohio. Both UCM meals are student run, free and open to anyone from campus and the community. They also feature locally sourced food whenever possible.

•    Student group Interfaith Impact will host weekly meetings after UCM's Thursday suppers that are designed to create an intentionally interfaith community that allows people to share their faith traditions, learn about others and discover shared values. It is open to everyone – faith or no faith.

•    In preparation for the Campus Challenge, Campus Minister, Rev. Evan Young and senior Rachel Hyden will attend the Interfaith Youth Core Interfaith Leadership Institute at Georgetown University in late July to network and acquire training and skills to lead an interfaith movement at Ohio University.  

•    Vice Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges and UCM Executive Director Melissa Wales will attend a White House Convening on Aug. 3, to launch the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

•    UCM and the Ohio University Muslim Student Association will host a campus and community potluck noon - 4 p.m. Sept. 24, at Strouds Run

•    UCM will mentor student leaders to develop a partnership with the University's Office of Sustainability and Sierra Club on a Better Together Campaign that addresses local water security

•    UCM will take students on an interfaith service learning trip to U.S.-Mexico border to increase their awareness about the issues facing the U.S. as a member of the global community

•    Late in spring quarter, the partnerships will host an end of the academic year event that showcases the year's highlights and celebrates interfaith service

Bridges said the Interfaith Challenge is an excellent opportunity to build better, stronger and sustainable community practices throughout Athens and the surrounding communities.

"Accepting this challenge serves as a catalyst for promoting peace through shared values – while mitigating conflict locally and in the world at large," he said.

Primary partners in the Interfaith Challenge are: Office for Diversity, Access and Equity; Residential Housing; UCM: Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice; Sierra Club of Southeast Ohio; and Rural Action.

For more information or to learn how you can participate, contact Melissa Wales at ucm@midohio.twcbc.com or 740-593-7301, or Brian Bridges at bridgesb@ohio.edu or 740-593-2491.