Elizabethtown chosen to participate in Obama’s interfaith service challenge

TEMP ORARY October 27, 2011 0

There is a new service initiative starting this year at Elizabethtown College. It is part of a challenge started by President Barack Obama: “The Interfaith Campus and Community Service Campus Challenge.” This service program challenges campuses across America to have many different religions work together in solving community issues. According to the White House’s website, 250 schools were chosen to participate, including Etown.

The two leaders of the initiative here at Etown are Amy Shorner-Johnson, assistant chaplain, and Nancy Valkenburg, coordinator of Community and Civic Engagement. Valkenburg was one of the people who represented Etown at the forum for the program, which was held in the White House on Aug. 3. This initiative is already under-way across the country with different focuses on ways to help the community.

According to Valkenburg, the focus at Etown is “hunger, humanity and hospitality.” The plan submitted to the White House outlined what Etown intends to do for the community. It states, “we will provide opportunities for free exchange of interfaith cultures and religions and affirm our commitment to human dignity.” Since there are so many international students at Etown, there are many diverse religious backgrounds on campus that students may know little about. The initiative is meant to change that. “Our priority will be to educate our campus, partners and surrounding communities about food, interfaith traditions, holiday meals and cultures,” Valkenburg said.

Events are already planned in which Etown students can participate. According to Valkenburg, “EC Honors classes will be interviewing food banks to find the greatest challenges faced by food banks and to learn about issues related to hunger in the community.” This will help bring awareness about how many food banks around the area do not carry food that is acceptable for all faiths.

There will be several food drives scheduled in the near future for this cause. First-year students are also participating in the interfaith initiative. “Students in the [first-year peer group] HB are researching issues related to hospitality, religion and food for recent groups of refugees supported by Church World [Service],” Valkenburg said. The honors students from HB are also putting together food baskets for refugees as they first arrive in the United States. “We’re trying to create food baskets that pertain to them so they feel welcomed and have something familiar,” Assistant Chaplain Amy Shorner-Johnson said.

While there are many staff members who are a part of this initiative, there are many more students involved. The whole point of this initiative, besides helping the community, is to educate the students at the College about different religions and how everyone can work together. Christian Sammartino, an AmeriCorp scholar, is one of the students who has helped with this initiative nearly from its beginning. “This project will allow students to observe their communities and consider how different people view physical and spiritual hunger,” Sammartino explained. It represents a chance to meet new people, learn new things and gain a deeper understanding of the community we live in.” All of these ideas will be developed in the following months with the many events that have been put together.

The original plan for The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge states that participants planned to “visit with local farms in order to better understand the agricultural process.” This plan will become a reality next semester, according to Sammartino. “We are currently scheduling a visit to a local farm for the spring semester. We want to show the progression of the food from the field of the farmer to the table of the consumer. The aim of the visit is to educate students about the processes which factor into the production of the foods they consume.” This event is open to any student at Etown who wishes to come.

There are also several events happening very soon that students can participate in. According to Valkenburg, “There are field trips planned in November to the Masonic Village Fruit Orchard, Brubaker Farms: Dairy, Poultry and Methane Digester and the Masonic Village Cattle Farm.” These will help explain the agricultural process, which is a major part of the Lancaster area.

Lancaster County is actually considered one of the most productive agricultural counties in the United States. This makes learning about agriculture even more important at Etown.

There are also on-campus events occurring. Valkenburg explained, “Food baskets will be arranged and distributed to local families and refugees coordinated to interfaith holidays.” This is an initiative in which any student may participate. While honors classes and AmeriCorp Scholars are planning many of the events, several other clubs on campus are also taking part in this initiative. Newman Club, Hillel and Faith in Action are planning future on-campus activities.

Etown has always been a service-oriented campus. This affects students when first applying to Etown to events scheduled throughout the school year, like Into the Streets. These events have made Etown one of 250 schools in the country that is taking a step forward, uniting campuses across the country with this interfaith service initiative. The events planned are approaching quickly, and everyone at Etown can take part in helping the community. If you have any questions or want to learn more about the initiative, contact Nancy Valkenburg at VALKENBURGN@etown.edu or Amy Shorner-Johnson at SHORNERA@etown.edu.

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