College joins presidential interfaith service group

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September 9, 2011

1:31 AM

Service has always been a defining characteristic of the College of William and Mary, and now the College has been given the opportunity to join with other universities in a national service challenge.

In August, the College was selected to participate in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, a program initiated by the White House to promote understanding between different communities through service.

“We’re challenging students, administrators, and citizens to work together on year-long service projects that strengthen their communities, and unite people across religious and cultural lines,” President Barack Obama said in a press release.

The College will be implementing two service projects as part of this challenge. Students will partner with the non-profit organization Pathways in Petersburg and two Williamsburg-James City County schools.

At the local schools, College students will serve as mentors to students in grades K-12, talking with them about the importance of service and helping them plan and coordinate their own service activities.

“The goal is to take the value of service and community engagement that we celebrate at William and Mary and share that with the next generation coming behind our students,” Vernon Hurte, director of the Center for Student Diversity, said.

Because one of the goals of the challenge is to promote interfaith cooperation, Campus Ministries United and I-Faith will facilitate discussions between participants to give them the opportunity to talk about service.

Just as diverse communities will be brought together on campus, the challenge brought diverse institutions together on a national level. At a White House kick-off for the challenge, Hurte, who represented the College with Drew Stelljes, director of community engagement, took note of the variety of institutions involved.

“I really enjoy thinking about the energy that was in the room, and the diversity of the different types of institutions: public, private, religiously affiliated and historically black institutions,” Hurte said. “It was really great to hear some of the projects and initiatives that are going on at other schools, and to just feel that energy was a great opportunity.”

What this challenge can do for the campus community and the nation seemed to resonate with Stelljes.

“This initiative is about accepting challenges and challenging assumptions,” Stelljes said. “It’s speaking with a voice louder than you ever knew you had — by writing, collaborating joining peers in a mighty effort for a cause greater than you’ve ever imaged and going more, everyday. [It’s] reaching the end of a journey that signals the start of a new, longer, more complicated but more noble life that has purpose and character, meaning and depth and reason and where time is of the essence.”

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