George Fox commits to White House’s service initiative

George Fox will take its commitment to service to the national level, joining the White House's service initiative.George Fox University’s dedication to service will be evident on a national scale this academic year with the school’s commitment to a White House presidential initiative that encourages colleges and universities to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus.

The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, ran by the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and supported by the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service, is being organized in the belief that groups can do more together to help those less fortunate than they can do separately.

George Fox is one of nine Council for Christian Colleges & Universities member schools and among nearly 200 colleges and universities taking part in the initiative. Representatives from the institutions gathered in Washington, D.C. in early August to discuss how the schools can build community service partnerships with religious and nonreligious service organizations.

Participating schools submitted service project proposals to the White House and plan to implement them during the 2011-2012 academic year. The White House will recognize outstanding projects next summer.

Representing George Fox at the meeting in Washington were Clint Baldwin, director of George Fox’s Center for Peace and Justice and Center for Global Studies, and Joel Perez, dean of transitions and inclusion. According to Joshua Dubois, executive director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, this marked the first time such an initiative – one that encourages institutions of higher education to partner together in interfaith formats to bring about positive change in communities – has been organized at the White House level.

“One of the great things about engaging in this presidential challenge for George Fox is that it dovetails well with our overall strategic university plan and gives us opportunity to live more fully into who we already are, into what we already believe and practice,” Baldwin said. “We are a school known for our commitment to issues of equity and justice, for focusing on concerns related to marginalized and oppressed populations. Being called to be salt and light in this world, this is an example of the kind of challenge and opportunity we should be a part of.”

Among other efforts, examples of the school’s commitment to service is reflected in its annual all-campus Serve Day, winter and spring service trips, MLK Jr. Day service projects, and ongoing service commitments with inner-city populations in Portland and Salem, Ore.

In regards to the initiative, George Fox plans to incorporate more interfaith discussion in classrooms and in events such as workshops and symposiums. Baldwin also hopes to see George Fox students team up with college students from other faiths to perform service projects together. “This presidential challenge offers a fabulous path to develop new relationships and expand our awareness of how others engage the world,” Baldwin said.

“As our students and personnel pilgrimage their own faith journeys, we also want to encourage interfaith conversation so that they learn to better understand and respect others with authentic, deeply held differences of worldview even while at times disagreeing with them,” he said. “Alongside conversation, we further want to encourage partnered community service on behalf of those in need. Too often, areas of differentiation are emphasized at the expense of similarity; this leads to lack of participation with each other and lessens the overall good for society. Without obscuring difference, we want to healthily acknowledge areas of agreement and seek to strengthen these areas.

“For instance, we are thankful to jointly participate in community service with other persons and institutions of faith that share the desire to make the world a better place and believe in the principle of doing good for the betterment of community.”

In Washington, participants listened to panel discussions and speakers such as Dubois; Robert Velasco, acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service organization; Brenda Girton-Mitchell, associate general secretary for justice and advocacy and director of the Washington office of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; and Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. The session included time for those of various faiths and those with no faith background to meet in small groups to discuss how to better build community service partnerships with religious and nonreligious service organizations.

“You could sum up the hopes of the event by quoting Eboo Patel’s reference to the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions statement: ‘We will make war no longer on each other, but on the ills of the world,’” Baldwin said.

More on the challenge is available at the White House site.