Interfaith community service recognized by Obama’s honor roll

The U.S. Department of Education named Portland State as a leader in volunteer programs dedicated to interfaith community service, by adding it to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This is the first year the interfaith category has been recognized on the President’s Honor Roll.

PSU’s recognition stems from President Obama’s challenge in 2011 to universities to develop or enhance interfaith community service programs.

Student Activities and Leadership Programs heads the community service programs, including the interfaith team within the Student Community Engagement Center.

“What’s amazing about this [honor roll recognition] is it’s the first time that it is the President’s Honor Roll in the interfaith category. And we received it. We’re among the first crop of schools to be recognized for this award nationally, and it is a big deal,” said Rachel Samuelson, coordinator for SALP.

According to the President’s Campus Challenge report, more than 400 universities responded to the interfaith and community service challenge, but only 98 universities were recognized in the inaugural recognition of university interfaith community service programs.

“Obama recognized that a large piece that’s missing in community service programs is the diversity that stems from interfaith collaboration. We started the first year that Obama put out the interfaith challenge,”
Samuelson said.

The award highlights the interfaith and community service volunteer work and heightens the visibility of the program on campus.

“I am hoping that students and staff and faculty will know that this is happening, and hopefully that there will be more interest in either participating or supporting the program,” said Aimee Shattuck, director of SALP.

The Interfaith Service Leadership Team is a major part of PSU’s community service department. Samuelson said the team works to bridge the gap between students of varying faiths. She hopes to see an increase in interfaith participation because of the honor roll recognition. Samuelson’s department, the Student Community Engagement Center, works toward progressive social relationships through community service.

“We are called the Student Community Engagement Center under SALP, so it’s our role and our mission to engage students of the Portland community to create positive social change,” Samuelson said.

The Interfaith Service Leadership Team became formalized under SALP in 2014, which provides the opportunity to increase the productivity of the team.

The interfaith and community service programs offer different commitment levels for students. Students can participate in community service programs that may span one day to a full year. According to Shattuck, there are day-long, week-long, quarter-long and year-long community service programs in a variety of themes. The Interfaith Service Leadership Team runs for the entire year and offers a $300 stipend per quarter.

Participation in the Interfaith Service Leadership Team is not limited to volunteer work. The team participates in a variety of activities such as movie nights, open forums, panels and service opportunities that open up the conversation between students with differing views on an incredibly sensitive subject.

“The idea is to build relationships and bridge across the lines of deeply ingrained lines of difference and have a collaborative conversation,” Samuelson said.

Samuelson explained that the Interfaith Service Leadership Team includes members of all religions, faith traditions and non-faith traditions.

The goal of the interfaith team is to start a dialogue between students of different faiths and come together through civic duties.

“Having all groups together is vital to interfaith. Agnostics, atheists, non-faith individuals are required to be successful. We would not be doing our job if only faith-based students were involved in interfaith community service projects,” Samuelson said.

The interfaith team joins individuals together within a safe community that welcomes all.

“For me, it’s about community, which is one of our big goals as a university and as a department in that we are creating spaces for students to come together in community. It’s about diversity, so how do you find sameness together across multiple perspectives that seem so opposing,” Shattuck said.

The community service programs such as the Interfaith Service Leadership Team and the Alder Elementary School mentoring program allow students to connect with Portland residents that they wouldn’t communicate with because of social constraints.

Students can learn more about the Interfaith Service Leadership Team and other volunteer opportunities at the SALP office, located in Smith Memorial Student Union, room 119.