March 17th, 2011
07:16 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The White House is challenging college students of all faiths to come together to focus on helping others in their community for the next year.
The initiative, called the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, urges community colleges, colleges, universities, and seminaries, to spend the next year working on an inter-faith basis to address issues and projects within their communities.
The challenge, announced on Thursday, is a joint effort of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) where colleges and university groups will submit a year-long plan on the projects they decide to focus on.
White House officials say that college students are just the people to encourage participation in interfaith service.
“We have found American colleges, community colleges, universities, seminaries and rabbinical schools, to often be at the forefront of solving our nation’s greatest challenges,” said Joshua DuBois, director of the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The White House will send a letter to each college and university president across the country to encourage their campus groups of all faiths- evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Jewish, Hindus and secular groups- to submit their plans by the first of June. The groups with the best ideas will be invited to the White House to celebrate their achievements in the summer of 2012.
Before his political career began, President Obama worked in Chicago as a community organizer for a group of churches on the Southside of Chicago. He called that experience of helping those neighborhoods as crucial in his personal spiritual journey.
“As a Christian who became committed to the church while serving my community, I know that an act of service can unite people of all faiths – or even no faith – around a common purpose of helping those in need. In doing so, we can not only better our communities, we can build bridges of understanding between ourselves and our neighbors,“ President Obama said in a video message posted on the group’s website.
He has long talked about the role community service plays in American life. At the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2009, he said “Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America.”
But the White House says now is the time for groups to practice what they preach.
Patrick Corvington, the director of the CNCS says “our goal is to not just talk a good game about interfaith service but to live it out.”