Penn’s interfaith communities work together in an array of service project

In a White House announcement earlier this month, President Obama urged college presidents to undertake what he calls “The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge” during the 2011-12 academic year.

At Penn, interfaith student service collaborations are already a way of life, with more than 40 different ministries and every major world religion represented on campus.

CHORDS, the Chaplain's Office outreach and service learning program, in partnership with Penn's PRISM student organization, continues the University's centuries-old tradition of interfaith student volunteerism with a major spring service program this weekend, Saturday, April 2, and Sunday, April 3.

Coordinating with local organizations, Penn volunteers will work on projects at Philadelphia schools, community centers and other local nonprofits. They also will participate in campus service initiatives that include the Jewish Heritage Program's Mitzvah Week, Penn Hillel's Mitzvah Day projects, the Penn Muslim Students Association's Family Fair and the Penn Newman Center's Locks of Love project.

“When people from different backgrounds partner together around a common goal of service, they seem to go deeper, to bond in an even more meaningful way,” University Chaplain Charles Howard says. “This is the difference between learning what someone is and learning who someone is.”

CHORDS launched the first of its once-a-semester service weekends last spring. Associate University Chaplain Stephen Kocher, a co-coordinator of the CHORDS service weekend, says plans call for about 200 members of various campus religious communities and other organizations to volunteer in what he expects to be the biggest weekend of service to date.

“There is as much excitement about the new connections we’ve been able to build and the possibility they offer for the future of interfaith service at Penn as there is for the weekend itself,” he adds.

Interfaith service projects include cleaning lots for community gardening projects, clearing out a building to be used as a community internet café, helping local high school students put together their first résumé, serving meals in a soup kitchen, holding a food drive at The Fresh Grocer and packaging Meals on Wheels on Beige Block.

“We're very excited to hear of the President's challenge to campus interfaith communities,” Howard says. “We see it as a strong affirmation of the work Penn's communities of faith have been doing, as well as a source of motivation to keep at it.”

Originally published on March 31, 2011

Originally published on March 31, 2011