Geneseo Schedules Programs for White House’s Interfaith Community Service Campus Initiative

Sarah Dzara, a senior biology major at Geneseo, and Tom Matthews, director of leadership education, development and training at the college, pause outside the Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., where they were meeting with other colleges involved in the president's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

GENESEO, N.Y. - The State University of New York at Geneseo is preparing a year of interfaith service programming on campus as part of an initiative by President Obama to engage college campuses in building understanding among communities and contributing to the common good.

The year-long Geneseo Interfaith Service Project (GISP) will include programs to advance religious tolerance and a series of service projects, lectures, reflections and social activities surrounding the theme of energy and the environment. GISP is Geneseo's response to the president's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

"Our campus has been committed to environmental and sustainability issues for several years and many students, faculty and staff have expressed interest in supporting initiatives related to this topic," said Tom Mathews, director of leadership education, development and training at Geneseo. "Involving faith-based groups on campus is a perfect fit for sustainability projects plus it reinforces Geneseo's emphasis on building a diverse, inclusive community."

Matthews and Geneseo student Sarah Dzara attended a White House gathering in early August where they networked with other colleges and universities to share programming ideas to support the initiative. Dzara, a senior biology major from Springville, N.Y., will organize and promote GISP activities and be part of Geneseo's new Interfaith Council, composed of representatives from the college's eight faith-based groups, cultural groups and other interested students.

"Visiting with representatives from colleges across the country in Washington reminded me that as daunting as interfaith cooperation can sometimes seem, Geneseo's project is a small part of a much larger program," said Dzara. "The small steps we take this year and in the coming years can result in real progress toward the president's goal. There is a shared passion and excitement behind this initiative that transcends college and religious affiliations."

Among GISP events scheduled for the year:

• The college's 100 Volunteers Day of Service is set for Sept. 10, which is scheduled annually on the Saturday closest to 9/11. Students involved in the event will participate in numerous community projects in Livingston County related to the theme, "Caring for the Earth."
• The interactive theater production "Under the Veil: Being Muslim [and non-Muslim] in America Since 9/11" is scheduled Sept. 16-17 in the Alice Austin Theatre. The production, performed by the Theater, Engagement & Action Project in New York City, was brought to Geneseo by Randy Kaplan, professor of theater at Geneseo and artistic director of GENseng, the college's Asian-American performance ensemble. The project uses interactive theater to encourage young people to cross barriers of race, class, culture and religion in America's communities.
• A second annual Day of Service, Geneseo CARES, is scheduled Oct. 15. Volunteers will participate in community service projects related to energy and the environment.
• On Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Leadership and Service Jan. 16, students will engage with area senior citizens from the Livingston County Office of the Aging to prepare packages of dry soup mixes, greeting card messages and personal care packages for 400 home-bound seniors in the meals-on-wheels program.
• Another Day of Service opportunity, Geneseo Goes to Town, is scheduled April 14, 2012. Students will focus attention on needs of local communities in Livingston County in addition to the college's volunteer works trips to Biloxi, Miss., in cooperation with Livingston CARES, a collaborative effort between the college and the Livingston County community to provide relief assistance to those impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

GISP also will offer a volunteer environmental work project through the college's Upstate Escapes travel grant program. Past environmental projects through the program have been successful, such as the maintenance and expansion of the Finger Lakes Trail. Also scheduled are public forums, residence hall programming and the endowed MacVittie Theological Lecture, which will bring a speaker to campus to address "Caring for the Earth."

Concurrent activities related to GISP are workshops offered in the college's GOLD (Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development), which will include a new leadership certificate for 2011-12 focused on environmental sustainability.

More information is available on the Geneseo Interfaith Service Project by calling (585) 245-5857.

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David Irwin
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(585) 245-5516