A Challenge to Serve

For decades, Campbell University has encouraged its students, staff and faculty to serve their community.

This year, it’s challenging them.

Campbell is one of approximately 200 colleges and universities taking part in the President’s Interfaith Service Campus Challenge, committing to a year of community service and interfaith programming. The goal is not only to serve others, but to group with people of other religious denominations in order to learn more about and respect other people’s beliefs.

“In every community, it seems the faith groups are always the first ones to step in and help meet the most pressing needs,” said Faithe Beam, Campbell’s Campus Minister and one of the leaders in the University’s interfaith effort. “If we could pull together all faiths, imagine what we can do. That’s the whole idea behind this challenge.”

To celebrate Campbell’s 125th anniversary, faculty staff, students and alumni have been given the challenge to complete 125,000 collective hours of service this school year. The effort began in earnest over the Sept. 11 weekend this fall with the 9/11 Day of Service and an interfaith lecture on Sept. 12 about tolerance for other religions 10 years after the terrorist attacks in 2001. Another panel discussion was scheduled for October, and the fall semester will also include an Amazing Faiths Dinner and interfaith concert at Duke University.

“We embark on this 125,000-hour challenge not to brag, but because it is who we are,” Beam said. “The Campbell community represents thousands of hours of time spent with Sunday school classes, small groups, civic organizations, nonprofit agencies, friends and family serving our neighbors … we want to celebrate this.”

Beam joined Divinity School Dean Dr. Andrew Wakefield in Washington, D.C., in August for the national Interfaith Challenge gathering at the White House to learn more about the initiative and share ideas with other universities. Upon her return, Beam met with other staff and students to devise a yearlong plan.

Co-leading the effort is Sara Acosta, director of the campus-based service group Americorps VISTA. Acosta said one of the areas Campbell will focus on is education, with emphasis on elementary, middle and high school students in Harnett County’s schools.

“It’s the most relevant social issue out there, especially in Harnett County, where illiteracy is such a big problem,” Acosta said.

Groups like Caring Camels are partnering Campbell students with younger students for tutoring and basic social interaction, she added.

“There’s a great need in every county,” Acosta said. “But rural poverty is a different monster. Raleigh, for example, has agencies on hand like Raleigh Rescue Mission, Raleigh Habitat for Humanity and many others. Harnett County has far fewer … which makes what we’re doing important.”

Those served by Campbell’s volunteer groups aren’t the only ones benefiting, says Beam. A goal of the Interfaith Challenge is to teach those who serve a lesson in tolerance and respect for people of other faiths.

“Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish … we’re represented by all these religions at Campbell,” Beam said. “If we had 25 Baptists at the table discussing local needs, then not everybody would be represented. But bring in 25 people with different faiths and different backgrounds, and the conversation becomes robust. Each person, then, benefits from listening well … and that’s a goal, to learn how to listen and learn from others.”

— Billy Liggett, Assistant Director for Publications