The Planting Seeds interfaith community service program has been active for the past year at Juniata. Lauren Seganos is an Americorps member who works at Juniata as the interfaith service coordinator. Seganos talks about the Planting Seeds program.
Q: How was the “Planting Seeds” group started at Juniata?
A: There was a call that went out from the White House in the spring to challenge college and universities across the country to make inter-faith community service a priority for the next year. That means bringing groups of students from a variety of different religious or spiritual world views to come together and do community service projects; Christian students, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist or non-religious as well, to come together around an issue that’s important to them. This whole project was called “The President’s Inter-Faith and Community Service Campus Challenge.” There are over 250 schools across the country participating in this challenge, and Juniata is one of them.
The name of our program is “The Planting Seeds” program, because we chose our specific issue to be local concerns about food, hunger, and farming. Any service projects we do are around that topic and we pool from a wide variety of students from different back grounds to work on projects together.
Q: What activities has the group done so far?
A: We have done a couple of inter-faith cooking and baking events, where we have students teach other students different recipes from their various traditions or cultures. We’ve made breads from the Middle East, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan, as well as fasnachts, which are a pastry from the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. We donate that bread to the soup kitchen that week. We talk to them about what we made and why we made it together, and then we share a meal together with the people at the soup kitchen. We’ve done that a couple times and we’re planning to do it again in two weeks.
We’ve done service days on some of the local Amish and Mennonite farms in Belleville, Pa.. We’ve worked on an orchard where we picked apples, we assembled firewood, we did some yard work. We’ve also had some educational events as well. We’ve done field trips, and we have a film coming up next week to facilitate dialogue between students of different religious and non-religious backgrounds around common themes.
Q: What are some of the things you’re planning to do in the future?
A: We have a film coming up called The Calling, which looks at young adults in their 20s from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim backgrounds who are in training to become clergy in their traditions. It looks at the challenges each of them faces and commonalities in these challenges.
We’re also coordinating with Hillel to plan the Freedom Seder coming up on March 28. A seder is a meal in the Jewish tradition. This will be the Passover Seder. We’ll be looking at communities that have been oppressed in some way. They’re partnering with African American Student Alliance and the Religious Studies Club.
Q: Why do you think the White House places an emphasis on the idea of “interfaith”?
A: A big reason is because a lot of the violence and turmoil that’s happening across the world today is religious conflict. Regardless of your tradition, there is extremism in every form of religion. People talk about religious violence and hatred between religious communities, but they don’t talk about ways that religions can work together. The idea is that when you’re serving a community with someone who believes something very different from you, you start to see that person as a friend who has something in common with you, rather than as a stranger or an enemy. It’s a way to build bridges between communities that might not be able to build bridges otherwise.
It’s also important to say that “inter-faith” does not constrict itself only to people with religious beliefs; it could include Atheist or non-religious or agnostic perspectives as well. Those communities are also welcome in the work we do.
Q: How can students join if they’re interested?
A: Students can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), stop by the Unity House, check the announcements for any activities regarding Planting Seeds. They can check us out on Facebook. I encourage any student who is involved in community service or would like to become involved in community service to contact the group and become friends with someone who has a different religious background.
Kelsey Molseed, ’14 Juniata Online Journalist