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Diverse Youth Find Common Purpose Through Service
Imagine: Hundreds of thousands of religiously diverse young people, from elementary school kids to university graduate students, in big cities and small towns, coming together across the country and the world to serve their communities.
The reality of our world is that youth from different traditions, faiths, backgrounds, and perspectives are interacting with one another more frequently than ever before. This interaction tends in one of two directions -- conflict or cooperation.
Each April, in sites around the world, this vision becomes a reality through the integration of two of this country's most powerful youth engagement programs -- National & Global Youth Service Day and the National Days of Interfaith Youth Service.
Since 2003, the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core has been bringing together youth from different religious backgrounds for its National Days of Interfaith Youth Service, encouraging young people to articulate and enact the impulse to action in their own faiths, while they discover the same impulse in those of different beliefs.
Since 1988, Youth Service America has coordinated the National & Global Youth Service Day, the largest service event in the world. The millions of young people who participate continue on a lifelong path of service, civic engagement, and philanthropy, while educating adults, the media, and elected officials about the critical role of youth as community leaders, assets, and resources.
IFYC and YSA's partnership represents an intentional shift on the part of the national youth service movement toward actively engaging the growing religious diversity of our country. The reality of our world is that youth from different traditions, faiths, backgrounds, and perspectives are interacting with one another more frequently than ever before. This interaction tends in one of two directions -- conflict or cooperation. In classrooms and communities, across the Internet and through the media, youth must learn to interact with those who sometimes seem radically different from them; at the same time, youth are rarely equipped with any means to navigate these complexities of religious diversity. We fear that when youth are not taught to positively understand religious diversity, conflict can appear as the only option. Through this partnership between Interfaith Youth Core and Youth Service America, however, we are showing youth a new way to interact. Our shared commitment to quality service-learning projects brings young people together around the "actionable" values shared between faiths, and we are calling youth to concrete acts of group service around what they share even as they affirm what is unique to their traditions.
Our greatest hope comes in what we know these youth will take away from their work, what we know will happen when these service projects are completed. Reflective and invigorated as they return to their cities, campuses, and faith communities, these young people will return home not just as participants, but as leaders to inspire sustained, ongoing interfaith youth service work. We are partnering to catalyze a movement that encourages young people to serve their world in a way that strengthens their unique religious and moral identities even as it fosters understanding across differences. We believe that creative cooperation can become the standard for how young people of different backgrounds interact. And we believe that it will be young people who ultimately teach this lesson to the world.
There is great power in interfaith youth service work, and great power in our unprecedented partnership. As the leaders of these two organizations, we urge you to find a way to get involved! Please visit our websites and find out how to organize and register your own project or to find a site near you:
Dr. Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, and Steven A. Culbertson is president and CEO of Youth Service America.