Campus Challenge Takes On Poverty, Education
Issue   |   Wed, 11/28/2012 - 02:09

Campus Challenge is back for a second year to bring students, faculty and staff together to tackle crucial problems like poverty and lack of access to education, promote societal cohesion and develop the social capital to build a better future.

The Campus Challenge was first conceived in the spring of 2011 when President Barack Obama invited colleges and universities across the nation to participate in ‘The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge: Advancing Interfaith Cooperation and Community Service in Higher Education.’ Tony Marx, still the president of the College at the time, fervently supported the College’s involvement in the program, and his successors acting-President Gregory Call and current President Carolyn Martin continued his legacy.

Last year, the Campus Challenge Committee, a group of students, faculty and staff that direct the Challenge’s efforts, created the ’75-10-10-25’ goal, which stated that 75 percent of students, faculty and staff would take part in the initiative in some manner; that 10,000 pounds of food would be gathered and $10,000 raised for the Amherst Survival Center; and that 25 percent of participants would join in an interfaith discussion. By June 13, 2012, the Campus Challenge managed to surpass all of its goals, involving several thousand students, faculty and staff in the Challenge; collecting 10,078 pounds of food and $10,092.31 in donations for the Survival Center; and involving 62 percent of students, 70 percent of staff and 59 percent of faculty in interfaith engagements.

The Amherst Survival Center, a local poverty-alleviation organization that runs a food pantry and health clinic for local families, received significant help from the Campus Challenge. In a letter to participants in the Challenge, Program Director Tracey Levy emphasized the Challenge’s crucial role in allowing the Survival Center to continue to provide services to needy families.

“As stimulus money and other federal support has dried up and had an impact on the food budget for the Amherst Survival Center and the Food Bank of Western Mass., the numbers of clients at the Survival Center has continued to grow. The Campus Challenge helped us to provide the extra food and funding that was needed so the people who depend on our services can continue to get what they need. We couldn’t have done it without you this year,” Levy said.

This year, the Committee’s goals remain more or less the same, but with an expanded mission and more ambitious aims said Paul Sorrentino, a Protestant religious advisor at the Cadigan Center and member of the Committee.

“We made several changes for this year. All food and money donations went to the Amherst Survival Center last year. This year we have broadened our focus in response to concern expressed by some people that they had other organizations that they wanted to support. This year donations to any organization in line with our foci of poverty alleviation and increased educational opportunity will be counted. Our public events will target five partner organizations: the Amherst Survival Center; the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Amherst a Better Chance (ABC House); Reader to Reader; and the Homework House in Holyoke. The Center for Community Engagement works with all of these organizations,” said Sorrentino.

In addition, the Campus Challenge is focusing on using the term ‘values and beliefs in action’ rather than ‘interfaith engagement,’ in response to concerns that the term ‘interfaith’ excluded those who did not belong to an organized religion and discouraged religious individuals wary of a ‘syncretistic approach’ that could compromise their own beliefs, Sorrentino said.

To achieve its goals, the Campus Challenge is organizing a variety of events this year, including a year-long food drive, a fundraising event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day entitled “Supper, Story & Song,” a reprisal of last year’s “Everybody Has a Story Week” and a faculty panel discussion with Professors Karen Sanchez-Eppler and Luca Grillo. Stacey Cooney, an employee of the Registrar’s Office and member of the Committee, viewed the food drive as a concrete and easy way for members of the College community to give back to society at large.

“The food and supply drive is a way for us to make a concrete, visible contribution to the local community. It is also a great way for people to get involved in a way that doesn’t ask them to make a large sacrifice. Just a can of food or a notebook from everyone on campus would have a large impact,” said Cooney. “We work for, attend and/or teach at an elite institution of higher education that purports to have a long standing tradition of reaching out to the community. This is a great way for us as a community to connect and extend that tradition in a concrete and hopefully lasting way.”

Rachel Om ’13, a student-member of the Campus Challenge Committee encouraged any students interested in building community or contributing to social justice to get involved with the committee.

“I only recently became a part of Campus Challenge sometime between September and October. I initially attended simply as note-taker because the Committee met during my shift as student monitor at the Cadigan Center. I decided to take on a more involved role after the first two meetings because I saw the Campus Challenge was a great opportunity to meet and work with other students, faculty and staff. I definitely see this as an opportunity to build the sort of ‘community’ that was discussed on the day of dialogue. So if more students are interested in getting involved, they are more than welcome to attend meetings and be a member of the committee,” said Om.