More Than a Checkmark – Together for Tomorrow

Together for Tomorrow Mural across the street from Downey Elementary School

Together for Tomorrow Mural across the street from Downey Elementary School

  “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

                                                                                                -Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. conceptualized the thought of a beloved community in his 1956 speech, Facing the Challenge of a New Age, he envisioned a society where all people regardless of race, background, or position, were united in a common purpose to establish justice for all and ensure a better society for generations to come.   Almost sixty years later, such a vision and approach is still necessary as we recognize the varied injustices and inequities that exist within some of our lowest performing schools.  When we often think about improvement in these schools and the opportunities of creating a culture of education excellence and high achievement, we may not readily view families and community based organizations (CBO’s) as equal partners in this process.  However, such engagement by the aforementioned groups is essential to ensuring educational success for all youth.  Their roles in the educational sphere are just as important as those of school teachers, principals, and officials.

For many school districts, the creation of such a vibrant, educational community – where students’ grades improve consistently and the educational environment is healthy and safe – may seem to be a daunting task as strong ties between school, family, and community stakeholders seldom exist.  Yet, on a recent visit to Harrisburg, PA, the U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) observed how Downey Elementary, under the guidance of the Harrisburg School District and in partnership with families, CBO’s, and institutions such as Messiah College, defies these odds.   Through Together for Tomorrow, an initiative that spotlights and fosters partnerships among schools, families, national service programs, CFBNP staff observed how the collective care and capacity of these stakeholders breathes life into the cultural fabric of Downey and inspires students to step into their roles as academic leaders.

 When I grow up, I want to be a scientist.  I want to cure all types of sickness and cancers.  I am learning about some of this in my science class, and when I finish the fourth grade next year, I am going to the Math Science Academy where I can learn much more!

These words, spoken by a third grade student at Downey Elementary, echoed the similar sentiments of many Downey students who proudly communicated to CFBNP staff that they 1) were leaders, 2) planned to go to college, and 3) planned to make their neighborhoods a better place.  It was evident and also communicated by Downey Elementary Principal Travis Peck that the school and community encourage students to recognize their leadership capabilities and take responsibility in assuring their own present and future successes.

In addition to positive encounters with youth, CFBNP staff also met with parents who spoke highly of how the school included them in the education process and sought the welfare of their children.  One parent stated,

 A few months ago, my child was a victim of bullying at his former school.  After talking with school leadership, the problem still continued until I had to remove him from the school. I then transferred him here to Downey.  Just a few months later, my child is not only safe, but he is successful, is a leader, and is respected by students and teachers.  I think it is important for someone to ask “What it is about Downey that makes it such a positive and safe learning environment in the same neighborhood as my son’s former school, which is only right down the street?”

ED CFBNP Special Assistant Eddie Martin, Jr. with Downey Principal Travis Peck (left) and Messiah College Department of Education Chair, Don Murk (right).

ED CFBNP Special Assistant Eddie Martin, Jr. with Downey Principal Travis Peck (left) and Messiah College Department of Education Chair, Don Murk (right).

What is helping Downey Elementary to become a vibrant and cohesive school community is its intentionality in making sure that all stakeholders have an equal share in providing for the life and educational needs of the students. For example, organizations such as the Harrisburg Symphony, Salvation Army, and United Way have engaged in unique and innovative methods to serve the school.  Messiah College continues to make its contributions to Downey by engaging its students in various service learning projects that enhance both the appearance of the school and the learning opportunities for its students.  The school houses a Parents’ Academy that encourages parents’ participation in school and allows them to receive up to 15 credits towards a college degree. Teachers receive training on engaging students and parents. Downey also contains on onsite health clinic to address the health needs of students.   Additionally, the elementary school has a Vista member employed through the partnership between Messiah College and the Corporation for National and Community Service who helps to build the capacity of the school.  The Harrisburg School District also has a Parent Engagement Specialist who oversees Parent Liaisons and implements programs to help parents become better advocates for their children.

Most importantly, all of the previously mentioned partners, in addition to the Principal, Superintendent, and other officials overseeing the school, seem to care deeply about the students and have established good report with one another as they have embarked upon a common goal to promote the holistic welfare of their students.  For Downey, engaging families and communities in the life of the school extends beyond addressing a simple requirement or “checking the box” of community inclusion.  They recognize the power and benefits of working with families and CBO’s to raise student achievement.

During lunch with CFBNP Staff, the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Harrisburg School District expressed that they were pleased with the progress that Downey Elementary has made under the scope of Together for Tomorrow.  Alongside the Principal, they expressed that the school still has room for improvement but are excited about the direction it is heading with the support of their partners within the school and the greater community.  Collectively, these stakeholders reveal that anything can be accomplished by working together to achieve a cause that improves the life outcomes of our youth.  Educational inequities can be addressed, injustices can be corrected, and students can ultimately thrive.


Ceiling Panel Mural Created by Downey Elementary Students

Ceiling Panel Mural Created by Downey Elementary Students


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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

CFBNP Participates in Module Madness

“My dream is to become the Athletic Director at the University of Alabama one day.  I have applied to the University of Alabama and am determined to get there.  I know that it may be difficult to make that happen and there will many temptations, but this is my goal and I believe I can achieve it.”

The previous statement serves as one of the many aspirations spoken by local students to U.S. Department of Education (ED) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) staff during a recent visit to Bowie, MD.  Recently, CFBNP staff had the opportunity to lead a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) workshop for youth from the Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia regions as a part of Jack and Jill of America’s (Prince George’s County Chapter) 2015 Module Madness event.  Module Madness is an annual youth development initiative divided into several different workshop components (called modules) that focus on youth leadership and financial literacy.  CFBNP staff addressed two of these modules – self-discipline and life skills – by coaching and working with teen facilitators to lead breakout sessions for over 65 students ranging from the 3rd to the 12th grade.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

The breakout sessions for the MBK workshop ranged from CFBNP staff helping 11th-12th students to brainstorm and create career roadmaps that explain in detail the steps they should take to achieve their career passions to engaging 3rd-5th grade students on what makes them feel powerful and how they can work to create positive change in their schools and communities.  Additionally, all students shared remarks in a final session entitled “The Reflection in a Mirror,” where youth discussed 1) how society often perceives them based upon their ethnic background and 2) the challenges they can individually and collectively overcome to succeed in life.

The students were very insightful, genuine, and self-reflective as they participated in the different sessions. For example, when asked to examine Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” one student replied that such a perspective can be applied to all areas of our lives, and we should not let anyone negatively influence how we perceive ourselves.  Additionally, when students were asked how they could work to transform any personal weaknesses into strengths, one male courageously admitted that that though he often has little patience with family and peers, he plans to communicate more effectively with them to mitigate his frustrations and get along better with others.

Overall, the workshop served as one of the many ways that the ED CFBNP participates in White House and ED Initiatives to celebrate the efforts of schools, families, and community organizations to improve the life outcomes of youth, and how the team works with these groups to create a culture of educational excellence within our society.  Such efforts allow us to carry out our mission to help ensure that all youth, especially those who are most vulnerable, have the opportunity to pursue their career dreams and aspirations by receiving a sound education and the support of a caring community.


Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

A Year of Progress Through Partnerships

Cross posted from the White House blog here

In a commitment to advancing opportunity for all Americans, the President pledged that 2014 would be a year of action. He has spent the last 12 months working with Congress where he could, and taking action on his own where needed to revitalize the economy. He also worked closely with leaders from businesses, nonprofits, education, and communities to expand opportunity for more American families. These efforts have helped to create jobs, provide more Americans with high-quality education, promote new sources of energy, and protect the environment.

To help advance this work, the Administration has formed partnerships with faith-based and community organizations. Most Americans have ties to at least one faith or community organization, and they frequently turn to these organizations when they need help. Faith-based and community groups are often uniquely positioned to match people with the benefits, services, and protections they need. Sometimes these connections make the difference between a life of struggle and one of success.

Today, we are publishing a report that highlights a few of these kinds of partnerships as well as others that advance Administration priorities across the nation and around the globe.

A critical function of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships is to coordinate Centers for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships across 12 federal agencies. Each Center works with faith and neighborhood organizations on specific challenges to transform communities and change lives. The close of the year provides a timely opportunity to highlight some of this work.

As we end this year and look to the next, we remember President Obama’s charge:

Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Thanks to our many partners for the opportunity to work with you on achieving these goals. With your help, we are truly becoming a more perfect nation.

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Melissa Rogers is the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Way to Be!

Center Director Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with students on the playground.

Center Director Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with students on the playground.

Be Safe | Be Respectful | Be Responsible

To this day I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up, and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom – Rosa Parks.

The Way to Be motto and the Rosa Parks pledge are the first words of the day that students hear at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley, California after being greeted by their energetic principal, Mr. Paco Furlan.

If there were a picture to place beside the words “family and community engagement” Rosa Parks Elementary School would be a great one! From the moment I joined the students and staff in the courtyard at 8:30am I witnessed the presence of a vibrant caring community. Children came from every direction of the campus reaching out to Mr. Furlan, saying good morning, offering a high five, volunteering to set up the microphone, helping their classmates get into line, vying for the opportunity to lead the Rosa Parks pledge and nominating classmates for “Way to Be!” Recognition.

Principal Furlan dedicates every Tuesday and Thursday for classroom visits and general teacher observations. It is Tuesday. The PTA President is helping children get to their classrooms. She stops to greet me and is excited to share the mission of the Rosa Parks Elementary School PTA which is to help insure every young boy of color in this school will have access to the highest level of community support, through tutors, mentors, encouragement for their families. She rushed off to help in a classroom after saying “All of our boys are going to succeed!”

Moms and dads were visible in many of the classrooms participating as readers and adding capacity for teachers as needed. There are even a couple of dogs on site! The family resource center has full time staff, community partners, as well as students from local universities. The “15 minutes” approach encouraging families to spend just 15 minutes with their children 2-3 times a week has been used for the past four years. The social worker credits the program with demonstrating easy ways for families to build self-esteem, compassion for others, encourage a desire for students to participate, and give a better focus for learning.

I asked Principal Furlan what helps keep him going after 20 years in education. He acknowledged that he is surrounded by an enthusiastic, committed and supportive team of parents, school staff and community supporters. But his eyes sparkled when he talked about the children and handed me two handwritten thank you cards given to him by children. I add my thanks to Mr. Paco Furlan for allowing me to shadow him for a day to witness some of the great work going on at the Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley, California. He truly demonstrates the Way to Be!

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Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell is the Director in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Life’s Priceless Moments: Engaging Youth in Madison, WI

lpm-quoteprivilegeWhat does it mean to hold on to hope in a place where the odds are stacked against you and the pathway towards success seems like an almost impossible cliff to climb?  I was reminded and humbled by such a sobering reality when speaking to three young high-school aged males during a recent visit to Madison, WI. On October 17-18th, I represented our office alongside our National League of Cities partners to meet with city officials and community stakeholders to discuss “Making the Most of Out-of-School Time” for Madison youth.   As part of the visit, I had the opportunity to speak with middle school students from the Lussier Community Education Center and young men from a group called Brotherhood. When arriving at the Community Center, I was met by over a dozen energetic teens brought together by Executive Director Paul Terronova and Youth Program’s Manager Daniel Steinbring.  Even though the students were returning from a competitive event at school, the young Lussier middle school students engaged in our conversation. I asked them questions regarding their future dreams and aspirations, their personal gifts and talents, and mentors in their lives.

As the conversation progressed, three older teens from the group called Brotherhood arrived to the Center.  The young middle school students and adults present seemed somewhat distracted (and maybe even intimidated) by the arrival of the group as the Brotherhood members did not appear eager to engage in conversation.  When I asked them questions similar to those that I asked the middle school students, the older teens were at first very reluctant to answer.  I sensed much obstinacy, frustration, and even anger within them as I inquired about their future goals and plans.  As someone who has worked with youth for over ten years, I felt compelled to focus my attention specifically on them as the middle school youth and adults listened, wondering where the conversation would go from there.

It was at that point that I needed to let them know that beyond all of my titles and under my suit there was someone who looked like them, who, in many ways, could relate to their struggles, and who cared deeply for them even though we had just met.  I knew I needed to meet them where they were – to be empathetic and show them I authentically care for them. When I began to open up to them and tell about past challenges in my life, the young men felt I was “trying to get into their heads” at first. However, when I asked what gives them joy in their lives and one responded, “seeing my sisters and my mother happy,” we instantly connected, as I informed him I shared his sentiments regarding my own two sisters and mother.  It was at this point we all began to truly connect, and from there the conversation flowed and would continue for another hour and a half.

When I revealed to them the obstacles that I had to overcome and some of the struggles I still face as a black male in society, they acknowledged their ability to relate and opened up about many of the challenges they face every day in Madison.  With the adults and middle school youth still present, the Brotherhood members willingly shared with me their fears and doubts about their own leadership capabilities and how society often disparaged them because of their ethnicity and style of dress.  I could plainly see that they desire to thrive and make something out of their lives but lack the resources, mentorship, and knowledge to maximize their potential.  Furthermore, it seemed as if they, like many of our young men of color, began to doubt their own worth because of the prejudices and presuppositions they often encounter on a daily basis.

I saw them wrestle with my constant reiteration that they are more powerful and have more potential than they than they realize. It is amazing how we can plant positive seeds of confidence and lpm-quoteseedsencouragement in the hearts and minds of our youth once they truly realize that we deeply care about and believe in them. The more that spoke positively to them about their abilities, the more they acknowledged their own sense of self-worth. At one point, one of the students stated, “Mr. Martin, you are the first person that has even taken the time to care for us and speak to us in this manner…” Another of the three students reminded me of a question that I posed to them earlier in the conversation. With watering eyes, he said, “Chaplain Martin, you asked me what I would say if I had the opportunity to speak to the President about my community. What I want to tell you is that one day I want to be President, and I want to make sure that all communities are equal so that other youth won’t have to deal with some of the same struggles and issues that we have dealt with.”

The students continued to tell me how they want to make changes in their own community, including adding a basketball court near where they lived so that youth in their neighborhoods have positive recreational outlets. As the conversation ended, they showed excitement about the opportunities that lay ahead in their future. A member of the mayor’s staff was present during the conversation, and the student were even invited to the out-of-school time town hall meeting the following day where they would have the opportunity to meet the Mayor and present their requests to mayoral staff regarding establishing the basketball court.

I left feeling inspired and had only one regret – that I would not have the opportunity to see and speak with these youth every day. However, I have made it my goal to reach out to them as often as possible and remain a positive mentor in their lives. This conversation reaffirmed the mission of both our Office and of the Department of Education as it pertains to promoting student achievement for all of our nation’s youth. We, as human beings, have the privilege, responsibility, and power to transform the lives of our youth – one child at a time – with our work. In order to do so, we have to stand firm and persevere to the end despite any obstacles or set backs that stand in our way; for the welfare and lives of future generations depend upon our efforts.

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Hickman Mills—Commitment to Preschool

Preschool aged children reading with teacher.

Young learners engage in reading.

Hickman Mills School District is the smaller of two school districts within the city limits of Kansas City, Missouri. It is typical of many urban school districts with students of color making up 97 percent of the student population and 65 percent of the teachers are white. However, there are a number of things that make the district atypical. For one thing, student achievement is increasing. In the 2013/14 school year student performance increased by 19% on the Missouri School Improvement Program evaluation. This was sufficient to move the school to fully accredited status.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter, the district approaches the goal of being accredited with distinction with community involvement, serious attention to research, and bold strategies. Research shows that understanding race and schooling is an essential component in school improvement, so the district engaged Glenn Singleton who specializes in helping school districts focus on heightening their awareness of institutional racism and implementing effective strategies for eliminating racial achievement disparities.

The importance of preparing students for kindergarten is supported by research that documents what happens to students who arrive unprepared for school: they usually do not catch up. The U.S. Department of Education has taken this research seriously and provided non-regulatory guidance for schools on how to use Title I to implement high-quality preschool programs. This means that schools can choose to use Title I federal funds that are distributed to schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to provide preschool before they allocate Title I funds for other mandated programs.

At Hickman Mills, they decided to remodel an unused school building and dedicate it to a kindergarten and preschool. Because they are using a district-wide model, Title I funds are used to pay for a preschool program that is available to every family in the district regardless of income. The staff is working as a team to develop an end-of-kindergarten checklist so that all students who leave the building to go to first grade are on track for success.

Of course, using Title I funds for a quality preschool means the school has to give up some Title I programs in later grades such as tutoring and a reading specialist, but the expectation is that by focusing on this early intervention, students will not need as much remedial help in later grades. As Superintendent Carpenter says, “We know what is needed to disrupt the cycle of poverty and assure a path to the middle class: quality preschool. So, why wait.”

On a recent visit to the school I experienced the excitement and energy that permeates the building. A preschool teacher explained to me, “We are all a team here.” While Carpenter and the school board clearly have a plan, they are also flexible in meeting issues as they come up. Because of changes in the school schedule some families had difficulty shifting their work schedules. So, a short term solution was to arrange for the children to be cared for until families could pick them up. This is just one example of the cooperation between families and the school that supports the students. With community support Hickman Mills demonstrates school reform where leadership uses research based strategies and takes advantage of local flexibility in the use of federal funds.

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Ken Bedell is Senior Advisor in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
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Visit to Savannah

On a visit to Savannah, GA as part of its partnership with the National League of Cities (NLOC), the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships received a “taste of Southern Hospitality” as over fifty youth from the Chatham County Youth Commission and Savannah Youth Council greeted their visitors from DC with gratitude, exuberance, and a wealth of information.  The meeting with the youth councils served as a precursor to a larger community conversation to discuss the challenges facing middle school youth and how to use afterschool programs as a solution.

Staff facilitated conversations with the young council members regarding the educational needs of the Savannah community. The middle and high school students answered questions such as: “What can adults do to partner with you to make sure you have the high quality programs you need to equip you for the future,” “How can in-school and after-school be complementary,” and “Is there something we need to make sure President Obama knows that needs to be accomplished at the City level, what would you tell him?”

Students responded with such answers as:

Adults can partner with us by helping to implement programs that are based on our career choices.  My parents did not make it out of high school, and I desire to be an aerospace engineer; so my parents are at a point where they are unable to teach me the necessary skills and next steps to become what I want to be in life.  I want a mentor who helps me understand the pathway to reaching my career goals.

I think afterschool should have programs that help kids learn more about life – survival skills.  Kids now-a-days are more interested in the future.

I would tell the President that we need more good teachers – specifically teachers who also care about the students not just about their learning.  That to me is a good teacher.

The next day, CFBNP staff participated in the Savannah community conversation where over 200 stakeholders were present.  The conversations consisted of three panel discussions, moderated by Center Director Brenda Girton-Mitchell, a working lunch composed of roundtable discussions, and a call-to-action and proclamation by Mayor Edna Jackson.  Savannah leaders voiced their perspectives regarding the needs and successes of the Savannah education system as they reflected on their own experiences growing up and how afterschool programs were integral to their growth.

For example, Terry Enoch, the Assistant Chief of Police in Savannah, commented on how his experiences working on a farm, playing sports, and then becoming part of the Boys and Girls Club laid the foundation for him to grow into a productive and responsible Savannah citizen.  He attributes those experiences to his desire to “pay it forward” and serve his community.  Emma Fellows, an eighth grader from Savannah Christian Academy and an officer on the Savannah Youth Council, spoke about how dancing at an early age helped her to learn about her own abilities and how tumbling helped her to acquire certain soft-skills such as perseverance and patience.  She explained that at her school, one of the biggest issues is cyber-bullying. However, through the positive engagement of adults and leadership from peers, she was confident situations like these can be addressed.

Following the panel and roundtable discussions, Major Jackson commended her community leaders on their desire to work together to improve the life outcomes of Savannah’s youth.  She explained that it would take a united effort to remove the barriers of success prohibiting youth from achieving their fullest potential. To conclude the community conversation, the mayor announced that a Task Force would be formed before the community’s next meeting to engage in further planning to address the challenges facing Savannah youth.

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Eddie is a Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Kansas City, Missouri Early Learning Campaign

Like most cities the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, does not have any authority over the school districts, but that has not stopped Mayor Sly James from working aggressively to improve the quality of education for Kansas City children.  When Early Learning Deputy Assistant Secretary, Libby Doggett, arrive to give a keynote address at a National League of Cities sponsored event, Kansas City was ready.

The event was billed as “Talk, Read, Play: A Conference & Conversation.” Libby Doggett, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Center at the Department of Education, and I witnessed what can happen when non-profit agencies, for-profit service providers, philanthropic organizations, faith-based and other community organizations work together.  One result in Kansas City is a campaign with the catchy title, “Talk, Read, Play with your Child Every Day.” It was developed by The Children’s Campus of Kansas City. Today The Family Conservancy, a nonprofit agency, serves as lead for the campaign.

The campaign is the result of years of research, planning, and community organizing. In 2011 Mayor James was alarmed to learn that only 33% of Kansas City third graders were reading at grade level.  He responded by creating Turn the Page KC. Over 50 partner organizations with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation produced a common agenda and four action areas: summer learning, school attendance, school readiness, and community/volunteer engagement.

The National League of Cities event demonstrated careful planning. Attendees were presented with a tool kit that included specific ideas about ways that the business community, advocacy organizations, faith-based groups, health care agencies, social service organizations, and philanthropy can support the campaign. Lead organizations had already been contacted and committed to take specific actions to support the campaign. For example, hospitals agreed to distribute information about Talk, Read, Play to parents of newborns. Mayor James made sure that the city was on board with commitments from the city manager to distribute promotion materials in water bills sent out from the city, bumper stickers on city owned vehicles, and brochures in city offices.

Kicking Off the Fourth Annual Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

Cross posted from the White House blog here

Acting on a recommendation by the first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships,President Obama established the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge to build bridges of understanding across our differences, especially among rising leaders, and to serve our neighbors. Interfaith service involves people from different religious and non-religious backgrounds tackling community challenges together – for example, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Jews, and Muslims and non-believers – building a Habitat for Humanity house together. Interfaith service impacts specific community challenges, while building social capital and civility.

This week, the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Department of Education, and Corporation for National and Community Service hosted a gathering to kick off the President’s Fourth Annual Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. More than 500 college students, chaplains, faculty, and administrators – including over 50 college presidents – participated in the two-day event.

The Challenge has grown by leaps and bounds since 2011 when President Obama first encouraged college presidents to establish or expand programs in interfaith and community service. Currently, more than 400 institutions of higher education participate in the Challenge.

The national gathering this week began with Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, welcoming college presidents and supporters. It concluded with remarks by Treasury Secretary and former member of the CNCS Board of Directors, Jack Lew, and a showing of the award-winning film, Of Many, which follows the friendship and interfaith partnership of New York University’s Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. These two sessions bookended a series of fascinating panel discussions, presentations, and community conversations involving a diverse array of academics, students, advocates, governmental officials, and think tank scholars.

A new step forward for the Challenge this year was the fact that recognition for interfaith community service was included in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The Honor Roll, launched in 2006, annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement by recognizing institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve. The President’s Honor Roll now recognizes higher education institutions in four categories: General Community Service, Interfaith Community Service, Economic Opportunity, and Education. Also for the first time this year, a school was selected as a winner of a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service. That honor went to Loras College, a Catholic affiliated school in Dubuque, Iowa. One of the school’s many achievements is partnering with the AmeriCorps VISTA program to recruit and retain volunteers to tackle a range of challenges. This year and every year, the Campus Challenge demonstrates President Obama’s longstanding commitment to expanding and supporting national service, which he recently highlighted at the White House’s 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps celebration.

Thanks to all who make the goals of interfaith and community service a priority, and a very special thanks to the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for its leadership in planning and organizing this week’s event. We are excited about future of the Challenge.

If you’d like to learn more about the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, contact the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Education at


Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Secretary Arne Duncan, Wendy Spencer, and Melissa Rogers present Loras College a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service through the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll at George Washington University.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Secretary Arne Duncan, Wendy Spencer, and Melissa Rogers present Loras College a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service through the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll at George Washington University.

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Melissa Rogers is the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Secretary’s Back to School Bus Tour 2014: My Brother’s Keeper in Birmingham, AL

Young men and women participate in the Secretary's Back to School Bus Tour My Brother's Keeper Roundtable DiscussionDuring a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Town Hall on July 21st, President Obama announced that he wants to enter into communities and “feel like something is different,” where collective investment in the lives of youth has become a cultural norm for entire societies.  The city of Birmingham, AL is making countless efforts to establish such a culture, as was evident during the Secretary’s “Partners in Progress” Back-to-School Bus Tour in the historical Civil Rights Movement city.  On September 9, 2014 at JH Phillips Academy, ten vibrant youth from five different youth-serving organizations had the opportunity to share how their own organizations were making a positive impact on their lives and helping to place them on a pathway towards success.   Their perspectives were part of an MBK Roundtable Discussion, which featured Secretary Duncan, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and Mayor William Bell, where Congresswoman Terri Sewell was also present and delivered opening remarks during the occasion.

Department of Education Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, facilitated the roundtable. During the discussion, the youth participants expressed how they and the Birmingham Community collectively can serve as advocates for MBK in an effort to “make sure that every American—including our boys and young men of color – can reach their full potential.”  The discussion was unique as it included both male and female participants and captured how MBK incorporates all of our youth, including our young men and women of color.

As Director Mitchell engaged the students on issues related to the six MBK universal goals, the youth participants responded genuinely and passionately, holding nothing back.  For example, when asked the question, “How would you address and motivate your friends and your colleagues who do not have the same opportunities as you,” one student responded:

If I can get my friends to be motivated to do something, then that encourages me. If I can get them up on their feet, then they can walk.  And the next step is to get them to run.  I want my friends to make it all the way to the top with me.

When Director Mitchell addressed the female students and inquired how they viewed themselves as a part of the MBK initiative, one young woman stated:

 Our men are our brothers and uncles.  I have a twin brother.  I see the struggles for black men.  They have to be two times as good just to be recognized as equal.  I see myself and other women as support for our black men who stand by our sides.

And when the students were asked, “If you had the opportunity to address President Obama concerning the educational needs of your community, what would you ask him to do?”  Students responded with such answers as:

 I would ask the President to create more professional development activities and hands on projects for both teachers and students.

I would tell the President to introduce more academic based extracurricular activities in our communities.

I want President Obama to know that the black people here in Birmingham are trying.  There are a lot of things that we know; we just need more opportunities.  We may not have the opportunities to be lawyers or doctors, but I want the President to know that we should open the community to more positive chances…and that we need living examples that are positive in our lives…

Speaking in the academy’s library with over 150 people in attendance, the young participants left an indelible impact on the crowd.  They affirmed that with the necessary resources and collective support of the community as a whole, they would have a substantial opportunity to achieve their dreams as they would continue to strive to reach their fullest potential.



Young men and women participate in the Secretary's Back to School Bus Tour My Brother's Keeper Roundtable Discussion

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Eddie Martin serves as Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.