The call came in the form of a White House announcement about the launch of the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. According to the White House website, the challenge is “an initiative inviting institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus.”
“I was excited when I read the news about the president’s call for Interfaith and Community Service and decided to respond immediately,” said Dr. Sudershan Pasupuleti, UT associate professor of social work and the project leader. “I saw the call from President Obama as very interesting. As part of the social work faculty, I’m always involved with the community and trying to improve the community.”
“I’m grateful to the president for having the vision to mobilize college campuses,” said Dr. Jeanine Diller, director of the UT Initiative for Religious Understanding. “We wouldn’t be doing this without that call.”
Pasupuleti proposed the community work to improve the human condition in north Toledo, an area where he has been involved in projects for more than five years. He and Diller are leading a place-making project in north Toledo, asking residents what they need. The project willcome to include cleaning the area and creating a beautiful place for residents to exercise.
“We met about three times in the Old North End with a community group and the Friendly Center, a United Way organization that has worked there for decades, to find a fit between our resources at UT and the needs of the community,” Diller said.
Together, they identified eight separate needs and found three that fit the University’s resources: community cleanup, creating community gardens and health promotion.
The group hopes to create a quarter-mile to half-mile walking loop with some landscaping and areas off the path, possibly including a playground and benches.
Pasupuleti said they have recruited the Social Work Student Organization and the Office of Academic Engagement, among others, to work on the project.
“We have a strong proposal and plan of action,” Pasupuleti said. “We’re just waiting to hear from students. We want them to express their ideas and see where we need to make changes in the plan.”
“The project feels like a win-win-win,” Diller said. “It’s a win for the community because they get a beautiful walking path they need. It’s a win for the students because they get exposure to service to others. It’s a win for the interfaith movement because it creates a force for good out of religious differences.”
Pasupuleti and Diller attended a workshop in Washington, D.C., in August to learn more about the program and are recruiting students to participate.
A kickoff event will take place Friday, Sept. 9, at 4 p.m. in Libbey Hall; pizza will be served. “Walk and work days” will start Monday, Oct. 10, complete with transportation to the Old North End from campus.
Those interested in working on the interfaith project can contact Pasupuleti at firstname.lastname@example.org or Diller at email@example.com.