Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Engaging Faith Communites

So this post comes fresh on the heels of a very enlightening PIP seminar at Interfaith Youth Core. For those unfamiliar with the PIP program, each Wednesday a couple dozen of us PIP fellows from Northwestern, University of Chicago, Princeton and Colorado College convene at some remarkable organizations office to learn more about what is being done to address issues of social justice around Chicago. This morning we had the unique opportunity to meet with Eboo Patel who has built an organization around the idea of interfaith service--that is, bringing together young leaders of different faith backgrounds to work together, develop skills and mutual understanding through common social justice projects. They work to spread ideas of religious pluralism in the public sphere while at the same time equipping future interfaith leaders to build a movement that promotes mutual respect and understanding on matters of faith while empowering youth to serve others.

For us here at the Tutor/Mentor Connection, we are also concerned with mobilizing people of faith to give back to their communities through structured programs that bring together people of different backgrounds, promoting mutual respect and understanding. Though our primary focus is developing at-risk youth through connecting them with a caring mentor, our pairs do come from unique backgrounds, be they socioeconomic, racial or faith, and through building a relationship, mentors and mentees do often come to understand and respect the other person's background. In fact, when interviewing our volunteers to write my volunteer spotlight articles, they often claim that they get as much or more out of the relationship than the kid due to the fact that through our program, and the structured relationships we facilitate, the volunteers come to understand the unique struggles their students face growing up in a public housing development like Cabrini-Green, in a different socio-economic situation and with a different history and perspective due to their status as young African-Americans in the inner-city. So, it's clear that volunteers value this cultural exchange and that this is a motivating factor for their involvement.

Given that the 4 religions with the most adherents in the US: Christianity, Judiasm, Buddhism and Islam all have strong social justice components, it would make sense for communities of faith to rally around a cause like tutoring/mentoring at-risk youth. In fact, many have already done so, for example, youth programs operate out of churches and synagoges across the city. However, given the strength, resources and organization of these faith communities, many of them are equipped to be doing much more to increase their impact and strenghthen their communities. This short document, hashes out a strategy for faith communities to lead volunteer mobilization for tutor/mentor programs. Yet this is but one way that faith communities can get involved. They can host their own community mentoring programs, welcoming youth from the community into their space and connecting them with caring volunteers through structured tutoring/mentoring programs, they can also use their significant human and financial resources to support and build capacity for pre-existing programs. So if you are a member of a faith community, please think about what you and your church/synagoge/mosque/temple...etc can be doing to support efforts around the city to give at-risk youth a chance to succeed. Find programs at or call us at 312-492-9614.

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