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Service Programs

A Million Blooms of Interfaith Service and Kindness

USA-2009-03-26-A Million Blooms of Interfaith Service and Kindness

Washington, DC, USA - The Million Acts of Service and Kindness campaign is springing into the new year with efforts all around the United States. In keeping with the spring season, the current theme is “A Million Blooms.”

The campaign began at the Global Peace Festival in August 2008 and will continue throughout 2009 in partnership with the Points of Light Foundation. It has an interfaith and youth focus and is striving for sustainable service that produces positive social change. Youth of all faiths are invited to lead and to participate. Here are some of the recent highlights:

Unity Walk, Washington, DC

On Martin Luther King Day, January 19, 2009, the 9/11 Unity Walk’s Youth Service Initiative hosted its first interfaith community service project. Over 150 youth, ages ranging from 9-25, came together with hundreds of other volunteers in Anacostia Park to join the efforts of the Earth Conservation Corps in collecting trash on the surrounding shoreline of DC’s Anacostia River. Following a morning of service, the youth gathered for lunch and an interfaith dialogue, coordinated by the Interfaith Youth Core and facilitated by local volunteers, religious leaders, parents, and teachers. Volunteers were divided into religiously diverse groups of 8-10 people to discuss the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., specifically how his message relates to one’s call to service, environmental justice and interfaith understanding.

Unity Walk is channeling the momentum from this event into ongoing service opportunities for youth. A Youth Advisory Board will be established, including representatives from all faith traditions, to empower youth to design and implement their own service projects centered on themes such as the environment, human rights, and other social justice issues. The next targeted service dates are the Global Youth Service Days, April 24 and 25.

Interfaith Prayers for Peace and Food Drive, Sterling, Virginia

Over 50 people brought donations of food for food distribution centers to the beautiful new Baha’i Center, which was built with nine doors to welcome all faiths to gather together to worship God. Ambassadors for Peace of many faiths, joined by new guests of many more diverse religions, gathered in the auditorium to celebrate their many unique expressions of the love of God and peace.

The emcee, Rhonda Williams, has worked on interfaith cooperation in this area of Virginia for many years and was instrumental in bringing these people together. The Baha'i Director, Mr. John Russo, started the evening of prayers by offering a moving prayer. The program continued with the healing music of Nepalese ringing bowls by Ahmad Nadimi and the singing of Andra, who is a spiritual leader of a faith founded in India. The Children’s Peace Choir opened the hearts of the audience, and Minister Amar Nath Gupta gave the first unifying chant of "One Family under God" after blowing the sacred conch shell, a symbol of God’s peace.

The audience was so beautiful in its diversity, and even all ages, from babies to elders in their eighties. Sharing music and prayers in an atmosphere of openheartedness resonated with the Global Peace Festival theme of “One Family under God.”

Interfaith Service, St. Paul, Minnesota

The Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, established in 1906, is a nonprofit organization composed of 700 member congregations from the east metropolitan area of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Its Youth Leadership Coalition is a youth-specific and youth-led space for interfaith dialogue and social change. Launched in the fall of 2008, it operates in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Ten to fifteen youth from grades 8 to 12 from diverse faith backgrounds meet one to two times per month in a safe environment to talk about religion, develop leadership skills, and work together on addressing a social or environmental justice issue of their choosing through service-learning and advocacy.

This year’s themes are literacy and youth homelessness. The youth determine their own agendas, facilitate discussion, and use a community listening process to determine needs in the community, with the support of a coordinator and other adult allies who likewise come from diverse religious backgrounds. Participants represent Hindu, Unitarian Universalist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.

MLK Day of Service Makes a Difference, San Francisco Bay Area, California

The Bay Area Family Church played a key role in spreading the culture of service and acting as a facilitator among a group of over 30 partnering organizations. Members worked in support of six projects side by side with over 1200 volunteers during Martin Luther King Day, January 19. These projects were set up in collaboration with city governments and with various nonprofit organizations, and volunteers included members of many different faiths.

From tree planting to helping elderly people clean up their front yard, painting fences stained by graffiti, building community gardens, repairing hiking trails, and picking up over 200 bags of trash — all this made the Bay Area become a brighter place.

As one of the organizers, Liz Maker, an Alameda County Public Health Department worker, remarked, “I think the day of service will impact the community on two levels. The first level is the changes that you can see, such as the newly painted fences without graffiti, painted speed bumps, and so on. The second level is that people can come together and see that they made a difference. They realize that they have the power to change the neighborhood.”

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