Higher Education

How Can We Help? Supporting Campuses and Emerging Leaders through Funding

Group of volunteers put their hands together as a team before a service project. (Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)

Group of volunteers put their hands together as a team before a service project. (Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)

Growing up, engaging in acts of service was incredibly important to how I lived out my faith. My synagogue was constantly engaged in service projects – canned food drives, builds, relief efforts for communities across the world.

The Rabbi I grew up with was constantly reminding us to learn about others and to support them. I was lucky enough to be able to travel with my synagogue and my mom to Mendoza, Argentina when I was 11 years old. We learned about the collapse of the middle class and the vibrant Jewish community. We baked challah at the local synagogue, stayed at the homes of folks in the community, and learned about how we could help. As with most synagogues, around the time of my Bat Mitzvah, I was expected to engage in a service project, and I knew that my project had to focus on this community. In every conversation we had that week, the overwhelming response to “how can we help” was “money.” The community had each other but they just needed access to basic medical care to ensure they could thrive. They needed funding for new glasses prescriptions, insulin, and other items that would make their lives easier so they could go from surviving to thriving. This moment here is why I love granting – it is a reminder that with a bit of support, not saving, communities can access what they need to truly flourish.

Learn more about applying for the Building Interfaith America Grants.

My favorite part of my role as Grant and Program Manager here at Interfaith America is that I get to provide the resources to communities to change the world.  When I first joined IA, I was able to work with the Faith in the Vaccine project and we were reminded about how our communities could change the course of a pandemic for the better with access to resources. Additionally, I’ve been able to work on the Building Interfaith America Grants where we watched as 21 campuses and numerous Emerging Leaders across the country receive funding to take students on alternative break trips, learn about the needs of their local communities, and address the expressed needs of students, faculty, staff, and community members – all while learning to work across difference.

And I’m not alone in loving granting – read from a few of my colleagues about why they also love this aspect of our roles and why granting aligns with their faiths.

Amar Peterman

As a Christian, I believe our sacred texts have much to offer with respect to stewarding what we are given. First, I appreciate that our grants value the labor of our field builders and offer generous compensation. The Hebrew Bible and New Testament both speak to this ethical responsibility (Lev. 19:14; Deut. 24:15; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; James 5:4). Second, the Christian faith speaks to the active work of stewardship. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), the master praises the workers who did not bury what they were given in the ground but went out and used their talents wisely. Finally, my Christian faith encourages me, like Interfaith America, to say “yes” as often as I can. The small projects, events, dinners, and educational opportunities that these grants provide will not change the world overnight, but they all contribute to the ongoing work of faith that, even when it is the size of a mustard seed, can move mountains.

Noa Nakao

I grew up Christian, but specifically in a pastor’s family. Having been deeply exposed to organized religion and the Church all of my life, I’ve seen firsthand how often women, people of color, and people who hold other minoritized identities can be asked to take on unpaid labor under the guise of ‘ministry’.

While the question of what compensation within vocation and ministry is remains a larger conversation, I take joy in the fact that many grants at IA give recognition to the unpaid labor and under-appreciated expertise of these groups. Many faculty and staff members who do interfaith work on campus do so out of a passion that goes beyond their job descriptions and I’m grateful we are in a position to recognize them.  

Becca Hartman-Pickerill

The Building Interfaith America Grants were inspired by Eboo Patel’s newest book, “We Need to Build” and premised on both asset based framing – lead with strengths – and a desire to invest in local knowledge, a belief that people in communities are best positioned to identify the opportunities that are meaningful to them as well as the challenges that need to be addressed.

This grant has a unique connection to my own faith community, American Baptists, a small Christian denomination, for whom local church autonomy is central. Having been established in response to religious persecution in Europe, my church’s founders believed that we needed ways to connect our wisdom and power broadly (the denomination) while making decisions locally. That’s still how we’re structured today, prioritizing local church autonomy and regional (read: mostly state by state) support, but coming together as a larger body to share resources and curriculum, pool our efforts for missions, and get better benefits for church staff. It’s not perfect, no human structure is, but it is a meaningful reflection of the American Baptist belief that we are to be in relationship with God (and responsive to God’s call in our individual lives) and to one another. In our approach to granting, Interfaith America seeks ways for individuals to leverage resources at their local institutions while gaining from the insight, support and examples of the national cohort of grantees.

Amena Khan

Being part of the granting process allows me to connect closely with one of the most important tenants of Islam – the ordinance by God, for communities to share their wealth for a good cause. Through this teaching, Muslims are encouraged to fund education programs, support religious institutes, build up community centers, and aide marginalized groups. God promises that spending in the way of others will never decrease one’s wealth, it will only earn them great benefits (Quran 34:39). I can see this as IA supports Racial Equity initiatives through interfaith dialogue, and it produces immense benefits on a local and national scale and increases our own granting ability. By investing in worthy causes that uplift communities, I am able to bring the values of my faith tradition into my daily work.