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White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships invites Messiah College to participate in round-table discussion

On Feb. 7, Chad Frey, director of Messiah College’s Agape Center for Service and Learning, and Hope Hess ‘12, student director of outreach, participated alongside Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, superintendent of the Harrisburg School District, in a round-table discussion facilitated by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

This is not the first time Messiah has partnered with the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  This past summer, Messiah joined the White House’s Interfaith Campus Community Challenge, which encourages increased student service in the community.

The round-table discussion focused on the role of faith-based organizations and colleges in helping low performing schools and a possible partnership between those organizations and the White House. Since the discussion, the partnership, entitled “Together for Tomorrow,” has been announced by the Obama administration.

Frey, Hess and Knight-Burney’s presentation
In his portion of the presentation, Frey shared how faith-based colleges are influential because of their convening power. Colleges like Messiah have the ability to bring different groups of people together and create what Frey calls a “gathering of minds.” The dialogue Messiah facilitates within the community creates opportunities to talk about difficult issues and discuss solutions. “Faith-based colleges and universities have been doing this for a long, long time,” says Frey, “Our ability to bring people together has been demonstrated.”

Frey also shared how faith-based colleges like Messiah support schools through service learning and the training and placement of student volunteers. Colleges are considered national training grounds for volunteers because large numbers of students want to get involved.

Hess then shared more specific ways students are involved, and how that involvement impacts low performing school districts.  She shared about the Agape Center, Messiah’s “hub” for service and learning, and about her own experiences with service learning and how those experiences affected her. “I was able to provide a student perspective in just saying how my involvement in service learning, how my involvement in the Agape Center, really changed how I viewed the world,” says Hess.

After Hess, Knight-Burney shared about the Harrisburg school district, and how the district has felt supported through their unique partnership with Messiah College. She talked about how Messiah has been a helpful partner in the process of educating children and creating spaces for difficult conversations within the community.   

Future involvement with Together for Tomorrow
Messiah’s presentation at the round-table discussion portrayed three different aspects of a faith-based college helping a low performing school district.  “Ours took a different angle (than the other presentations) because it was more trying to illustrate three really important stakeholders,” says Frey. With Frey representing an administrative side, Hess representing a student’s perspective and Knight-Burney representing the viewpoint of a community partner, “I felt like the effect was very good,” says Frey enthusiastically.

According to Frey, the invitation to the White House was an honor, but both Frey and Hess are hoping it is just the beginning. “Together for Tomorrow” is an initiative that promotes an “all-hands on deck” approach to helping low performing schools.  It focuses on the ability of the community to increase measurable student outcomes.

Frey hopes to use the power behind this initiative to leverage conversations that are already happening. He is hoping that the support of the White House will cause people to “perk up and pay attention,” and create substantive conversations within the community.  “We’re committed to the conversation,” says Frey, “We’re committed to these issues.”

Hannah Teklits ‘15

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