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Left to right: College sophomore Fahmida Sarmin, Associate Chaplain Steven Kocher, Assistant Director of Netter Center Joann Weeks, Assistant Director of Hillel Rachel Hollander.

This past week, Penn students and administration answered the President’s call for nationwide interfaith community service in Washington, D.C.

Representatives from Penn traveled to Georgetown University for a two-day conference Monday to participate in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. The Netter Center, the Office of the Chaplain and Hillel all sent representatives to the event.

The challenge is part of a White House initiative to engage college students in interfaith and community service projects. Penn was invited to join the challenge at its inception in 2011, and has been involved with it ever since.

College junior Jessica King attended the conference on its opening day. “I was representing the Netter Center … even though we’re not faith-based, there is diversity in the faith of the students we serve in the Philadelphia community,” King said. During the conference, she participated in a panel about domestic poverty and promoting economic equality.

Related: Interfaith Leadership Institute discusses religion and ‘faitheism’

She spoke specifically about a summer work-ready program that trained high school students to be research interns. Students were paid to do research in skills such as public speaking and writing. “The program serves as a stepping stone for those high school students with no work experience,” King said. “We’re giving students from low income backgrounds job skills and job experience that will translate to future employment and college access.”

King also shared her amazement about the diversity of those in attendance at the conference. “It was powerful to see the range of people from different universities and the range in ages,” she said. “There were professors, rabbis, moms and students, which was impressive to me.”

Associate Chaplain Steve Kocher, who also attended the conference, stressed the initiative’s intentional interfaith aspect. “It’s about getting people from different religious backgrounds to find ways to work for common purposes,” Kocher said. He cited several examples of Penn religious groups working together to serve the Philadelphia community. These included Hillel’s service-learning trip to Rwanda, PRISM’s interfaith day of service and the academically based community service class, “I Believe.”

College sophomore Fahmida Sarmin, external communications chair of the Muslim Student Association, was a former student in Kocher’s ABCS class. She also attended the conference as a student spectator. “It was cool to see how other students used service as a vehicle to get different faiths together. It gave me more hope for our campus and motivation to try to implement those things onto our campus,” said Sarmin.

Associate Director of the Netter Center Joann Weeks was further amazed by the diversity in community service projects. “It’s impressive the level and depth of the collaboration between higher education and local communities,” she said.

Related: Penn takes on President’s challenge

Weeks also discussed some potential future developments for the President’s challenge. It will soon merge with the yearly Presidential Honor Roll that was developed by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Penn, one of only two universities, won the Presidential Honor Roll twice in 2008 and 2012.

Assistant Director of Hillel Rachel Hollander spoke about the personal impact of the conference for her: “It reinforced my belief that it is imperative for student leaders to communicate and collaborate with each other. When this happens, their goals are actualized and the potential outcomes are limitless.”

King also expressed her biggest takeaway from the event — reflecting on one’s actions.“I’m going to try to incorporate more reflection among the mentors that I manage. We need to take time to remember why we do community service and realize that it’s beneficial to the recipients but also to those giving their time,” King said.

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