Interfaith Youth Summit Inspires Unity, Service

Submitted by Sharla Hales

The Nevada Interfaith Association sponsored an Interfaith Youth Summit mid-November that was attended by 80 teenagers, including Baptists, Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Baha’is, Latter-day Saints, and others.

The event, titled “Voices for Change,” was held on Saturday, November 17 from 9:00 to 3:00 at UNR’s Joe Crowley Student Union building. The event was sponsored in collaboration with UNR’s Student Life Center.

The objectives of the Interfaith Association were for the youth to increase leadership skills, to be inspired to acts of service and to experience unity and cooperation in a time of divisiveness. At the conclusion of the event, attendees raised their hands when asked if they wanted to move forward with group service projects and future activities.

Sherif Elfass, Northern Nevada Muslim Community president, said that goals were met: “The interfaith youth summit paved the way to establish our future diverse leaders. It was eye-opening to most of them. They are not aware of the challenges facing our community and the choices they should make to start facing them.”

The attendees had many different takeaways, for example:

• “I learned that more things bring religions together than separate them.”
• “When we’re not on technology all the time we can make others happier and have more influence.”
• “There was no hostility. We accepted each other, and it made me feel good to be part of the community.”
• “It was great because I talked to many different kids and learned there are all different ways to solve problems.”

The panel of religious leaders included representatives from the Muslims, Jews, Hindus and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The panel of non-profit leaders included Michele Gehr, Eddy House (shelter for homeless youth ages 12-24), Molly Mahannah, Awaken (outreach and services for victims of sex trafficking); Jocelyn Lantrip, Northern Nevada Food Bank; and J.S. Klippenstein, ACTIONN (seeking long-term solutions to the housing crisis).

Michele Gehr appreciated the youth’s service focus.

“It’s encouraging to see young people come together and seek solutions to improve our community,” she said. They asked the tough questions [and] clearly want to create a better world and I believe they have the power to make change and motivate their classmates, families, and educators to do more.”

Pat Meidell, president of the Nevada Interfaith Association, had the idea for the summit after reading “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel.

He explained: “The idea for an Interfaith Youth Summit came from reading the book by Seboo Patel, ACTS OF FAITH. I felt strongly that there was a need to give voice to some hard topics facing our youth and to give them a voice for making a change in our community by exposing them to opportunities to serve either as individuals or as a new group of friends. While planning the event, my own faith was strengthened as I earnestly asked in prayer for inspiration, guidance, and assistance to accomplish the goals and objectives. I received answers to my prayers in very direct and wondrous to me ways, and I was blessed by having some very spiritually attuned women work with me to help make the event a success.”

The attendees were assigned to groups of about 8-10.  Team-building and leadership activities resulted in high engagement, energy, and laughter.

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