National holidays hold a variety of meanings. In the United States we have days to honor civil rights leaders; days to express our gratitude for the patriotism demonstrated by the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country; and days to show our appreciation to our founding leaders.  For many of us, these national holidays offer time with our family and friends.  For over 300 youth and adult volunteers in the Twin Cities, this past Presidents’ Day was a day dedicated to community service.

On February 15, 2010, youth and adult volunteers joined together at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul for the 5th annual Interfaith Youth Day of Service. The Interfaith Youth Day of Service is an event of the Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition (IYLC), a collaborative program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches.  The “day off” brought together Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Baha’i, Atheist, Mormon, Catholic, Buddhist, and non-religious youth to respond to a common call of service, justice, and advocacy. 

The day began with opening remarks from Rep. Keith Ellison who offered inspirational words of encouragement to participants commending their leadership, dedication, and service to their community, as well as their commitment to build a pluralistic and more compassionate world. 

Youth spent the day in mixed faith groups volunteering at one of thirteen local charitable organizations.  They performed a variety of tasks such as sorting and packaging books to be sent to children in Africa, putting together hygiene kits, making lunches for people experiencing homelessness, and interacting with children in homeless shelters. Volunteers worked at a variety of sites in the Twin Cities including Books for Africa, People Serving People, Bridging Inc., Dakota Woodlands, Emergency Foodshelf Network, Family Place, Our Saviour’s Housing, PLUS Time/Liberty Plaza, Hallie Q. Brown Center, and Saint Paul Area Council of Churches Project Home.

In the afternoon, volunteers returned to the Landmark Center to participate in creative reflection workshops. These workshops gave youth the opportunity to process the day’s events and explore a “call to action” through discussion groups, visual arts, poetry, letter writing to elected officials, and an interactive game presented by A Minnesota Without Poverty.
 
Day of Service veteran and youth organizer Jacob Bernstein reflected, “The day of service is possibly the most important experience in my young adult life. If this generation can learn how easy it is to make a difference together at this young an age, the world is in good hands.”

Our world is in able hands with youth leaders of the IYLC.  The IYLC is made up of 22 religiously diverse youth who plan and lead the Interfaith Youth Day of Service each year. The IYLC promotes youth empowerment through interfaith dialogue, service-learning, and a youth speakers bureau.  The IYLC was recently awarded the 2009 Interfaith Youth Core’s Bridge Builders Award in Community for outstanding work in the interfaith field and mentioned on President Barack Obama’s United We Serve website (www.serve.gov) for their summer of service efforts. 

In this time of economic struggle and hardship, service is key to building and preserving our community. We are fortunate to live in a city that supports and promotes service by offering many resources and opportunities throughout the year.  If we can learn one thing from our youth, let it be that, no matter our religious or cultural differences, it is our civic duty to make our community a better place.  Every little bit counts.  

To learn more about the Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition and service opportunities in the community, contact Cara Fish cara@justicejustice.org, visit the IYLC website at www.spacc.org/interfaith, or blog at http://tcinterfaithyouth.wordpress.com.

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