Interfaith Center celebrates 50 years of fostering faith, community spirit

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of plans for the Interfaith Center. Situated at the edge of campus on Franklin Street, the non-profit enterprise was founded with the purpose of facilitating spiritual growth and communication within both the college and village communities. Following completion, the center was formally established in 1969 and has proved to be an invaluable local entity ever since. “The founders who got together in 1966 decided they wanted to provide to the school whatever it needs in terms of spiritual development and a place for students of many different callings to study and learn as well as socialize,” Interfaith Center Chair of the Board Kathleen Jones said. She has been Chair for almost three years and considers her work her passion.

With a board of 20 members—comprised of community residents, college faculty, former students and a University Police Department officer—the Interfaith Center works to meet a multitude of needs and it supplements Geneseo’s liberal arts values with a space for spiritual growth and learning, as well as community interaction. The center rents space to several religious groups, as well as non-religious groups like the Livingston County Habitat for Humanity. Such groups hold offices and can use the space to conduct services and meetings.

Welcoming to all, the Interfaith Center embraces involvement from any group or individual. Its main room has a capacity of about 300 and many campus groups as well as private groups from the community at large take advantage of the resource. The center has seen family reunions, birthday parties, sorority and fraternity events, college intercultural groups, religious groups and even atheist and agnostic groups.

The Interfaith Center is not a part of the college, as many believe. Because of separation of church and state legislation, the center receives no government funding. It does, however, apply for available government support through the Whitehouse Interfaith Community Service Campus Initiative. Through this, the Interfaith Center and Geneseo have cooperated to create the Geneseo Interfaith Service Project. This allows the Interfaith Center to host events like the Dialogue Dinners, which embrace both spiritual and social justice topics such as providing food for those who cannot afford it.

Striving to connect with Geneseo as closely as possible, the Interfaith Center even provides a space for a work-study student. Additionally, the center participates in programs such as Volunteers in Service to America and they train students for the respite program, which provides weekly relief to caregivers. The center welcomes the people they care for—generally elderly people—into the building, where the students engage in activities with them and provide meals.

Some campus groups—including the Muslim Student Association and InterVarsity—partner with the center frequently for various events, gatherings and services. The Interfaith Center prides itself on giving such organizations and clubs a large space—one that is capable of meeting their needs for larger crowds. The center also has a full kitchen that is available to any groups who wish to cook their own food for their special occasions.

Another popular initiative the Interfaith Center facilitates is the Tag Sale for Geneseo Gives Back. At the end of each spring semester, bins are placed in dorms for students to donate any belongings they cannot or don’t wish to take home with them. The items are then collected and taken to the center, where they are sorted through and cleaned during the summer, then sold in the Tag Sale in August.

“Instead of students trashing things they can’t take home, we provide a tool for sustainability, recycling the items back to other students or local community members—anybody is welcome to buy them,” Jones said.

Nurturing religious, intercultural and general campus and community groups is an objective the Interfaith Center has undoubtedly accomplished. It hopes to maintain its existing success and to continue to build on it in the future.

“The center is not just a physical place, but a welcoming place where everybody is treated equal and discussion between people and groups is fostered,” Jones said. “We’re here to serve the college and community in both individual and group spiritual journeys.”