Initiative to assist veterans and military families, build interfaith relations

September 19, 2011

Community response to occasions honoring veterans is often strong, and Greater Lafayette already is making a strong commitment to the Nov. 5 Stand Down being led by Purdue's Interfaith Engagement Coalition. That event will serve veterans and military families who need support to have better lives. This photo shows a large turnout for a veterans ceremony in Iowa. (Gary Ward, U.S. Navy)

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Purdue, with 250 other colleges and universities, has joined a yearlong national community service initiative with a two-pronged plan that will assist military veterans, current military personnel and their families, while using those activities and others as an occasion to strengthen interfaith relations.

Involvement by campus classes, programs and organizations is invited. The largest event in fall semester, already including about 100 local organizations as well as the University, will be a Stand Down from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 5 to aid homeless, almost homeless and unemployed veterans and their families.

"In the past, Stand Downs have afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being during deployments," says Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, associate dean of  the College of Health and Human Sciences, director of the Military FamilyResearch Institute and director of the Center for Families. "Today, Stand Downs for homeless veterans allow respite from the combat of homelessness."

MacDermid Wadsworth and Harry Brown, director of the Boiler Volunteer Network, represented the recently formed Purdue Interfaith Engagement Coalition at an Aug. 3 White House gathering of campus groups selected for the initiative. Brown is coordinator of the coalition.

Coalition leadership also comes from the University Religious Leaders organization, led by the Rev. Lana Robyne, co-director of Wesley Foundation, a campus ministry. Also participating in leadership are the Office of the Dean of Students, International Students and Scholars, Black Cultural Center, Muslim Student Association, Dialogue International and Hillel Foundation.

On and around campus, the coalition will provide two series of interfaith activities. One series will have social activities on the theme of "together," ranging from "The Fun of Playing Together" to "The Courage of Standing Together on Freedom Riders" with the Black Cultural Center. The second series, called "Tea, Texts, and Traditions," will consist of interfaith discussions on such themes from theology, religious history, gender, war and peace, ethics and power.

Collaborating in the initiative are the Office of the President, the vice president for student affairs, the vice provost for diversity and inclusion, ROTC and numerous others.

Purdue's program for the national challenge is designed to take advantage of existing strengths and meet strategic goals.  MFRI is a national leader in military and veteran families. The institute's Operation Diploma, among other efforts, exemplifies the University's engagement across Indiana.

Purdue also has among the largest international enrollments of any U.S. university -- it has risen to 7,934 this fall -- so there is both opportunity and challenge to provide mutual exposure that enhances understanding of diverse heritages.

"Shared service opportunities, along with social activities and discussions, provide a good way for people to overcome initial uncertainties and learn to appreciate each other," Brown says. "Also, service-learning is a Purdue priority because it is valuable to every student's education."

Purdue's strategic plan calls for new synergies between classroom-based learning and community service, between town and gown, among diverse faiths, and between military and civilian populations. It also emphasizes launching tomorrow’s leaders by encouraging and assisting students to learn to work effectively with diverse others while addressing community needs.

 The Stand Down, to be based at Central Presbyterian Church, 31 N. 7th St. in Lafayette, will offer opportunity for people of various talents and interest to serve. Faculty could arrange for involvement by students with clinical skills in counseling, blood pressure, hematocrit and hemoglobin, nutrition counseling, physical exams, vision screening, dental screening, hearing checks, or veterinary services, for instance. Other needs include consumer skills guidance, financial counseling, job finding help or resume writing assistance.

Food pantry volunteers will be needed, as will general volunteers to handle registration or help veterans of older age or with disabilities to move about. Donation drive for things like bus passes, phone cards or warm socks are possibilities.

Also on Nov. 5, the interfaith coalition will provide winterization assistance to underserved homes in the community. This project pulls in the decade-old annual Winterization project led by Wesley Foundation as part of the initiative, and it is expected to involve 500 student volunteers who will serve more than 100 homes.

As part of the statewide network undertaking the national Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, Purdue's Military Family Research Institute will help conduct Battlemind to Home, a symposium Nov. 16-17 in Indianapolis for those who work with veterans and military families in various roles from legal to educational to pastoral.

Other fall and spring semester projects will be announced. Springtime's Boiler Blast, a major volunteer project, will focus on military and veteran families and the agencies that serve them. There also will be opportunity for organizations to develop projects and compete for funds to carry them out.

Related websites

More about Stand Downs in general:

Military Family Research Institute page about the Stand Down here:

For more information

(Stand Down) Martina Sternberg,

Harry Brown, 765-496-2450, 765-413-7997 (cell),
Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, 765-496-3403,
Lana Robyne,