Service in Leaps and Bounds

Nathan Duong/New University

More than 100 UC Irvine students and local volunteers gathered at the Center For Living Peace in order to honor Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and take action to address hunger by immersing themselves in the Leap of Faith Day of Service on April 28.


Leap of Faith is a student-led movement aimed at fostering interfaith engagement and collaboration to benefit the community through a variety of services.


Leap of Faith is a program under UC Irvine’s Living Peace Series, in partnership with the Center for Living Peace in the University Town Center.


The Living Peace Series, along with Leap of Faith, are committed to making the world a healthy, sustainable and compassionate place, and the Center for Living Peace stands as a peace education center that hosts a variety of classes and events such as yoga, meditation and painting.


UC Irvine’s 2011-2012 XIV Dalia Lama Scholar, Armaan Rowther, a third-year public health and biological sciences double major at UCI conceptualized the idea of Leap of Faith as a means to raise awareness about hunger locally and globally while taking action to address hunger through collaborative community service projects among various secular and faith-based groups.


“The idea is that we come from a very diverse campus here at UCI, and it’s such a privilege to be campus that has people of all different backgrounds, religious faiths, spiritual beliefs or not even having a religion – just having a viewpoint that matters,” said Lauren Quijano, a third-year public health policy and international studies major,and student chair coordinator for Day of Service.


“It’s important to understand that and accept each other. There’s just so much religious conflict going on in the world. It’s chance for us to say, ‘Hey even though we’re part of all these different backgrounds, we are here primarily to serve a community that we all share, which is Orange County.’”


The Leap of Faith series comprises three events: Hunger Banquet, Day of Service and Day of Fasting.


During the Day of Service event, students from UC Irvine, Irvine Valley College and various high schools across the Orange County area came together to serve the community.


Students were shuttled to one of four service sites: OC Isaiah House Catholic Worker in Santa Ana, Islamic Center of Irvine (ICOI), Share Ourselves in Costa Mesa and Center of Living Peace in Irvine.


The event began at 8:00 a.m. when participants checked-in and took their seats in awaiting Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.


Kelly Thornton Smith, the Center for Living Peace founder, expressed her gratitude in her welcome speech, followed by a speech by UC Irvine’s Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham.


“It doesn’t matter how big your title is or how big your institution is,” Parham said.  “We put all that aside today for one common service.”


Armaan Rowther motivated the participants through his thoughts on community service and interfaith, and finally Her Majesty Queen Noor indulged in an engaging conversation with the participants.


Queen Noor is an international public servant who plays an important role in advocating awareness on issues of global exchange and understanding, conflict prevention and recovery issues such as refugees, poverty, climate change and disarmament of nuclear weapons.


“Public service is often identified with politicians, with people at the highest levels of political decision making, but in fact, it’s about something much more profound,”  Queen Noor said, drawing from her own experience.


“Yes, it does start within you, and each and every one of you, no matter what your circumstance is, has the opportunity to make transformative contributions.”


Volunteers at the Center for Living Peace site made and packaged over 200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless.  The center was intended to be a place where children, families, and adults of all ages can connect to their spirit, to others and to the world.


Volunteers at the Islamic Center of Irvine packaged 41 boxes with a variety of canned foods and ingredients and signed the boxes with thoughtful messages for the families in need.


ICOI is partnered with UPLIFT Charity, a non-profit organization focused on helping underprivileged Muslims in California and provides a space for community programs and religious services that promote Islamic values and reflect excellence in serving the needs of the community.


At Share Our Selves, a nondiscriminatory provider for most serious needs, volunteers packaged 41 hygiene kits, while at the OC Isaiah House Catholic Worker, participants made and served lunch to the homeless and had conversations with the people on a more personal level.


Once the service projects were completed, volunteers gathered to reflect on the Day of Service — why they volunteered, the role of faith, their interpretation of interfaith and how they can continue to help the community.


“Engagement doesn’t happen between faiths,”  Rowther said. “Engagement happens between people. It’s interpersonal engagement … Everything that this project is comes from my most sincere conviction, which is that the oneness of God, of people, of the world that we share demands compassionate service.”


The Day of Service was not only an event in which people were given an opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life but also a place where people were able to understand more about themselves and those around them.


“Leap of Faith means that you forget how little you are and how big you are and just do something for the sake of doing that thing. For the sake of trying,” said Abeer Shmeis, a UC Irvine MBA student who hails from Jordan.


“Just hoping to make a difference. Embracing the uncertainty to make a difference.”