Posted Online: June 15, 2012, 7:00 am

Augustana group wins national interfaith award

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By Leon Lagerstam,

ROCK ISLAND -- Kings and vikings will benefit from a first-ever award given to colleges nationwide for their community work supporting the less fortunate.

Augustana College's Interfaith Understanding student group was one of six winners of ''Better Together'' awards, selected by the national Interfaith Youth Core organization.

The Augie group won an ''Issue Impact Award'' and $500 prize for King's Harvest Ministries in Davenport. The homeless shelter and meal provider has been getting support from the group of Augustana Vikings for the past year.

The $500 is a welcome gift for King's Harvest Ministries, which recently learned it must install a $57,000 water sprinkling fire system in its homeless shelter buildings.

''It's just so helpful to us to have anybody supporting our cause,'' King's Harvest fundraising coordinator Anne McVey said.

The Augustana students are prime examples of the ''angels we know are out there who will step up to help us,'' Mrs. McVey said.

''We know they struggle day-to-day to survive, so we actually feel better about supporting the work they are doing any way we can, even with a little bit of a financial boost, than winning some kind of award,'' said Augustana's chaplain, the Rev. Richard Priggie.

Still, the award was a huge recognition ''of the efforts our student leaders have devoted to Interfaith Understanding, and is a significant affirmation of the work they've done,'' Chaplain Priggie said.

It's also a ''wake-up call'' to motivate us to do even more next year,'' group president Vatina McLaurin said. ''We're always trying to think of what we can do better.''

Looking at the programs other winning colleges were recognized for can provide ideas, too, she said.

Other winners included Franklin College in Indiana, St. Louis University, Ohio University, Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, and Syracuse University in New York.

''For being such a small college, it was wonderful we could finish so high this year,'' recent Augustana graduate Maggie Hayes said. ''I was thrilled, but not all that surprised. Yes, it was the first time the award was given, but we've been doing interfaith work on campus for seven to eight years already.''

The training group members received from Interfaith Youth Core's founder, Eboo Patel, and attending leadership institutes hosted by the Chicago-based organization ''helped give us some tools to use, and a lot of support along the way,'' said Ms. McLaurin, a junior from Mt. Prospect.

Mr. Patel came up with the idea to create the Interfaith Youth Core in 1998 when attending a conference at Stanford University, in California, according to the group'swebsite,

Later, as a graduate student at Oxford University, he helped organize interfaith youth-service projects in South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. He returned to Chicago in 2001and launched his student youth core project, which was incorporated in 2002 with a $35,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

Augustana's Interfaith Understanding group, according to, ''seeks to provide a safe space for honest dialogue to discuss each other's beliefs and spiritualities, including controversial subjects but focusing more on what unites us.

According to the website, ''By incorporating community and campuswide service projects, we hope to initiate interfaith communication and cooperation as a medium for friendship and conversation.''