At a time when division and hostility seem to dominate the headlines, the Wilmette Interfaith Religious Leaders took an afternoon on May 7 to gather and celebrate the achievements of young high school students from a range of different faiths at it annual North Shore Interfaith Leadership Award (NSILA). The event was held in Foundation Hall at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette.
“This award isn’t just about achievement, it’s about heart. It isn’t just about what they have accomplished outside, but what they have found inside themselves,” Bishop Greg Merkley from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said.
Since Pastor Joe McInnis of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church conceived of the idea, more than 75 young people have been awarded the NSILA. This year 10 young men and women received the award, each speaking for a few moments at the event about their interests, passions and optimism in the world.
All of the students are involved in service projects that are as varied as their religious backgrounds, but each project shares a common thread of helping those who are in need.
Natalie Chamberlain, a senior at Evanston High School and member of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, is passionate about community and global footprints. Chamberlain volunteered at a fair-trade eco-friendly boutique, as well as Talking Farm in Evanston, which grows produce for local food pantries.
Anna Shabelman, a sophomore at Glenbrook South High School and member of Temple Jeremiah, is passionate about helping other kids. She will work as a counselor at Camp CAR, a weekend-long camp that provides free camping experiences to kids from Waukegan, who would otherwise not experience sleep-away camp. Stableman noted that working with Camp CAR has taught her the power of community.
Ben Matejka, a senior at New Trier High School and member of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, is involved with RefugeeOne, an organization that helps refugees settle in Chicago. Working with families who have left extreme hardship to resettle in the United States has inspired Matejka, who remarked on the families’ optimism in the face of difficulties.
Some students spoke about their involvement with interfaith organizations and the value of people with different viewpoints and experiences coming together.
Ahmed Malik, a sophomore at Glenbrook South High School and member of the Muslim Community Center noted the value of an event like the NSILA, where people of many faiths gather peacefully. “I think we are going to make the world a better place,” he said.
Sidra Kallan, a senior at Niles West High School and member of the Muslim Community Center said her experiences planning for and volunteering at interfaith events has brought her joy and expanded her own horizons. Likewise, Marley Ruskin, a sophomore at Deerfield High School and member of Temple Jeremiah, spoke of the value of interfaith programs. “It is okay to be different and interact with others of different faiths,” she said.
Wilmette Village President Bob Bielinski also remarked on the unique gathering when he spoke at the event. “In many parts of the world, a gathering like this wouldn’t be possible,” he said. He encouraged the students to continue to make a difference in the world and share their passions. “Thank you for continuing to affirm that the beliefs we share in common are far greater than the differences between us,” President Bielinski said.
The following received the North Shore Interfaith Leadership Award for 2017:
- Isis Seppelfrick, junior, New Trier High School, Baha’i Faith
- Natalie Chamberlain, senior, Evanston High School, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Ahmend Malik, sophomore, Glenbrook South High School, Muslim Community Center
- Sidra Kallan, senior, Niles West High School, Muslim Community Center
- Anna Shabelman, sophomore, Glenbrook South High School, Temple Jeremiah
- Marley Ruskin, sophomore, Deerfield High School, Temple Jeremiah
- Ben Matejka, senior, New Trier High School, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
- Maggie Harvey, Teacher’s Aid, Northeastern Illinois University, St. Philip the Apostle Church
- Jack Tangen, junior, New Trier High School, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
- Sarah Buchmann, junior, New Trier High School, Trinity United Methodist Church