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The exterior of United Campus Ministry, 18 N. College St.

United Campus Ministry to celebrate 50 years of social action

Correction appended.

To Evan Young, United Campus Ministry has played a significant role in building the quality of relationships among many grassroots, activist and social justice organizations in Athens.

“There are things UCM can do that no other organization can,” Young, the director and campus minister of UCM, said. “It’s easier for us to be both a flag pole and a lightning rod in that way, holding up this vision of justice and taking the heat that comes with it.”

UCM was born in 1968 out of the ecumenical movement, which was a time when different protestant denominations were doing collaborative outreach. It has served as a nonprofit that offers a variety of opportunities for spiritual growth, service projects around Athens, and social justice guided by socially progressive and interfaith values. 

UCM’s is celebrating 50 years of social action with a Justice Jubilee, its largest fundraising event of the year. It will celebrate all UCM has done, what it’s currently doing and where those involved want to see themselves in the future.

It’s difficult for Young to point to lasting impacts UCM has had that everybody can see and identify, but individuals who have interned or volunteered with UCM have been shaped or led by experiences they’ve had through UCM.

“Some of them have been powerfully impacted by our interfaith community building work,” Young said. “The importance of building relationships across persistent faith divides is work that stays with them wherever they go.”

As for the social justice advocacy work UCM has done, those impacts on Athens are much easier for Young to quantify.

“The most significant impact has been UCM as an incubator of grassroots, social justice and community service organizations in Athens, such as My Sister’s Place, the Athens AIDS Task Force and Rural Action,” Young said. 

Along with those organizations facilitated with the help of UCM, the organization also provides a free meal every Thursday for dinner and Saturday for lunch.

“This is a place where people who have a concern they feel needs to be addressed by the community can come and get support and get connected with individuals and institutions who can help them with their vision,” Young said. “When you think about the lasting impact UCM has had, that’s probably the biggest one for the Athens community.”

UCM’s mission of using an interfaith approach to being socially progressive has been a driving factor of UCM’s success as a nonprofit.

“When we think about the problem of divisions between folks of different faith traditions, we choose to approach it by creating opportunities for people from different faith traditions to meet each other, learn about each other and build relationships,” Young said. “We think that developing those relationships builds resiliency in our community so that when problems arise it becomes harder for us to blame them on people we consider ‘other.’”

Robin Kelby, a graduate student studying computer science, heavily participated as a volunteer and eventually an intern with UCM in her undergraduate years. They’re looking forward to serving on Thanksgiving, when UCM will be partnering with the OU LGBT Center for Rainbow Thanksgiving.

“Rainbow Thanksgiving has become a highlight of my year, and I look forward to coming back and visiting with the interns and those we serve,” Kelby said.

Through her work with UCM, Kelby understands the need for UCM in Athens and how it is impacting the residents of Athens as well as the students at OU.

“One of the principles that UCM tries to abide by is that we build bridges, not walls,” they said. “UCM is a bridge between the university campus and the Athens community, which is sorely needed. Students who stay in the student-friendly parts of Athens may not realize the poverty and food insecurity that are also a part of Athens.”

Lacey Rogers, the assistant director of UCM, sees Athens as a fairly progressive place with UCM as an organization that focuses on people’s similarities instead of the differences that sometimes are used to separate groups of people.

“No place is completely free of the need for social justice work,” Rogers said. “I think it’s important for us to be here to provide a place where people can figure out who they really are. We’re a college town, and college for a lot of people is figuring out who they are and what they believe in, how they want to give back to their community and what’s important to them.”


Correction: A previous version of this report used the wrong pronoun for Kelby. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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