A Warren Area High School (WAHS) graduate has gained national recognition for a faith-based group she helped start.
Chelsey Rashid recently received an award from the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA) for "excellence in appropriating the faith" during alumni weekend at St. Bonaventure University (SBU). She graduated from WAHS in 2007, SBU in 2011 and is currently a student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) School of Pharmacy.
Along with classmate Keelan O'Connell, Rashid founded Students for Prayer, Action, Reflection and Knowledge (SPARK) while at SBU. Their award will be displayed in the University Ministries Building at SBU.
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Chelsey Rashid, left, and Keelan O’Connell, right, hold up their plaque from the Catholic Campus Ministry Association.
"We actually had no idea that it was possible to win an award like this while we were forming and participating in the group!" Rashid said. "The group was nominated to the CCMA by a University Ministry leader about the time we were graduating, so of course it was very exciting to learn later that we had actually been selected for an award."
The two wanted to start the program as they felt there was a need for a Bible study group on campus. They enjoyed participating with other students in a number of ministry and volunteer groups, Rashid said, but were looking for a small group where they could read and discuss ideas and questions.
University Ministries was willing to help them get started, Rashid said, and they began meeting once a week. However, the pair didn't have an exact plan. They tried different approaches and it evolved over time.
"Then we started bringing in speakers from the campus and community, and invited them to 'share their spiritual journeys,'" Rashid said. "We hosted many professors, religious leaders and people from the university community who came from many diverse faiths and backgrounds. In this way, SPARK builds connections on campus between ministries and academics, and it allows students to get to know their professors in ways that they wouldn't have otherwise."
SPARK became an accepting interfaith community, Rashid said, and simply invited people to share their stories. It encourages growth in spiritual life, she said, and facilitates discovery of personal faith.
According to Rashid, the group doesn't focus on religious traditions and practices but rather on personal moments and struggles that shape a person's spirit and beliefs. No matter a person's background, everyone shares many of the same feelings.
"When we feel comfortable to share these feelings aloud, we develop a greater awareness and understanding of each other and at the same time we find that we are strengthened in our own personal faith," Rashid said.