The brand new Bethany BOLD program is already making an impact — not only on the residential student experience, but also on individuals and organizations in the Wayne County, Indiana, community.
The Bethany BOLD program (which stands for Build, Organize, Love, and Dare) was launched during the 2022-23 academic year, with funding from a $1M grant from Lilly Endowment. The program prepares students to lead congregations as they respond to diversity and division. The rigorous and demanding program will challenge Bethany’s best and brightest students to apply their faith and education to address real-world problems, including poverty and racial injustice. A key aspect of the program is providing students opportunities to address societal challenges through community engagement and service.
“This program encourages our students to look out into the world and see what the need is, and then find creative ways of meeting that need,” says President Jeff Carter.
So far, students have worked with such organizations as Amigos (focusing on English language tutoring for members of the Latinx community), Bridges for Life (serving meals to unhoused individuals), and Girls Inc. (helping with an after school program for at-risk girls). Students also met with community leaders, observed a school board meeting, and learned about a variety of organizations that offer support to vulnerable populations. The students keep journals about their service experiences and meet as a group for discussion.
“The purpose of Bethany BOLD is to prepare students to be effective congregational and community leaders,” says Dr. Maggie Elwell, assistant professor of peace studies and director of Bethany BOLD. “This program emphasizes race and class in order to help students address issues of diversity and division.”
The program builds on the Seminary’s long commitment to service learning, but the Lilly grant provides new funding that will help the Seminary build strong and sustained relationships with partner organizations and push students to learn about the surrounding community and engage in meaningful service, making connections between what they are learning in the classroom and how they can put their faith and talents into action. Elwell notes that the program is deeply rooted in an Anabaptist and Radical Pietist witness.
Erika Clary, an MDiv student, worked at Girls Inc. during the Spring Semester. Many of the girls she encountered had unstable home lives, and lacked some privileges that she had taken for granted as a young person. She appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with individual girls and to encourage them to show empathy towards one another.
“This program has taught me a lot about how to interact with people different from me,” says Clary, who hopes to work as a college chaplain in the future.. “The experience has given me a solid foundation for the ministry I hope to do with young people.”
Bethany BOLD has also been a positive for the organizations where students have been placed. Tim Pierson, the director of Bridges for Life, which provides sit-down meals for unhoused people, is excited about what Bethany is trying to accomplish.
“What I see oftentimes is this big disconnect between the needs in the community and the faith community,” notes Pierson. “Any program that says, let’s get outside the walls of the church and go into the community to make a difference, that’s where the real hope is at.”
Nicky Gutierrez — who participated in Bethany BOLD and graduated in May with both a Master of Arts and Master of Arts in Theopoetics and Writing — believes the program will build on the Seminary’s strong relationship with its neighbors.
“I know there are many institutions that are just kind of plopped down in a town, and they have no connection with the community,” says Gutierrez. “Bethany BOLD is the way to build those connections and bridges within the community.”