Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Kelsey Robison talks over faith-based leadership with David Leslie of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Kelsey Robison talks over faith-based leadership with David Leslie of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

Kelsey Robison, a 21-year-old marketing major at the University of Portland, is learning about the needs facing leaders in the Catholic Church and other faith organizations. She's an intern in the school's program to foster faith-based leadership.

"My faith is the main reason I'm interested in social justice work," says Robison, who attends St. Dorothy Parish in Glendora, Calif. She feels grateful for her upbringing and wants her life to be a fitting response.

"Jesus calls us to love everyone," she says. "I plan to help people when I can."

She will help Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon with marketing, likely focusing on the organization's web presence. She'll also lend a hand with an overall communications strategy.

The inter-church alliance, which includes the Archdiocese of Portland, helps needy Oregonians and people with HIV. The group educates church-goers on environmental stewardship and speaks up at the Oregon Legislature for people on the margins.  

"I want to increase awareness about the amazing things they do here," Robison explains.

Robison wants the public, when they think of the church, not only to have images of clergy and hierarchy, but to recall the devoted Catholics working to make the everyday world better.

She ponders some day starting a business, perhaps a fair-trade bakery or teahouse. According to her vision, part of the revenue goes help good causes.

UP’s Faith-Based Leadership Program is currently recruiting. The new program is designed to give high-achieving juniors an internship and mentoring.

“The great thing about this program is that the students get to meet and work exclusively with faith-based organizations,” said David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and Robison's mentor. "We don't use the word 'vocation' very often. We talk about work and jobs. Being able to explore one's calling is great."

In addition to Leslie, Pietro Ferrari, executive director of Catholic Charities, and Kay Toran, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Oregon, are currently mentors.

Throughout the program, students are guided through a process of personal vocational discernment. The students participate in ongoing theological reflections regarding the experience in order to deepen self-understanding.

After a competitive application process, accepted students begin the fall semester by taking a professional development internship class. In the spring, students and mentors are paired and begin to meet regularly so students can learn more about the particular organization and their future responsibilities. During the summer, each student serves as an executive assistant to his or her mentor, gaining a deeper understanding of what leadership means within the organizations.

“The opportunity to work at a faith based institution allows you to think and discuss faith values and not just the bottom line,” Leslie said. “Students in the program can explore and apply their personal and corporate ethics in a much larger context.”

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has provided funding. Each intern will receive a stipend during the time of service.