The Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative will open a new house at the former location of the University Religious Conference, simultaneously developing the URC Interfaith Fund to provide funding for cross-cultural activities on campus.
Located at 777 Camino Pescadero Road, the Thomas Merton House will offer residency to 18 students beginning January 2013 and will donate a portion of its mortgage payments — in increments of $500 micro grants — to the UCSB Foundation. The foundation plans to dis- tribute these funds into the CommUnity Grants initiative, run by the Multicultural Center and Office of Student Life, to finance culturally and religiously relevant programs and events.
The Thomas Merton House, which is named after the Catholic priest who advocated interfaith tolerance in the earlier half of the 20th century, will also distribute some of the mortgage funding toward cultural activities at the residence and financial aid for resident students.
Jeffrey Bessmer, executive director of the new cooperative, said the house will carry the URC’s legacy well, since the ideological theme of the URC is remark-ably similar to the overall message promoted by Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative.
“Our cooperative message of working together through self-help is very compat- ible with the URC’s message of different faiths coming together and learning about each other,” Bessmer said. Associate Director of the Office of
Student Life Miles Ashlock said the URC’s decision to leave a grant that will benefit current students was a generous move, adding that closing organizations are not usually so charitable.
“It’s rare that an organization, as it’s leaving, makes a difference in the com- munity,” Ashlock said. “The board of directors from this organization was really intentional in the way that they distributed the capital that remained in the organiza- tion; they were very flexible and thoughtful in the way that they designed that grant.” According to MCC Director Zaveeni Khan-Marcus, URC funds will bolster the center’s educational programs focused on society and religion, emphasizing the cooperation between diverse world cultures. As the Santa Barbara Co-op is expected to make its final balloon payment in
2021, net proceeds from Thomas Merton will go toward the establishment of the URC Interfaith Scholarship Fund, which will assist lower-income students in the Religious Studies department.
Bessmer said Thomas Merton residents will develop a thriving cultural community, much like the one already existent in the cooperative, in memory of the URC’s similar ability to plant a united local religious community that continues to flourish.
“As we have grown our co-op over the last four decades, so too will this interfaith institution grow and connect folks from our many different faith backgrounds in a healthy collaborative environment,” Bessmer said.
Since it began, the CommUnity Grants initiative has supported more than 50 campus groups, providing funding for 23 different campus events through grants totaling nearly $7,000.
The URC first opened its doors in 1957, acting as Isla Vista’s primary hub for interfaith practice and cultural knowledge exchange until its closing in 2011.