The vision to renovate and upgrade a Tijuana clinic for orphans suffering from HIV didn’t come from a large charity foundation or global outreach group.
It came from a 22-year-old University of La Verne student named Tahil Sharma.
It’s that vision, in part, that earned the Spanish major a spot in the Future50, a group formed by the Interreligious Council of Southern California and the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Members were announced in early July.
“I applied for this because I thought it was a really great opportunity to network with people with the same passion as mine in interfaith work,” Sharma said.
He comes from a family with Hindu and Sikh beliefs, and does volunteer work within both communities in the San Gabriel and Inland valleys. Sharma helped establish the university’s Interfaith Student Council in 2011, previously worked as coordinator for the Center for Sikh Studies at Claremont Lincoln College and serves as a youth representative for the Parliament of the World’s Religions for the United Nations.
But even with that resume, Sharma still didn’t expect to be picked for the Future50 Cohort. He found himself in the company of celebrities and other high-profile leaders. And he was too young.
The minimum age to be considered for the post was listed as 24-years-old.
He applied for the position anyway.
“I figured it was worth a shot,” Sharma said.
The attempt paid off. The committee selecting members made an exception to the age requirement and brought Sharma on board.
People selected for the group were chosen based on diversity, range of activities and the “overall quality of the cohort,” said Nick Street, USC spokesman.
“I was absolutely excited,” Sharma said. “I was actually getting a bowl of ramen that I almost dropped on myself.”
He says the group should be able to accomplish great things being based in Los Angeles, an area with abundant religious and secular diversity. Reports released by Future50 officials say 53 percent of the Los Angeles County population is affiliated with a religious institution and there are nearly 10,000 congregations.
Having leaders to bridge divides will be key.
“The Future50 project is an attempt to highlight the coming wave of faith-inspired leaders who will help to shape the Los Angeles religious landscape for the next half century, just as the Interreligious Council of Southern California has shaped this landscape over the previous one,” USC officials wrote in a Future50 overview.
And Sharma hopes to draw on the group to assist in his own projects in La Verne.
He’s working to establish a new campus organization called the La Verne Coalition of Compassion, which will involve faculty, administrators, staff, students and the community.
Assisting the Tijuana clinic is something he hopes will be a pilot project for the organization. Sharma plans to work with clubs and other organizations at the university, as well as the school’s Office of Advancement and President Devorah Lieberman’s office to make the clinic project become a reality.
“The goal is to renovate and rejuvenate their living conditions to a safe and productive environment that can help the kids of all ages live a good life and beyond the worries of the sickness they have,” Sharma said.