When most college students think of the Greek community, they probably picture men and women clad in monogrammed rush T-shirts, carrying matching tote bags and hats. Similarly, upon hearing the words “Greek life,” students tend to imagine a large, unsanitary fraternity house filled with minors indulging in under-age drinking, provocative dancing, and loud blaring music during three-night benders. Contrary to the conceptions of many Spartans, accurate or inaccurate, there is another side to some fraternities and sororities many students do not know. In addition, fraternities and sororities exist outside of the boundaries of the MSU Greek community. This side is most prominently displayed through the annual philanthropic events of some campus fraternities and sororities, both in and out of the Greek system.
Philanthropy is commonly thought of as a word for the rich and famous, used when they donate thousands of dollars to causes and social benefits with relative ease. However, philanthropic events play a crucial role in the operations of many groups on campus. One such organization, Pi Kappa Phi, is a national Greek fraternity dedicated to raising money and awareness for the disabled community.
[ramp]Originally founded on MSU’s campus in 1922, Pi Kappa Phi’s Alpha Theta chapter has a history threaded with a compelling comeback story. After regaining their charter in April 2005, the men have set new goals to lay a solid foundation and make their chapter stronger by using their philanthropy organization, PUSH America, as the focus.
“When we got our charter, it was kind of a beginning: we are changing things around from the standard and making them our own this time,” economics senior and president Brian Kirsch said. “We’re still new, so we are still building our foundation together, and as that continues, we are adding more and more and building up.”
Unlike other Greek organizations, Pi Kappa Phi is a national philanthropic organization devoted to bringing their brothers together across the nation to serve the disabled and learn from each other. “Because we are the only fraternity to have its own nationally founded philanthropy, all our chapters across the nation participate in the same events to raise money for PUSH,” Kirsch said. “It brings us together more as a brotherhood, instead of just different chapters from different regions.”
PUSH America is a non-profit organization that promotes understanding, encouragement and service for those with disabilities. Its mission is to help the disabled while teaching their members to define a person by abilities rather than their disabilities. The group focuses on spreading this message through special events and trips.
“I think that when you’re in college as an undergrad, everything goes by so quickly, you’re trying to figure out who you are, what you’re going to do, and everything is stressful and sudden,” said Jeremy Edmiston, director of chapter services for PUSH America. “We encourage each of our 135 chapters across the country to participate locally in the community. We want chapters to develop leadership skills within the fraternity, the classroom and community. That is our goal with PUSH America.”
One of their many events is Give A Push (GAP), a weekend-long occurrence that happens each semester. PUSH America identifies a camp in need of a service, and members of the organization, including brothers of Pi Kappa Phi, work to solve the problem, according to Edmiston.
“MSU sent 12 guys to Toledo last year where they were able to build an accessible nature walk,” Edmiston said. “It’s really cool because if you’re in a wheelchair you really don’t have the option to go to the woods and walk around, and the guys built a nature walk that was accessible for them.”
In addition to GAP Weekend, the members of Pi Kappa Phi participate in Build America, a six-week program in the summer to construct needed facilities and additions for camps serving the disabled. “Our members stop at camps for people with disabilities to make something accessible: a lodge, a dorm room, anything to improve the quality of life for people at the camp,” Edmiston said.
While many MSU students are lured to spring break destinations by the ideas of sandy beaches and endless sunshine, Pi Kappa Phi members have the chance to participate in an alternative spring break program. PUSH Camp is devoted to service, leadership, cooperation and fun while improving summer camps across the nation, and the program unites men from many areas of Pi Kappa Phi’s national philanthropy.
“We do fundraising like everyone else, but we also enjoy hands-on interaction and serving,” Kirsch said. “We go to camps that serve people with disabilities to help construct a playground or whatever their specific needs are, and we interact with the kids. We’ll go anywhere to help.”
When Kirsch says “anywhere,” he really means it. In addition to traveling to one area to do projects for PUSH America, members of Pi Kappa Phi have philanthropic opportunities while traveling across the country. The annual Journey of Hope, a 63-day national event, brings together active members and alumni to cycle 4,000 miles from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., with the goal of raising $500,000. Three MSU Pi Kappa Phi brothers are expected to ride this summer, but each member has to raise $5,000 to ride.
“We get everything out of volunteering, from quality bonding and getting to know each other more, to meeting other brothers from around the nation,” Kirsch said. “It is giving back, any little bit of time and effort that we can give means so much, that we can touch lives and be heroes for them. That we can really changes lives is pretty cool.”
The good deeds and volunteer hours of Pi Kappa Phi members have set a good foundation for other philanthropic Greek organizations, setting a different tone for Greek life on campus. The brothers are not the only ones working for philanthropy, however; the females also are represented through the sorority system. Women join men for philanthropic purposes as members of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity. Although Alpha Phi Omega is not part of the MSU Greek system, its key ideas run along the same lines as Pi Kappa Phi: leadership, friendship and service.
[basic]Alpha Phi Omega was founded at MSU in 1937 as the Beta Beta chapter. Members are more likely to collect beer cans to raise money than attend that fraternity party down the street. Alpha Phi Omega contributes many programs to MSU, including State Walk, a rape prevention program housed in the library. Members offer walking partners for anyone on campus from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
Many MSU students appreciate the idea of a service fraternity: an organization based on serving others and one that strays from the common conceptions of fraternities as students united around the idea of partying. Business sophomore John Arnold is not a member of Alpha Phi Omega, but his positive feelings toward volunteering are similar to those of students that join Alpha Phi Omega each semester.
“A service fraternity is a great idea because it would help students to get involved with our community, and better organize their community efforts,” business sophomore John Arnold said. “It also sounds very beneficial to those who are interested in making headway with community projects and helping others like I am.”
Many organizations, Greek and non-Greek, have philanthropic activities on their agendas for the year, but social events between members or with other MSU groups can take precedence. On the other hand, the sole aim of Alpha Phi Omega is to serve the community.
“People that join are aware of the world around them, they realize there are bad things going on, and we do everything to make a difference, [and] I think that is what sets us apart,” said Laura Daien, president of Alpha Phi Omega and an advertising and public relations senior. “We have such a diverse group of people. Everybody sees the less fortunate in the world and understands the hardships: we are about making a difference for those who aren’t as fortunate as us.”
Aside from State Walk, Alpha Phi Omega promotes many other philanthropic events each semester. From their charity 5K run/walk every spring to their Have a Heart charity concert this past December, the group works to assist the community and provide benefits to their members for offering their time as volunteer hours. The group also plans to hold its first Dance-A-Thon in February to raise money for the Pediatric Aids Foundation.
“We have four pillars of service: campus, community, nation and each other,” political theory and constitutional democracy senior Chrissy Rodemeyer said. “Our concentration is service, but we teach leadership and commit many activities to creating fellowship as well.”
Throughout the year, the group sponsors blanket and coat drives for shelters and hospitals, volunteers with blood drives and participates in MSU’s annual Relay for Life, held in the spring.
“We do so much and we try to participate in many different activities so we don’t have one specific organization to contribute to: we try to benefit all local organizations,” Daien said. “Once we find charities that we enjoy and find there is a large need, we strive to continue to help them.”
These students who spend countless hours improving the quality of life for others really understand how their efforts can help others in need. As students at MSU, East Lansing is as much our community as the residents who live here full-time, and it is our responsibility to look at the models for philanthropy, right here on campus. Although many students would not necessarily associate philanthropy with fraternities, these groups are proof there is more to campus life than epic parties and endless night life.

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