Saturday, December 31, 2011

First Steps on the Journey

Hello my fellow Greeks, family, and friends!
When I decided to participate in this trip, I didn’t know what to expect. As I traveled here today I kept thinking about my daily life and how making the decision to immerse myself in service is just the same as the decision I made three years ago when I became a member of Greek Life. I was completely uncomfortable today because I didn’t know anyone or what to expect, but when the group joined and began talking about our values and how they impact our daily lives, instantly it was as if we had known each other for some time. This is the last night in the year of 2011, as I look back I truly have gained an understanding and ability to apply service in my leadership. Going Greek was a conscious decision to publicly vow my life to service, an added responsibility that I would always put others before myself. Although this week will be the opportunity to learn about a different culture in the midst of serving, it is a reminder that I truly am a servant of all, first of all, transcending all.
Frederick Leon Cox III is a Senior at the University of Dayton and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Welcome to San Salvador!

Greetings from San Salvador, El Salvador, the site of our fourth AFLV service immersion trip. Students from all over the US and Candada will be arriving in San Salvador this afternoon for a week of service and cultural immersion. We arrived late last night to lay the foundation for the week, and I wanted to share a bit of information about our upcoming work with you! For the rest of the week, the student participants will be blogging about their experiences, so be sure to follow along all week!

Tomorrow (Sunday) we will be doing some immersion in San Salvador visiting the tomb of Romero, Mass at the National Cathedral, and shopping in the Mercado Quartel. Tomorrow afternoon we head out to an orphanage in Santa Ana. We'll spend the afternoon playing and doing activities with the childern in the orphange.

Monday through Friday we will be working in three communities here in El Salvador. The first is Las Delicias, where Project FIAT has been doing work since their arrival in El Salvador. We'll be helping finalize the construction of a day care center in Las Delicias, as well as working with the children in the before and after school program and doing home visits with the district nurse. To learn more about Las Delicias (en espanol), click here.

The second community where we will be working is Ilobasco. We will be assisting with the construction of a school for the community. Read more about Ilobasco here.

Our third project will be constructing a home for a family in need in Villa Zaragoza. You can read more about Villa Zaragoza here.

Look for student blogs the rest of the week! Thansk for your virtual participation in our experience!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When you put the shovel down: Moving from homes to hearts.

Compassion. It is the one word that can’t leave my mind as I sit here in the hustle and bustle of dinner time surrounded by some amazing individuals. It’s an unspoken word then has been mentioned here and there throughout the trip but nothing will define it more than today. As we prepared mentally and physically to be working outside today in the mud it was the unexpected surprise that would change us.

Today we got the opportunity to see a different side of this community and the effects the tornado has taken. It wasn’t the image of a house filled with trees or the sight of an empty lot but the individuals that have lived through this disaster and trying to make the best of it. It was those fighters and motivators that have shown me that the city of Tuscaloosa is moving forward.

Compassion from the day was filled with characters that will make me put a face to this trip outside of the leaders AFLV brought together. In order to fully understand the compassion of today I want you to meet these individuals.

First there was Anita. A wild personality that greeted us in her cowboy polka dot rain boots as we got our site for the day, the Tuscaloosa Temporary Emergency Services thrift store and warehouse. As the coordinator of the day, her heart was filled with giving as she pushed the message that you want a person to leave with their day brighter then they came. It was the small act of helping a woman find a shirt when just coming  in for a Christmas hat that changed the mood of the location and our group into an environment that wanted to do whatever they could to make someone else’s day brighter. Compassion was shown in her interactions with families, staff and friends that made it made the act of helping others effortless because it is the right thing to do.

But we can’t forget Katie. A 17 year old junior that took time out of her winter break to work at the warehouse filling baskets with donated toiletries to sorting through dozens of bags filled with toys. For her it was about knowing that even as a teenager, there are individuals out there that have less than her and they need any and all help. It made me think of myself as a 17 year old and how foolish my actions were because I was so focused on myself then others. Her compassion knew the priorities in life and that by this disaster there was a way out.

To better understand these people we cannot forget where we were. My group was placed in the middle of the donation warehouse where families that were affected by the tornado would come to get what little supplies they needed to maintain stability. You see endless racks of donated clothes and a hole in the roof that had buckets under it to understand that to some it would be considered run down and filled with clothes of various sizes and socks with no match but to those that needed it, it was a place to find a warm coat, water and if they were lucky, a Christmas gift. It easily became our home and a place I wanted to spend endless hours to help others. It was the home of compassion.

And lastly, I would like you to meet me. The young college student that has recently become an alumni of her chapter and is about to enter the real world and graduate. Knowing or meeting me though, you would never guess I used to be a child and a daughter from a family that didn’t have the support to make ends meet. I was the little girl that got gifts under her tree from the Salvation Army or would go with my mom to the food bank to fill our shelves to make it to the next month.  It was people like Anita and places like the warehouse that showed the compassion I didn’t know I needed.

But, as our day continued you can’t forget the families. A little nervous at first to try and assume what they need but that feeling washed away when you met the families and shopped for them and their children. As I was bagging up coats for a young woman and her husband, it was the moment she reached over the bags to give me a hug that it hit me. She was the reason I was here. I wasn’t here to clean a yard or cut vines but it was to make a difference. Her hug, so innocent and sincere brought me to the reality of where I was and the effect we were making in the few days we were here. It wasn’t to see a house built but to build up peoples hope that there were people here that just wanted to help.

Compassion. The feeling when you want to jump around and scream with Anita because she just found a donated designer coat for a woman, the feeling when you find a purse at the bottom of a donated box that would be perfect for a daughter’s Christmas gift and the feeling that as you get that tears come to your eyes when you drive away and want to stay because you know what little help you can provide if just enough. Compassion was shown towards me and now I know how to return it many years later.

This trip has pushed our boundaries, living conditions and cultural experiences to a new level. It has asked us to step outside of our comfort zone to see that our ways and views are different but together we can find that compassion to change ourselves, families and the community of Tuscaloosa.

See you in California! Roll Tide!

Kasey Schoen is a senior at California State University, Long Beach and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

TTP = Trust the Process!

Today was interesting to say the least.  I started out not knowing what the day would bring and ended it learning that sometimes you just need to TTP, “trust the process”.  These past few days I’ve come to truths with the fact that I like to over plan things because of the lack of trust I have in what the end result may be.  Within my life I’ve learned if you take the lead than you don’t have to fully put yourself in a position to be disappointed with anyone except yourself, but by doing so, I’ve missed out on a lot of life changing lessons that would eventually come my way. 

I was challenged to “TTP” by one of our trip coordinators this week and am amazed by the personal growth I’ve experienced.  At first, I questioned why we weren’t able to do the everyday experiences were accustomed to like going shopping and stopping at Dairy Queen.  Soon after a very smart individual brought to light that the purpose of this Service Immersion Trip is to immerse yourself in the culture and be able to identify with your surroundings on a personal level.  I learned that the everyday things we are accustomed to are privileges, not rights and that the people of Tuscaloosa have shopping for an Alabama sweatshirt as the least of their worries.  One needs to trust in their leaders and the purpose of what you are doing instead of constantly questioning.

On a personal note, today is one of those days I have been waiting for a while for, my 21st birthday.  I started out the day questioning a lot, from will people remember my birthday and did I make the right decision to be away from my family on a day of celebration?  I learned to trust in my Greek family, the Greek family we all have, but don’t always notice.  Having just met a few short days ago, these Greek leaders I have come in contact with truly are a family to me.  At the beginning of the day, I didn’t trust in the process and in those around me, but ended it receiving one of the best birthday cakes I’ve ever seen and with the best rendition of happy birthday that I’ve heard. 

While learning to “TTP,” I simultaneously learned to trust in myself and how I can bring that trust back into my everyday life.  Every one of us has that capability to trust and just let things happen without questioning whether what you or others are doing is the right.  Questioning your surroundings and purpose is good in certain situations, but sometimes to test your boundaries and grow you need to take that step back and trust in the leaders around you.  By trusting in the process, you will be able to step outside your comfort zone and realize that you don’t always have to be in control.  There is a reason for everything and your leaders are looking out for you and your best interests even when you’re unsure of that.  Trust in the process and you’ll be amazed by the personal growth that will result.

Jaime Domina is a junior at Grand Valley State University and a member of Phi Sigma Sigma.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Common Purpose

Coming into this trip I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.  Sure, I knew we would be doing something to help with the devastation caused by the tornado with some physical labor, but I had no idea that spending a few days serving the Tuscaloosa community could teach me so much about what it means to be Greek.

I have been lucky enough to have attended Pi Kapp College, my fraternity’s leadership institute, as well as UIFI & AFLV LeaderShape, so I am strong believer in Greeks having a common purpose, but no experience I have ever had before has better answered the question, “What is our common purpose?”

At the beginning of the day we arrived at the Tuscaloosa Area Volunteer Reception Center to report for duty.  It was an amazing sight, 21 college students up and ready to work, all before 8:00 a.m. during winter break.  I was extremely excited to work with a group that I already have become extremely close with.

Right before breaking for lunch, I came across several pictures and award certificates in the house we were working on.  The situation started to feel extremely real, having names and faces paired with the destroyed house.  Observing the damage on all four lots we cleared today, I knew why we were in Tuscaloosa helping, but I still didn’t see the bigger picture.

Around 3:00, my excitement and passion turned into frustration.  The yards we worked on were full of vines, and I began to feel like our work was making very little difference.  While I was taking a well needed break, a neighborhood resident came over to thank us for our work.  He commented on how much better the lot looked thanks to us.  And that is when it hit me!

Yes, on the surface we were in Tuscaloosa to clean up tornado damage, but location aside, this trip had an even deeper meaning.  It wasn’t about just Tuscaloosa.  This immersion experience was about our common purpose as fraternity men and sorority women: making the world a better place.  This trip was a chance to not only serve this purpose, but realize it.  Whether it be in Tuscaloosa, across the country, or around the world, we are called to change the world.  Each organization may have its own values, but all of our founders created an organization that they believed would make the world a better place.

With that common purpose in mind, today’s work proved that we will be most successful with making the world a better place when we work together.  Fraternity and sorority members from across the country came together to make the Tuscaloosa area better, one lot at a time.  As we collaborated to get through the struggles of the 3:00 hour today, I not only understood our purpose as Greeks, but I finally understood why coming together is so important.

Are we collaborating in our own communities?  Are we changing our campus, our community, and our world?  Until we come together as a Greek community, we will never fully achieve our common purpose.

Christopher Rettich is a junior at Western Michigan University and a member of Pi Kappa Phi.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two Kinds of Tours

It is officially day two in Alabama and after a night of getting to know each other and recovering from long flights, we woke up refreshed and energized. This is definitely a good thing after the day we had. We met Marie, from the United Saints Recovery Project in the morning and she told us a little bit about what happened on April 27, 2011. After some background knowledge and facts we got into the vans and took a tour around Tuscaloosa to really see the damage that still exists within the city. At first, I did not think it was going to be that bad, until we passed the hospital and I looked to my left and saw how much damage there truly was. Houses were torn to pieces, and families just up and left their home. Marie first took us to a middle class neighborhood that was in the process of rebuilding.
As we drove down the street and saw some houses being rebuilt, there was this house on the left that was just bare boned. The outer infrastructure was gone, but some walls and things like the fire place was still intact. We got to stop at the end of the street and get out to take a look and it was something that I have never seen in my life. When I walked up to the house it became surreal. Broken china lay on the once kitchen floor, teddy bears were thrown across the yard, forks were stabbed into the wall, and sinks were in rooms where they did not belong. She showed us a middle school that had no roof and the lunch room was ripped apart. We then went to an apartment complex where the owner did not have insurance and it was in the lower income part of the city. There had been minimal cleanup to these apartments. These were not only one of the saddest things I have ever seen in my life, but also one of the worst. People just left everything in these apartments and I could only imagine that it was because they couldn’t come back after something that bad happening to them. Even the street to this apartment complex was still filled with rubble and debris. Looking at all of this made me have more compassion for these people than ever. The damage was so surreal. I think it made a lot of us emotionally upset knowing that it has been about eight months and still people haven’t been able to remove their own home’s debris. Seeing how many houses that are for sale that have yet to have any debris removed was amazing. People just left everything behind and it is sad to see that some of these people in this city were left with nothing.

After our tour around the city we switched it up on a lighter note and went and explored the University of Alabama. We got a tour in the football stadium and that was great. Once that was finished we went back into the center of the town and stared to pick up debris. We worked for about two and a half hours and cleared the front and back yard of a house. Seeing how much was on the ground still and how many roof shingles scattered about was simply amazing. This trip so far has been such a rewarding experience and it is only day two. To be able to help people who do not have the resources or ability to do it themselves is the most rewarding thing I think I could have done. To know that people are so thankful for the help is so rewarding and just to see smile on their faces is the best feeling. Seeing everything we saw today just reminds me that I am thankful for everything I have and that it truly can be lost in a minute. You have to be grateful for everything because I see this city and think of how many memories were lost and how people never really thought it could happen to them. I cannot wait or be more proud to help out this city within these next few days we have here.

Sara Ellison is a junior at Eastern Illinois University and a member of Delta Zeta Sorority.


Trust.  It’s what happens when twenty-two students who don’t know each other, from different schools, and different chapter organizations find their way to Tuscaloosa, AL for an immersion trip with little insight into the adventure they are about to take.  We weren’t really sure where exactly we were staying, or what exactly we were doing for the next week, but we packed our bags and kept our eyes peeled for Greek letters at the airport. 

Trust.  It’s what happens when you immediately open up to the stranger next to you just because you know they understand what it is like to be Greek, the stereotypes we face, and the fact that they took the same risk you did giving up a week of winter break to volunteer your time, your mind, and your values. 

I trust the people I have met today, and I am excited to learn each of their stories and to understand the common values which have brought us all here together.  And I am well on my way.

I am so appreciative of all that I have, and all that I have the opportunity to experience.  Being surrounded by such a fantastic group of students who have accomplished, and who have the potential to accomplish, so much in our community is always such an inspiring environment. 

As Greeks, we take pledges to core values that we are asked to live daily.  Discussing these values and realizing just how many of them impact our lives and who we see are to our community seems a bit daunting.  But we don’t have to take on every single value, because as Greek chapters we dedicate ourselves to a select group of core values that exemplify what we hold most important to us.  Between all of our values based organizations, we make up a Greek community that stands for excellence, that stands for compassion, that stands for service, and that represents the best of what we are capable of. 

I trust that this next week is going to challenge me, and that I am going to be asked to leave my comfort zone, but most importantly I trust that the leaders who surround me today are going to make an impact in this place. 

There is no perfect formula of values to live by, but the values that bring a group of strangers together for a week, a group of Greeks who believe in something better, is the perfect formula for creating positive change.

Madeleine Stroth is a senior at the University of Iowa and a member of Pi Beta Phi.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tombstone vs. Totino's

The winter issue of Connections is all about 365 recruitment. As I was editing one of the articles (written by David Stollman, Laurel Peffer, and Tom Healy) this morning, the following statement struck me:

" Most chapters don’t actually recruit. They just select."

Now, I'm no recruitment expert, but this also isn't my first rodeo. Yet, I've never heard the concept put quite like this. It made me think. Using the word 'selection' assumes that you have a line (high quantity) of smart, kind, values-based, and service-oriented (high quality) people standing outside your door just waiting to be let in. We're not betting people, but we think it's safe to bet that this happens to, approximately, 0% of you.

The authors later state, "There is a difference between selecting among people that show up, and actually recruiting people to be there. Putting up flyers or planning the events isn’t recruiting." Aaahhhh, touché. 

Selection is not how you recruit members for a lifetime of membership to your fraternal organization. Frankly, it's more like how you choose which type of frozen pizza to buy. Tombstone or Totino's? Clearly, Tombstone is the better choice, but it's so much more expensive. Most of us have to wait for it to go on sale before we can afford it. When it does, we fill our carts. Totino's, on the other hand, is cheap. Soooo cheap. No one really wants to eat it but when we're standing there looking at it, next to the expensive Tombstone's, it's too easy to justify the purchase in our minds. It's as if we think that it will taste different this time. It won't be as disgusting. But, sadly, we get it home, eat it, and think, "Nope, still disgusting. I should have splurged for the Tombstone... or just forgone the frozen pizza altogether."

Recruitment is intentional. It's planning ahead and opting not to make rash and stupid decisions you'll later regret. The concept of 365 recruitment works for lots of reasons, but one obvious one is that it doesn't limit the choosing of members to a specific time period.

It's kind of like budgeting. Back to the pizza. You know you like Tombstone . Therefore, every time you go to the grocery store, you check the price. If it's not on sale, you don't buy any. If it is on sale, you do. Even if you know you already have a few in your freezer at home. You'll know you'll eat them eventually. However, every once in a while, you've got a big craving so you splurge for just one, even if it's full price. It's that good and you can afford to do it every once in a while. This approach allows you to skip the Totino's totally. You've finally realized that just because you can get a bunch of them for cheap and fill your freezer with "food" doesn't mean you'll enjoy eating them when the time comes to do so. You know now that buying them is a facade; sure, you'll have a freezer full of pizzas, but they're disgusting.

Membership recruitment is similar. There is no way we're going to be exposed to every qualified potential member during the weeks of formal recruitment. We've got to be checking in on people all year long and invite them to join when the opportunity arises. If we simply try to frantically fill our chapters during the one or two weeks a year, we're just going to end up with too many sub-par members. Sure, we've got the largest chapter on campus - but look at the members.

Stollman, Peffer, and Healy's article has nothing to do with pizza, but it's a good read nonetheless. Surely after reading this, we've got you on the edge of your seat waiting for the issue to come out next month.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In the Land of What If...

Following is an excerpt from the acceptance speech given by Mark Koepsell, AFLV Executive Director, at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors this past Saturday evening. Mark was this year's recipient of the Jack L. Anson Award, one of the Association's highest honors. The Anson Award is presented annually to a well-respected individual not in the field of higher education, who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to the fraternity/sorority community beyond his/her respective organization. At the ceremony, Mark was congratulated for his partnerships with higher education and the interfraternal community, his efforts in making positive change to advance the fraternal movement, and his role modeling to students and professionals in fraternity/sorority life.


It's (my) collective (network) that inspires me. This huge network of individuals and organizations provides my fuel. And, it's from here I have gained the viewpoints and perspective that I have. Many of you have heard me speak on strategic planning, change management, and other general leadership topics. One thing that is always consistent in those presentations is my transparency about my love of a little place I like to call 'The Land of What If.' Just ask the AFLV staff and Board, I speak enthusiastically about visiting there in almost every conversation. Tonight I welcome you to join me in a quick journey to The Land of What If.

These comments are presented in the form of tweets. 140 characters or less providing a glimpse into The Land of What If. Sometimes there is as much power in the right question as there is in the answer. I'm not pretending to have all these answers, but I do believe the questions will at least get us thinking about where we need to go.
  • #WHATIF we spent our undergraduate years preparing for a lifetime of membership in the org & didn't get initiated until we graduated?
  • #WHATIF there actually was a minimum standard for members & chapters and real consequences for falling short? #greekchat
  • #WHATIF all campus F/S award programs actually measured meaningful outcomes instead of rewarding the most creative writers?
  • #WHATIF Fraternity/Sorority advisors weren't so often the youngest directors in the division of student affairs? #sachat
  • #WHATIF the staff to student ratio for Greeks looked more like we find in most residence life programs on campuses? #sachat
  • #WHATIF we didn't need an org like the @FraternalValues in our communities because 100% values alignment was already achieved?
  • #WHATIF every chapter had the conviction, motivation, talent, and drive that we find in most colonies?
  • #WHATIF new member education truly prepared men & women for a life of values based action? @preventhazing
  • #WHATIF all F/S members valued making a positive global impact as much as they do the fun of brotherhood and sisterhood? #ServiceImmersion
  • #WHATIF the money raised through F/S philanthropy all actually made its way to the advertised beneficiaries? #greekchat
  • #WHATIF philanthropy wasn't so often a sorry excuse for another social event and members actually believed in the cause more than the path? 
  • #WHATIF we had a better vehicle for grassroots fundraising and support of causes within the fraternal market? @GreeksForGood
  • #WHATIF the behavioral expectations & enforcement were the same at the #AFA2011AM as they are at undergrad conferences? #CFLNBGLC #WFLNCGLC
  • #WHATIF F/S professionals stopped prioritizing their largest efforts into Greek Week, Homecoming, and Formal Recruitment? #greekchat
  • #WHATIF Headquarters and campuses agreed that what matters most is building an environment that supports the + development of our students?
  • #WHATIF there were grants available to help individuals & orgs focus on efforts that can make a real difference in the fraternal world?
  • #WHATIF we built a system that allowed House Directors to play a valuable role as support mechanisms and paraprofessionals?
  • #WHATIF all our chapters could prove that membership would positively impact retention and GPA? #GammaSigmaAlpha #OrderofOmega
  • #WHATIF professionals didn't see F/S advising as an entry-level job or stepping stone to something "more important"?
  • #WHATIF universities valued the profession at a level where there was upward movement available without leaving the field?
  • #WHATIF F/S professionals  spent more time creating sustainable change & less time in stupid meetings talking about it?
  • #WHATIF we worried less about who is "taking over the world" and focused more on who is "getting good things done"?
  • #WHATIF Fraternities/Sororities could PROVE their worth to higher education at a level where they were begging for more? #FraternalRelevance
  • #WHATIF F/S professionals were more actively engaged in the higher education arena? (That means IN ADDITION to fraternal matters) #sachat
  • #WHATIF F/S professionals were conducting more research and assessment to better illustrate the validity and worth of the experience?
  • #WHATIF our chapters were known as places of tolerance & acceptance as opposed to exclusivity & petri dishes for the 'isms' that plague us?
  • #WHATIF we had less fewer silos & more orgs working collaboratively to create F/S that are the most trusted orgs of integrity and ethics?
  • #WHATIFI actually felt comfortable that my daughters could join ANY sorority chapter & enjoy a developmentally rewarding experience?
  • #WHATIF all of our members understood that true leadership exists in doing the right thing and isn't related to power or position?
  • #WHATIF we spent more time figuring out how to effectively recruit & support alum volunteers as coaches & mentors?
  • #WHATIF we provided tools to every member to step up in the face of controversy & ridicule for the pursuit of values? @FraternalValues
  • #WHATIF it were nearly impossible to win the Shaffer or Anson Award until the twilight of your career? #dontthinkimnotgrateful
  • #WHATIF every F/S community & office was inclusive & supportive of EVERY org that we represent? #NALFO #NAPA #NPHC #NMGC
  • #WHATIF all fraternities created a culture of respect for women instead of a den of hyper-masculine attitudes & behaviors?
  • #WHATIF alcohol didn't have a place in our houses were a majority of members are underage anyway? @PhiDelt #substancefreehousing
  • #WHATIF the only thing synonymous with 'frat move' equaled actions that are the highest in character and values? @Combat_Frat
  • My quest is not only to dream of the land of #WHATIF but to find the path to get there. Do you want to be part of that journey? #LandOfWhatIf
Thank you again for bestowing this incredible honor onto me. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to work in a field where I find such passion, commitment, and dedication by those around me. Thank you for allowing me to do what I love every day.


And, we think we can speak for everyone in thanking Mark for working to make our fraternal world a better place.