Friday, December 20, 2013

nourish: your mind, your body, your soul

The Questions
What would it look like if women in our field had the opportunity to come together regardless of age, position, or affiliation to just be with their thoughts, their fears, their dreams, their hopes and their insecurities? What if we found a way to be more self-aware so we don't aspire to be someone we ARE NOT and were comfortable living as the person WE are? How would our relationships be impacted if we skipped all the surface-level B.S. and focused on the things that matter?

Our Story
These are all questions I asked myself as I attended The Gathering during the summer of 2012. I wanted to create an experience similar to The Gathering but for women only where we could learn and grow from and with one another. I dreamed about what impact women in our field could make if we were more aware of who we are and what makes us happy to be women and content in what we do professionally. I wanted peace. I wanted support. I wanted balance. I wanted yoga. I wanted conversation. I wanted quiet. I wanted no drama. I wanted meditation. I wanted the beach.

I have always longed for real, honest, non-competitive, unconditional friendships—especially with women. On one hand, I always felt there was something powerful in the female connection—an understanding, empathy, nurturing - that women shared in friendships. On the other hand, I had also experienced the competitiveness, cattiness and judgmental perspective in some of those same friendships—and in some of those cases I was an offender!

 I got the book The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, as a gift from an amazing woman (grateful to Lori Neff—you are still teaching me today) who I attended the Interfraternity Institute with in 1999. She warned me the book was a “little hippy-dippy” but to stick with it because it taught her more life lessons in 200 pages than anything over the last 20 years. So, I read it. Over and over and over—and continue to read my battered-up copy at least once every six months. For me, nourish had been in the back of my head as a thought, a hope, a concept since 1999. It just took some life and professional experience, some amazing and some disappointing experiences with women and a great conversation with Jenny to realize that there are women (including myself) who want and need a space to explore the questions from above; a place for women to deeply connect with other women; a place to nourish body, mind and soul. And so it began.

Our Motivation
So we were two women with a similar idea that needed each other to push to actually make it happen. We put our hearts and our minds together and built nourish. We submitted a grant proposal to The Gathering Class of 2012 and were lucky to be the recipients of the grant. This officially made our vision one that had the ability to become a reality.

The Context
We revisited the book to frame our work, The Invitation by Oriah. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back. It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.” – The Invitation

The Invitation is a declaration of intent, a map into the longing of the soul, the desire to live passionately, face-to-face with ourselves and skin-to-skin with the world around us. nourish is an intense sabbatical designed to help women in the field of higher education accept the Invitation.

nourish is not a retreat, it is not a conference, it is not a stand-alone experience. nourish begins by making a personal commitment during an annual sabbatical to finding your authentic self and living an authentic life by nourishing yourself, nourishing others, nourishing your body, nourishing your mind, nourishing your soul and nourishing the sisterhood (relationships) in your life.

Nourish … the Experience
On September 9 we arrived to the Islander, a beautiful beach-front property on Oak Island, North Carolina. We began with conversations around what nourishment looked like to us. We discussed how and where we find nourishment in our lives and what will it take to let go of what is and find nourishment within ourselves over the next few days. That night we were lucky to experience a sunset meditation on the deck overlooking the ocean. The sound of the waves and the fresh air across our faces was the perfect natural setting to begin our work.

We spent time nourishing mind. Through the nourishing of the mind we read books and articles and challenged our minds to open up in new ways. Through proposed discussion topics from the book we chose a partner and nourished one another. This was a critical time in the experience where we appreciated one another and accepted the other person and ourselves for all we bring to the field and the world. Through guided conversations, participants were encouraged to explore ideas and concepts many had not explored in depth before. Nourish soul was conversation around sharing perspectives, insights, experiences and spirits of the women in the group. This was the group time where we had no leader but great discussion as a large group. Last but certainly not least, at the end of each night we nourished sisterhood. Each of the women who joined us in this experience has a passion; love and dedication to the field of education and helping others achieve their potential. When we nourished our sisterhood, we focused on how we could experience and share our sisterhood in a more authentic way in our professional lives.  

We both feel after writing the grant and dreaming about the potential of this program that it far exceeded our expectations.

If you want to talk about our experience and what has changed for us since nourish, feel free to reach out. We all had different experiences but we all had balancing experiences that have changed and improved who we are as women and as professionals.

We are excited to announce we will be doing another nourish in fall of 2014. Applications will be available in spring of 2014. Please contact us at in the meantime if you are interested.

Thank you to AFLV and The Gathering Class of 2012 for having faith in us and for making our vision become a reality! We all are forever grateful and blessed to have had the experience.

Mingle often with good people to keep your soul nourished!

A guest blog from Megan Vadnais & Jenny Levering, 2012 grant recipients from The Gathering for their program, nourish.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hazing - It's Weird

We're totally serious on this one. As we talked about National Hazing Prevention Week in the office, we tried to be really deep and figure out why people haze. But as we talked about different hazing activities people partake in, we kept ending up at the same reaction:
"That's really freakin' weird."

A summary of our faces
Think about it though. Let's pretend we're explaining some of our activities to our parents. Let's even pretend our mom is not like a regular mom, but a cool mom.
Mom: What is the 4-1-1? What has everybody been up to? What's the hot gossip?
Hazer: Well, tonight we had a line up, so we made the pledges stand side-by-side. Then we all pointed out where each girl needs to tone up. It was really fun, and they appreciated the constructive criticism about their bodies. One girl even cried!
Mom: Wait ... what? Honey, I'm confused. That doesn't sound fun; it sounds weird and mean. Why would you want to look at all the pledges in their underwear?
Hazer: Well, she needed to prove she belonged. It's like, the rules.
Mom: But why would you pick her for a pledge if she has so many things to fix? Maybe you should do that whole rush thing better and pick girls you don't think you need to fix.
Hazer: Mom, go fix your hair.
Even if you had a cool mom, explaining some of the activities that chapters use to haze is hard to justify because it sounds kind of insane.

Even when we were trying to use common excuses like "they need to prove they belong," the activities just sounded weird. In what universe are line ups, pledge book signing, dressing in embarrassing costumes, or blindfolded quizzes considered normal behavior, let alone behaviors you could use to prove your worth? A recent Cosmo story of one woman's account of her experience being hazed has garnered attention for degrading women in general, but mostly because no one could look at these activities and call them normal by any standards.

Take a look around you this week. There are many great statistics and campaigns that tell the physical and psychological effect of hazing. There is also a lot of great info about what could happen to hazers since it's against the law in 44 states. But take a step back and look at hazing from a normal perspective: it's pretty weird.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Good Times are Consensual

We seriously never imagined the day when we would be giving a shoutout to Playboy for its perspective about sex. But the day is here, and we're all about Playboy's Top Ten Party Commandments for a Consensual Good Time.

As we've talked about before, many behaviors, attitudes, and words on college campuses across America are conducive to a rape culture. But as Playboy puts it, "Consent is all about everyone having a good time. Rape is only a good time if you’re a rapist. And f@¢# those people."

Why does this matter to you as a fraternity leader?

Let's think about the overall perception of fraternity men. There are a lot of uninformed people out there who think we're all rapists. But, just like the examples Playboy's list gives, there are many ways for men to stand against rape. 

Fraternity men at Northwest Missouri State University, the University of Iowa, Ohio University, Washington University in St. Louis, Wittenberg University, and countless other universities are leading the way in efforts like A Walk in Her Shoes and No Woman Left Behind.

In fact, a recent study finds fraternity men have lower levels of hyper-masculinity, a predictor of sexual aggression, than unaffiliated male students. We're not saying we're perfect by any means, but the current sexual assault education fraternities receive should serve as a catalyst for fraternity men to educate their entire campus communities.

Not sure where to start? There are plenty of creative ideas in Playboy's list, or you can look into national movements like Men Can Stop Rape and One Student.

If the Hef can take a stand for a consent, we're pretty sure you can, too.

Editor's note: We've recently discovered that this article is a hoax by the group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture and was not published by Playboy. But that does not detract from these great ideas, and the group's ideas are spot on.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It's Not Just Us

Fraternity/sorority members leading the charge at Marshall University

September is the month that holds Hazing Prevention Week, and with that comes a bunch of articles, blogs, and social media posts about preventing hazing in fraternities and sororities.

Many of you feel singled out by #NHPW and are quick to bring up the argument that it's not just fraternities and sororities. Trust us, we feel ya on this one.

After a two-year suspension, the Florida A&M band has returned, and in the past week, the Towson University cheerleading squad has been suspended for competition for one year for an alleged hazing incident. ESPN is notorious for highlighting the rookie hazing in NFL training camps each year.

But just as we coach our chapters with recruitment and public relations efforts, perception is reality. As long as any of our chapters haze, fraternities and sororities are an easy target. If public perception is that all of us haze the crap out of people, others' realities are that we haze the crap out of people.

However, this concept can be applied to improve our image and showcase what we're actually about. As the groups who are most often targeted, we can and should take the lead in the hazing prevention efforts in our campus communities.

One of the main differences between fraternal organizations and other student organizations is that we explicitly say we are about brother/sisterhood and building better people. As values-based organizations, it's our job to tell people what we're about and take a stand against hazing. The sustainability of our organizations is dependent upon it. These values that we stand on and talk about so often are the main reason we should be the leaders in hazing prevention. It's in our founders' ideals that we stand against hazing.

So this September, let your actions and words create a new perception. Let everyone know what we're really about.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Once Upon an Orientation

Why did you join a fraternity? What does your sorority do anyway? Do you feel like you paid for your friends?

New student orientation: a time of excitement for campuses across the country AND an opportunity to share the benefits of fraternity and sorority membership. You remember the feelings during orientation—a million things to do, tons of questions, and a mix of excitement and anxiety over every little thing. So how do you help the fraternity and sorority experience rise to the top?


We’re not talking about the campfire stories or library hour gatherings. We want you to tell YOUR story. Knowing how to share your story in a succinct and compelling way instead of throwing around faceless facts will help connect sisterhood and brotherhood to potential members who could see themselves in your shoes.

One of our biggest failures in explaining fraternity and sorority life to others is this belief that brotherhood and sisterhood are impossible to explain. As leaders who have invested a lot of time and energy into our organizations, it can be difficult to break it down to the basics. Stories—your personal lived experiences—are what can connect others.

Jim Blasingame, host of the Small Business Advocate, offers the Three C’s of Storytelling: Connect, Convey, and Create. We've broken it down for you here in our new resource that you can use with your chapter, council, recruitment counselors, or even yourself!

People are moved by emotions, and throwing a bunch of facts out there is hardly effective when you could relay an experience so compelling the listener HAS to learn more. Your goal is to move a person to action, not to be a walking Google search result.

You may have 60 seconds with a potential member during an orientation session or a new student block party. Are you going to spend it spouting out statistics about GPA and intramural championships, or are you going to spend those precious seconds to tell a story worth repeating?

That's what we thought. Now go out there and share YOUR story.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Truth About Millennials

As we near the end of graduation season, there's a lot of buzz about how Millennials handle the transition from college to the "real world." Joel Stein's TIME cover story and its accompanying online package - particularly the video of Stein living like a millennial - have been controversial, spurred many rebuttals, and sparked many conversations.

But consider this: Is he right?

The first half of Stein's story has blunt statements like "They are fame-obsessed," "They are lazy," "their development is stunted," and "they're cocky about their place in the world," which are all backed by data.

Obvi, none of these statements are positive. But here are the facts:
  • More people ages 18 to 29 live with their parents than with a spouse.
  • In 2007, three times as many middle school girls wanted to be a personal assistant to a famous person than a senator; four times as many chose the assistant job over CEO of a major corporation.
  • People ages 18 to 29 in 2012 had less civic engagement and lower political participation than any previous group.
Many of you may be arguing "But that's not true! I'm not this way, and neither are my friends!" That's one of Stein's main points: it's not about you

We all know stereotypes are generalizations about groups of people, and that's exactly what Stein is doing. But since TIME is targeted at older Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, he's trying to help older people understand Millennials as a whole.

If you keep reading while the smoke is blowing out of your ears, you can see that Stein talks about big culture changes like Millennials' propensity to innovate, try new things, and go after what they want. We also expect a flat organizational structure, need self-actualization more than money, rebel less, are more cautious, and are extremely optimistic.

So, how does this relate to fraternity/sorority life?

Think about your new members' expectations when they first join the chapter. With expectations of an accessible executive board, you will have to justify the decisions you make. Millennials rebel less because authority isn't just something they don't respect, it's something they don't acknowledge. More than ever, student leaders truly have to earn respect; members won't respect you based on title alone.

With our propensity to do new things, if you're in a culture that tolerates hazing or a disregard for risk management, this generation is going to be the catalyst to change it. Use your group of innovative members to make positive changes, harness our generation's disregard for the past, blaze that trail, and earn that legend status that Millennials crave.

P.S. Joel, while we can concede that you make many great points, stop trying to make "twixters" happen. It's not going to happen.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Our Volunteers Rock!

Have you attended CFL/NBGLC or AFLV West? Or traveled as part of a Service Immersion Trip? Did your council utilize our Awards & Assessment program? What articles in Connections, the AFLV magazine, caught your eye and made you think? However AFLV has impacted you this year, there have been volunteers supporting your experience behind the scenes.

This week is National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and we wanted to take a moment to thank our volunteers for the hard work that they do. Our volunteers work long hours and travel long distances to support the efforts of AFLV. Our Conference Committee and on-site volunteers work tirelessly to provide a top-notch experience for attendees. Awards & Assessment judges spend countless hours reviewing applications and providing feedback to councils across the country in an effort to help them perform at their highest levels. The editorial board for Connections writes, solicits, and edits articles intended to further the knowledge and understanding that our members have of what it means to be a part of a fraternity or sorority.

Although our staff has grown over the past year, our volunteers are more important than ever in ensuring AFLV fulfills its mission to provide experiences that challenge and encourage fraternity/sorority members to live ethical values and implement best practices. These volunteers support AFLV in addition to full-time jobs, family commitments, and other volunteer roles for national organizations and associations. Their time is volunteered without ever asking for anything in return. The least we can do is thank them.

If you’ve volunteered for any aspect of AFLV this year, we say thank you. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of our members. Thank you for creating growth and development opportunities for fraternities and sororities across North America. Thank you for continuing to help AFLV be a trusted and sought-out resource within the fraternal movement.

Take a minute to check out our volunteer roster, and if you know any of our volunteers, please take a moment to thank them for all that they do. Thanks again to our volunteers for helping us build AFLV!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Running Into the Fire

photo from Getty Images

If you’re like me (and most people) this week, you have been focused on the aftermath of the unthinkable events that took place on Monday during the Boston Marathon that left 176 people injured and took the lives of three others. This serves as an all-too-familiar example of senseless tragedy; one that falls within a day of the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, within a week of the anniversary of Columbine, and within months of the shootings in Newtown, CT. These are just a few examples, and unfortunately, regardless of age, we could all list countless others that have happened in our lifetime.

In light of yesterday’s events, I was asked to write this blog for AFLV members and as I thought it about it, the story line became clear: the resiliency of the good always seems to overcome the intention of the bad. For those of you who could bear to watch the video from yesterday, you may have seen the same thing I saw: the countless number of people running INTO the smoke to help others. You may have heard the stories I heard: marathoners running past the finish line directly to the hospital to give blood and others tearing off articles of clothing to use as tourniquets for the wounded. After an attempt to strike paralyzing fear in the hearts and minds of the people, the resiliency of the good seemed to again overcome the intention of the bad.

Is there a connection to the fraternity/sorority experience? Maybe. Maybe there is some connection that can be made, but that seems inconsequential given the gravity of the situation in Boston and certainly that conversation can be reserved for another time and place in the future. Perhaps our focus should be on the connection of people, the connection of humanity. As I referenced above, the one image that will ultimately stick with me from yesterday are the people running in to help those who needed it. What are the situations and who are the people in our lives - in our communities- that need us to “run in”, whether in response to a tragedy or even in our normal daily lives? Will we act in those moments? Are we currently?

For those who know me, you know I have affinity for the TV show The West Wing and while that may seem trivial in this moment, a friend from Boston posted a video on my Facebook timeline Monday night from the episode 20 Hours in America. I share this video and one of its quotes with you today as a tribute of sorts:

“Every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless”

This blog is not about fraternity. Yes, fraternity is about helping people and doing the right thing (one great example being the men of the Phi Kappa Theta at MIT), but moreover this blog is about people, and the power of people to overcome and to help others do the same.

Additional recommended blog post: My Heart is in Boston by Steve Good, Founder of Greeks for Good.

Guest blogger: Ryan O'Rourke, AFLV Director of Education & Curriculum Design

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hashtags Gone Wrong

No, it's not a post about being smart on social media. Y'all are smart enough to know that anyone can take a picture of or screen shot anything and ruin your life (imagine what Regina George could do with Instagram).

It's about a certain hashtag we've seen trending in a negative way - #womancrushwednesday or #wcw.

We're not knocking any of the good fun that individuals that want to show their friend who they think is attractive or a celebrity crush.

The disturbing trend we have seen are fraternity chapters using their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or Instagram accounts to declare a woman as the chapter's Woman Crush Wednesday and talk about how hot she is.

Now let's think about the fact that these chapters are totally objectifying a woman. Think about the word "object" - you're treating someone as a thing to be looked at, analyzed, and talked about instead of like a person. It's not hard to see how this is negative.

Like, what is positive about treating people like objects? How does that match up with many fraternities' creeds that involve things like "making better men" or "being true gentlemen?"

We're not trying to pick on men. Women, the economic juggernaut that was Magic Mike and the pursuit of the M.R.S. do not make you innocent. While we don't see this trend going on with our sororities and #mancrushmonday, women are still guilty of objectifying men for their money, bodies, and status. That's also not congruent with your values of building "strong women" or striving for things that are noble, honorable, or any other words your particular motto may use.

So, here's the deal: while you make think this is funny or you truly think you're flattering someone, mayyybe you should look at the consequences and perceptions of what you're putting out there.

  1. The rest of the community now thinks we're not a welcoming environment for our GLBTQ friends, brothers, and sisters. 
  2. Since you're not in high school, we should act like adults and stop judging people based on their attractiveness, money, or popularity. 
  3. That's not how things work in the real world. First impressions only go so far. In reality, people are judged on their actual skills, character, and personality.
So there's your grownup lesson for the day. We look forward to calling you out if you continue to make us all look bad.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Fraternities and Sororities are not Stupid: Reason 7

How many hours of service has your chapter put in so far this year? We're willing to bet it's a lot!

Reason 7: Fraternity and sorority members are serious about philanthropy and community service and spend more hours on service and volunteering than other students.

We're all very proud of the work we do in our communities and beyond, but what really sticks with us is hours and work we put into our service. Many can argue part of the reason fraternity and sorority members excel in philanthropic efforts is the privilege some of our members have, but no one can dispute the hard work we put into service.

Research shows fraternity/sorority affiliation was associated with higher levels of community service and fraternity/sorority members spend substantially more hours per week on community service than unaffiliated students.

Even just using statistics from the National Panhellenic Conference (page 4), undergraduate sorority women have put in over 639,000 hours of service and raised over $2.8 million for philanthropic events and organizations. That doesn't even include non-Panhellenic sorority women, fraternity men, or fraternity/sorority alumni. 

That's impressive and makes a real impact.

What if we could do better? Many of our chapters are making strides toward real cross-programming to avoid member burnout. What if we turned more of our sisterhood/brotherhood events, recruitment events, and the like into service and volunteer opportunities? 

What if we brought philanthropy and service together to raise money while doing actual work? We love seeing what new ideas chapters are developing. Greeks For Good is a great resource to help you raise money for your service efforts. Our Philanthropy and Community Service officer manuals and your campus fraternity/sorority advisors are also great resources for service programming ideas.

So, in short, let's keep it up and take it to the next level. It's what we do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Make Your AFLV Conference Experience the Best EVER

As we come closer to the end of January, that means one thing here at AFLV--the start of conference season! We are so excited to be in Indianapolis in two short weeks for the Central Fraternal Leadership and National Black Greek Leadership Conference and just as excited as we look ahead to Costa Mesa in April for the West Fraternal Leadership and National Cultural Greek Leadership Conference.

As past participants of each conference and current staff members at AFLV, Branden Stewart, Coordinator of Volunteer and Member Engagement, and Monica Ceja, Coordinator of Marketing and Communication, have come up with their top 5 tips to help YOU maximize your conference experience!

Branden Says ...

Attending a Fraternal Leadership Conference was always the highlight of my undergraduate experience. Each year that I attended, I was able to meet and connect with hundreds of other leaders who were committed to their fraternal values and determined to make positive changes in their communities. Here are my tips to make the most of your experience!
  1. Get out of bed in the morning. No, really. This is my number one tip, and trust me, I love to sleep. There are a TON of things happening all day while at the conference, and you can’t attend any of them if you're in bed. Hearing our expert keynote speakers, attending something during every educational program block, and constantly looking for new people to meet and new things to experience is crucial to having a worthwhile experience. GET OUT OF BED!
  2. We've set some minimum standards, and our expectation is that you meet them. Really, nothing on that list is hard to follow. You’re attending the conference to become a better leader and help make your chapter, fraternal community, and campus stronger. Late and loud nights, hotel parties, and drugs have no place at an AFLV Fraternal Leadership Conference. Seriously, we're the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values.
  3. Our Awards & Assessment Process is a huge component of the Conference, and we spend the closing banquet honoring those councils that work tirelessly to be a model community. Check out the awards binders and talk with students from councils who apply. This is an amazing way to pick up new ideas for how to help your council work harder, better, faster, and stronger (cue the Kanye).
  4. If you’re coming with a large delegation of students from your institution, the worst thing you can do is attend educational programs with your entire delegation. Your council and school sent YOU to bring back as much information and new ideas as possible. Come in with a plan of attack. How many different educational programs can your delegation attend during each time block? The more ideas you check out, the more you’ll have to bring home with you!
  5. So you've heard a great idea for a program you want to bring back to your campus, but did you get the most crucial information you need to help make that program a success? That would be contact info! Make sure you get some digits, follow people on Twitter, or friend contacts on Facebook! The more contact info you gather, the more your network grows. 
Monica Says ...

The West Fraternal Leadership and National Cultural Greek Leadership Conference was one of the best leadership development opportunities I had as an undergraduate student. Sharing and learning new ideas with other committed leaders from across the country inspired me to do new, big things as a Panhellenic leader on my campus. Here's how I was able to make my conference awesome.
  1. Participate in the many events at the conference! In addition to the educational sessions offered, participate in events like Ignite Fraternity, the Order of Omega Case Study Competition, or the Stroll Competition. These events are a great way to learn by doing and put your ideas into action!
  2. Make sure you dress professionally. Nobody wants to talk to the guy that wore jeans as professional attire, the girl in provocative clothing, or the sloppy-looking person with wrinkled clothes. Look nice and make a strong impression. See our Pinterest board for help with what is and is not pin attire.
  3. Attend all the meals included in the conference. Obvi, these meals are included in your registration, so attending them will make the best use of your funds. Additionally, this is a great chance to network and learn more about the different resources available from AFLV. And, the affiliation luncheon on Friday will seat you with your brothers or sisters from across the country which is always super fun!
  4. Participate in the AFLV Silent Auction and the T-Shirt Auction! What could be more fun than coming home with new t-shirts and favors? Plus, the funds help students attend future conferences and leadership development opportunities. Bring some spending money and budget accordingly!
  5. Have a wrap up meeting. We like the idea of debriefing at the end of each day, so you can keep track of what you learned and follow up when you get home. Don't forget to have a closing meeting on the way home or at your first meeting back so you can come up with a plan of action together!
We hope we were able to be helpful! For more tips, check out our January issue of The Bulletin and our Conference Tips board as we keep pinning, and we'll see YOU this spring!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Names and faces

Today the entire AFLV group went to Las Delicias. Chelsea and Holly went to the school house to help out and play with the kids. The rest of us (Miquel, Laura, Griffin, Tricia, and I, Sonja) went to the construction site for the house we are building for a local woman with six children. The main focus of the day was building the metal columns that will go in the trenches to support the concrete that will later be poured for the foundation. My job was to cut wires into a certain size to tie the rectangular bars to the long metal rods. I think we got about five of them done today and each is about 15 feet long (that is a very rough estimate). I also helped out by twisting the wires onto the metal rods. There were also a few people that moved a large amount of sand that was delivered up to the work site.

The woman and her children who we are building the house for were there at the site today as they have been in the past. They are very willing to help and often do a better job than I may be doing. I got closer to two of the girls named Ana and Diana. Diana is the youngest one and is very shy but today we bonded over a little kitten, or gatito, that lives on the site. We both held and pet the kitten. She never spoke to me but she did let me pick her up. Ana is older, in second grade, and she was helping me twist the wires. She also liked to play with me and the other volunteers on the site. She was a bit of a jokester and would hang on to me; she was my little monkey.

It has been great working at both the sites. Everyone is always smiling and in a good mood despite the hot weather and hard work. The language barrier can be a little frustrating but we make do with gestures and with the help of Miguel who is fluent in Spanish and Laura who is a Spanish major.

We went up to the school building to join Chelsea and Holly and the rest of the Villanova group. We ate lunch and some played with the children. At this point I was not feeling very well at all so I attempted to take a nap. I think the heat and hard work got to me. I’m not used to the heat considering I’m from Alaska and go to school in Colorado. I’m feeling much better now after a shower, nap, and eating dinner.

We left the site at 2 (earlier than usual) to head to the University of Central America. We didn’t get there until about 4 because there was bad traffic due to construction. When we did get there we first visited the chapel on campus. It has quite a bit of El Salvadorian art work. Much of it is depicting the struggle and pain caused by the civil war. It specifically is about the 6 Jesuits and 2 women who were murdered by the army in 1989.  There was a museum up the hill from the chapel that honored the Jesuits, the women, and Monsignor Romero who were all murdered. We also got to see the pictures that were taken of all the Jesuits and the two women when they were found. The Jesuits had been dragged out of their rooms and out into the garden area where they were brutally murdered. The pictures were very graphic and horrific. I wouldn’t have believed the extent of the gruesomeness unless I had seen it myself.

Learning about the history of El Salvador has been very interesting and eye opening. The people of El Salvador adore, remember, and love Monsignor Romero. He stood for the justice of the people of El Salvador and stood up for them when they were being repressed. He was killed for this reason. More than 30 years later he is stilled remember and spoken about often.  The war affected the country and it is still striving to recover. It changed so many lives. I’m just happy that I am able to help these amazing people even the tiny amount that I am.

After getting a few souvenirs from the school we headed back to the house. I took a quick shower before dinner which made me feel significantly better. For dinner we had Sister Gloria’s Italian pasta recipe. Even though it wasn’t El Salvadorian food it was delicious! There was also garlic bread that was devoured. After dinner and a nap, a band called Sierra Madre came to perform for us. There were 5 guys that played various instruments like the drums, guitar, the accordion, bass, and wooden flute like instruments. They also sang and involved us as much as possible. I tremendously enjoyed listening, singing along, and dancing with them. They did an activity with us where we passed a ball around while they played music and when they finished whoever had the ball had to come to the front. They would answer or ask two questions in Spanish and the band member would try to respond in English. I thought that was a great way to bond and try to get to know each other and learn.   As a band they were also very big on honoring and remembering Romero. It was a great finale to this fantastic week! I even bought one of their CD’s and can’t wait to listen to it when I get home.

Overall this week has been an amazing experience. I came to experience a new culture and to serve others but I came away with so much more.  I have personal relationships with so many people from El Salvador that I will cherish forever. I’ve learned that it is the relationships that are most important. El Salvador is no longer just a country to me, it has names and faces and a great experience behind it. It also made me appreciate what I have but also made me realize what I don’t need, and understand that materials are less important in life than friendship and love.

Not only did I make new El Salvadorian friends but I feel like I really bonded with the AFLV group members. Even though we have only been here for a week I feel like we have all become very good friends. Tomorrow everyone (except me, I leave on Sunday) will be leaving. I am sad to see us all part but am so glad I was able to have this experience and meet all these remarkable people.

Sonja Jones (aka Chica Henaldo) is a sophomore at Colorado School of Mines in Mechanical Engineering, and is a member of Sigma Kappa.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A week that lasts a lifetime

Today was the first day that Miguel and I traveled to the construction of the house in Las Delicias, with Chelsea  and Laura, while Sonja and Holly made their way to Cuidad de Arce. This was after the amazing eggs we had for breakfast, made by Mike from the Villanova group.

What we found in Las Delicias was a group of small children already helping out the others that were digging the trenches for the house. The morning really flew by thanks to great conversation with Don  Israel, the construction leader, and Carlos, a local community member. It was also great that most of the site was covered in shade while we worked, and the soil was very soft and easy to work with.

Chelsea was supposed to be helping at the nearby daycare with some members of the Villanova group, but the night before, she found out what happens when some of the water is consumed in San Salvador. She thought she was okay to work for the day, but the trip there did not bode well for her stomach. So, Chelsea spent most of the day trying to sleep off her sickness.

We broke for lunch, and drove up to the daycare with the rest of the members who were playing with the children for the day. We ate, and helped the children clean up, while Miguel took advantage of the opportunity to sample some of the local jewelry.

We left the site early, approximately 1:30 pm, and traveled to the house and chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. On the way, we stopped by the lava field near the foot of the volcano, and collected some samples to take home. Our journey to Romero’s former dwelling soon continued, and we were there before we knew it.

The other group had arrived before us, and already toured the chapel, so we all sat and listened to one of the nuns describe the life and death of Romero. We found out that his heart was buried there in the garden, while the rest of his body was buried in the Cathedral. Her talk led us to his residence, where everything he owned, from his car to his toothbrush, was put on display for all to see and worship. Our group then traveled to the chapel where he was assassinated, where they still have mass every Sunday.

When we were done there we traveled home, and the Villanova group was given a chance to shower so that they could go to Mass at 5:00 pm. While they were getting prepared, Don Miguel allowed Miguel, Tricia, and me to tag along on his errands as we needed to stop by an ATM to grab some cash. During this ride, we were able to see the ‘Belly Button’ of San Salvador, including the main market and normal hustle and bustle of the afternoon crowd.

Upon return, we were able to shower and help set up for dinner, and enjoyed many a good laugh (while Chelsea lay in bed, sick). The priest who led Mass joined us for dinner, and afterwards told us his history in El Salvador, and let us ask questions about him and his journey.

Our reflection for the night brought a new activity, where we were able to tell each what we appreciate the most about each other, and we also gave up another item for the week. If it was not obvious that we were bonding before, tonight would be the night that it is a concrete fact that we have created great bonds and friendships; those that will last much longer than the week we have spent here.

Griffin Bortzfield (aka Little Foot, Little man, or Ronaldo) is a senior at Fort Hays State University, and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Values in Action

Our group celebrated the New Year in a very fun experience in Guatemala. We enjoyed site seeing, shopping, and learning about the culture. After spending four hours in a van, we came back to our home and quickly fell asleep, ready for the next day. We woke up early this morning and headed once again to our worksites.

In Las Delicias we continued working on building a home for a single parent family. It is interesting to see the living conditions of the people. Houses are crowded around one another and built literally in the middle of the trees and wildlife. I feel horrible knowing that this new house is going to make a family very happy, but also knowing that back in the states this is not as good as it gets. The people are happy just to be getting a home, they don’t care that it isn’t going to be much. The family of six is going to have a kitchen, a living room, and two bedrooms, A FAMILY of SIX. I am in awe of how thankful they are just to be given this small dwelling that they will be able to call home.

As soon as we started I was immediately put to work digging trenches for the foundation. I put my muscles to work, pulling away at the dirt with my spike-axe, shoveling the dirt into wheel barrows, and dumping it out of the way. I have to admit, it was hot, sticky, and very dusty. I found myself completely covered in dirt and dripping in sweat. After my first water break I looked at my progress with despair, I felt as if I hadn’t made a dent in the earth at all. I was beginning to get grumpy and thinking nothing was getting done, but then I was surprised to see that a young boy and girl had joined the progress. They were a part of the group of kids who would one day be living in the home and I was humbled to know that they were willing to help build their own home.  I once again picked up my axe and begin digging away again.

Finally lunch came and we joined the other group up at the day care to enjoy our apples and sandwiches, thankfully I was able to find some Nutella instead of the traditional peanut butter sandwiches. I loved being there with the children that I had seen earlier in the week. I have helped with other service projects and I have done many philanthropy events, but nothing has brought more emotion out of me than seeing the smiling faces of the children of El Salvador. They have such a spirit and the biggest hearts. One child, named Daniel, has really touched me deeply. He has the biggest smile, and he is so smart. On Monday, we played memories games, puzzles, and Uno. Today he was excited to play baseball and jump rope. Unfortunately I only had a chance to pitch to him a few times, but I was so excited to get to see him once again.

After lunch we headed back to our building site. We continued scooping more dirt, except this time we had even more help. Ranging from the ages of 4 to 13 little kids were running around the sites excitedly offering a helping hand. After grabbing a drink of water I would find my shovel taken from me by a child of merely seven who eagerly wanted to show how strong she was, and that she could help too. My heart melted as the children threw themselves into working just as hard if not harder than me.

Trying to build the home was difficult and I’m sure it isn’t going to get easier these next couple of days, but it is so much fun. Even while we are working people are joking with one another, and the language barrier can’t stop the smiles and forms of communication we have used. Some people may disagree and say that building a house cannot be fun, but I truly mean it when I say I enjoyed helping build the home because of the people who I was working with. I may be sore, tired, and hot, but I am smiling and that is all that really matters.

We finished up in the afternoon and said our goodbyes. We were able to finish all but one trench which is close to being done. After we returned to the house and scrubbed ourselves clean, and I literally mean scrubbed, I’m still finding dirt on myself; we had dinner with the rest of the group. Around 7 o’clock we gathered to watch a movie based on the Archbishop Romero, who had a significant influence in El Salvador. As a man of God he spoke out for the poor and wanted to find a way to help them. His passion for God and the people ended in his murder; however his spirit lives on in the people.

Tonight during reflection we discussed our fraternal values. Although my sorority has important values I found myself connecting my journey in El Salvador to my sorority’s creed.

To the World I Promise, Temperance, and Insight, and Courage. To Crusade for Justice, to Seek the Truth, and Defend it always. To those whom my life may Touch in slight measure, may I Give Graciously of what is Mine. To my Friends Understanding and Appreciation, to those closer ones, Love that is ever steadfast. To my mind growth to myself Faith, that I may Walk Truly in the light of the Flame.

The words of my creed sum up my sorority’s values. Here in El Salvador I am crusading for the poor and helping them in whatever way that I can. I know I am only helping a small amount, but any help is good help. This journey is also helping my mind grow because I am learning about a new culture and I have a new found faith in the good of humankind.

Greeks can strive to help change the world, one journey at a time. If we are to live by our values and creeds there is no reason why we can’t find the time to help out those less fortunate than ourselves, who may never know how it feels to have a place called home.

Holly Weiss is a senior at Fort Hays State University and President of the Delta Omega Chapter of Delta Zeta Sorority.

Example. The Only Form of Leadership

My name is Faryn Kushner. I am a junior and a proud sister of Delta Phi Epsilon from Florida Atlantic University.

Today was our third day on the Habitat for Humanity site. As each day progresses we get more comfortable with our new routine and each other. Immersing ourselves within New Orleans seemed difficult before the trip began, but as we spend more time here, it almost seems natural. The day was spent mostly installing windows and re-enforcing the interior walls of the house. Something we've all come to appreciate from working with the Habitat crew is that they encourage us to do things we never thought we could be capable of, and if they aren't done correctly the first time, it isn't a serious issue. They treat all of us with respect and give us the responsibility of building something that will house a family one day; which is more responsibility and paradoxically less pressure than most of us have ever experienced. It has shown us all the important lesson of "not sweating the small stuff" that we allow ourselves to become frustrated by very often. I had a lot of difficulty removing a nail from a incorrectly placed beam and when I has asked the Habitat crew member for help, he told me, "You can do this, practice makes perfect" and sure enough, after a few tries I did. Encouraging us as individuals to move forward when given the chance has shown us this week that we can accomplish anything if we try.

Tonight's discussion focused on Congruence; the more developed version of Consciousness of Self. Congruence is not only identifying ones personal values, beliefs, attitudes and emotions but acting consistently with them. Many people identified this as an important issue that they see others and themselves sometimes struggle with. Many values that were discussed included justice, knowledge, service, tolerance, scholarship, passion, loyalty, character and personal growth. As we are working on this house in a community different than our own, and living with 23 individuals from all around the United States, we have reflected on our values numerous times; and were given sound advice to look toward our ritual if we ever feel lost, because it is the ever trusting compass that always points to the true north. Martin Luther King once said, "We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and the relationship to humanity." We discussed that this occurs because salaries and possessions are tangible things, and unfortunately you cannot always see all of the great service someone has completed. Service is beyond a fulfilling and rewarding experience and it should not be a rare occurrence, because regardless of the size, it still makes an impactful change, much larger than imagined. We spoke about how crucial it is to be congruent with our values, because we are all leaders within our organizations and throughout our Greek community. In the beginning of the trip we were asked to give up one thing we could live without for the week, to help us immerse in the culture of those affected by hurricane Katrina, and tonight we were asked to give up another item until the end of our trip. This week has shown me how much we all take for granted, and how sometimes we can be unappreciative of the conveniences we are given. The students on the trip participated in an activity where we were each given cards that had values on them. Some were good, some were bad and some were relative. We got into 5 groups of 4 and became and island, where we decided to either vote people off, join another island or vote on a new member of the island. It helped all of us realize that islands with inhabitants who possess motivating and awesome values could progress to no bounds, but ones with too many discouraging values could hinder their growth. A very wise Theta Chi once shared his favorite quote by Albert Einstein with me, "example is not a form of leadership, it is the only form." In order to lead an organization so that the best values are the ones that your members will focus on, you must lead by example through congruence.


My name is Scott Cunningham and I am a junior and proud brother of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at Indiana State University.

Today was our third day on the Habitat for Humanity site and we were all up and ready to go as we have now had a chance to adjust to the day-in and day-out routine of the early morning wake-up. One of the major exterior projects we had worked on for the day was the installation of windows, walls, and other features which will allow the structure to withstand weather similar to what it experienced in 2005. Many of us have told tales of trial and failure whether it be using a hammer or buzz-saw for the first time, but much of the Habitat staff have been surprisingly hands-off and forgiving. Some of us here have said that they don't feel that same kind of forgiveness is allowed in their real world setting whether it be on a big term paper, upcoming group project, or a project in their fraternity/setting.

Tonight's discussion focused on the concept of congruence. Congruence requires that one has identified personal values, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and acts consistently with those values, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions. A congruent individual is genuine, honest, and "walks the talk". The phrase "walk the talk" stuck out to Miranda, a Sigma Kappa sister, who openly pondered how many of those who are confronted about the potential negative aspects of Greek life actually do "walk the talk" and live the values taught in their respective rituals. Our opening reflection/quote for the night was one spoken by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He once said, "We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity." This quote was further explored when we discussed our ability to recite certain famous alumni but we failed to idolize our brothers and sisters who've touched our lives or have paved the way or allowed us to experience what they have experienced through their positive decisions and commitment to their organization's ritual. These were important messages throughout the night as we participated in our island activity. In this activity, we were given a card which listed a characteristic, quality, or trait in which we exemplified. Some were positive traits such as compassion while others were negative such as apathy. Four of us were on a island and were each assigned the task of voting out a certain member off the island based on their trait. Naturally, those with alike traits gathered together on these islands until all that remained were the outcast fraternity, the so-so fraternity, the excellence fraternity, and the horrible fraternity. The message was to remain consistent and recruit those with values that are taught in your ritual. Negative influences can spread within your chapter and that one negative influence will become three bad influences then five then nine then fifteen and soon you have a major problem within your chapter that needs to be addressed. What was once a joke within the chapter has now become a major clique that is a negative influence on your chapter's productivity, image, integrity, and morale. Congruence in the key and the quality you must possess in order to confront these kinds of issues. If you see these issues, you not only have an opportunity to amend but an obligation to do so as well. Dave said it best when he said that our ritual is a compass, not a weather vane. It is a constant that will always remain true, much like a compass that will always point north. It is not a weather vane, meaning it does not go with the change of time. Ritual is what we all live and while our organizations may be different, what we value is the same. We must be congruent with what our ritual teaches if our Greek communities are to thrive.