Alpha Chi Omega - Starting Conversations

The official blog of Alpha Chi Omega
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Lifelong Alpha Chi Omega

Amber (right) and Danae at the Rescue Ranch

Amber (right) and Danae at the Rescue Ranch

By Amber McMurray; Zeta Pi, Arizona State University

When I told my coworkers, family and friends that I was going to New Orleans on a service trip with my sorority, many of them were confused since I have already graduated college. I took this as an opportunity to explain to them how membership in a sorority is lifelong, and it’s a personal choice whether or not you want to stay involved. I also shared with them how I believe more women should be involved post-college. Alpha Chi Omega helped to make my life more complete while in college as I made life-long friends, served on the executive board and went on the inaugural Collegiate Global Service Initiative trip to Negril, Jamaica. Now, after being chosen to be a part of the inaugural Alumnae GSI trip, I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to know sisters of all ages and see what life is like as an Alpha Chi ten to forty years after college.

Coming on this trip, I had no expectations of the work we would be doing and I didn’t know much about New Orleans, but I was excited to learn about the city and discover how I could make a difference here. Upon arrival, I immediately began bonding with my sisters who were of all different ages and came from various parts of the country. We laughed and made memories while taking a tour of the city with a quite eccentric woman named Denise. We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses while dry walling, insulating and mudding together.  And we watched one another step outside our comfort zones while mucking out horse stalls. Throughout the entire experience, we all had one thing on our mind; this is not about us, it’s about helping others. I know many women expected to directly help Hurricane Katrina survivors. And although it’s been 10 years and the people we helped are much better off than they once were, I feel that they really needed us and we really helped them. They, much like everyone else we met in New Orleans, had had their lives changed by Katrina and wanted nothing more than to put it behind them and move on. Seeing the strength and gratitude in those we helped and the determination in my sisters beside me proved that I did make a difference here and that I could continue to make a difference in my community and others.

The Alumnae GSI group at Rescue Ranch

The Alumnae GSI group at Rescue Ranch

This experience was much different than the one I had in Jamaica three years ago. My first GSI trip opened my mind up to the world around me, and gave me the opportunity to connect with 11 other women, my same age, who were going through similar life experiences as I was. This trip brought me closer to Alpha Chi Omega and showed me that I can be involved with this incredible network of women of all ages for the rest of my life. I wish other young alumnae could experience what I have this week and could see how Alpha Chi can continue to impact their lives if they just let it. If I can offer any advice to collegians, I would say stay involved after college, join an alumnae chapter, serve on a chapter’s advisory board and volunteer your time when you can. And to alumnae, I would encourage you to encourage any collegians you know, before they graduate, to stay involved once that fateful day comes. Alpha Chi Omega gives you the opportunity to make a difference every day and make the world a better place. All you have to do is want those things for yourself.

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A Million Memories

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Maria with one of the horses at Rescue Ranch

By Maria McFarland; Epsilon Kappa, California State University – Fullerton

Today was our last day of service in New Orleans. Our two car caravan travelled to Rescue Ranch to help with their daily horse duties – mucking out horse stalls and brushing the horses. Miss Lorie created this ranch to help at risk youth and to take in abandoned and surrendered horses. I was definitely out of my comfort zone! We returned to Camp Restore for a much welcomed shower and to get ready for our dinner with the local New Orleans alumnae. Before we left we met for our daily reflection time, and were surprised by a visit from Ashley and Olivia from our Zeta Psi Chapter at Loyola University – New Orleans. They came bearing gifts – a king’s cake, Mardi Gras beads, red carnations and a personal thank you letter from the chapter president, Carrie Burke. We were overwhelmed with their graciousness and poise and their thoughtfulness in their gifts.

The Alumnae GSI group with Ashley & Olivia from Zeta Psi

The Alumnae GSI group with Ashley & Olivia from Zeta Psi

On to an authentic crawfish feast (wearing our new Mardi Gras beads) at Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar with the Gamma Omega Gamma Alumnae Chapter. This was another taste of true Southern Hospitality – with warm welcomes and numerous thanks from them for coming to their city to help. Little did they know we were the ones who were thankful for this wonderful opportunity. The platefuls of boiled crawfish were put in front of us and we learned very quickly how to eat those little red crustaceans, while enjoying lively conversation with our NOLA sisters. We all loved the fried green tomatoes too. As we departed, we were given bags filled with New Orleans specialties – pralines, Tabasco sauce, creole seasonings, magnets, coasters and another personal thank you note from the alumnae chapter.

What has this trip meant to me? A million memories with 11 amazing women who I barely knew four days ago, learning about a historic city and how the tragedy of Katrina impacted nearly everyone in this area and deepening my love for our bond. I am so glad I was selected to be a part of this inaugural Alumnae Global Service Initiative!

AGSI participants with Gamma Omega Gamma, New Orleans alumnae chapter, at the crawfish boil

AGSI participants with Gamma Omega Gamma, New Orleans alumnae chapter, at the crawfish boil

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What’s Your Dream?

By Megan Meyers; Phi, University of Kansas

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Maria, Megan, & Kristyn, the insulation team for the past two days

What’s your dream? About three years ago, every employee of the company I work for was asked to read “The Dream Manager,” by Mathew Kelly. He writes about the high percentage of turnover companies experience with their employees. His solution is to ask employees what their dreams are, and help them achieve those dreams via a company Dream Manager who is appointed to help everyone achieve their dreams. He found when employees are happy with their personal lives, they end up being better workers and more loyal to the company.

My co-workers and I meet with our Dream Manager on a regular basis and have a scheduled, company-wide weekly dream time. We were initially asked to write down 100 dreams (short, mid, and long term) and then we narrowed those down to five dreams on which to focus. Two of the dreams on my top five list are to visit all 50 states by the time I’m 50, and to do a service trip.  When the opportunity was announced for the Alumnae Global Service Trip, I jumped on the chance and applied without thinking twice. When I was accepted, it was literally a dream come true!

I packed my bags and showed up in New Orleans last Thursday, so excited that two of my dreams were becoming reality. But it wasn’t until our nightly discussion after our first day working on the house for Mark, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, that I realized this isn’t just about me and my dreams, this trip is also about other’s dreams. It’s not just about me getting to color another state in on my map, but it’s about being fortunate enough to help someone else achieve their dreams.AGSI_groupDay3-resize

Mark’s dream is to have a house for his family to live in for the next 30 years. In order to achieve that dream, he realized he needed to ask for help. This 31-year-old man had a dozen women, spanning 4 decades, help him insulate, drywall, tape and mud his house. What a lesson for all of us to learn; sometimes you have to set aside your pride, and not be afraid to ask for help to achieve your dreams. Through this experience I realized that by us helping Mark achieve his dreams, it was just as rewarding for us.

So I encourage you to think about your dreams… no dream is too big to too small. Who can be your Dream Manager? What do you need to do to achieve those dreams? And don’t be afraid ask for help.

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Home Sweet Home

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The group after a long day’s work.

By Susan Esco Chandler; Psi, University of Oklahoma

It was Thomas Wolfe who said you can never go home again. Well, what constitutes home? How long must one live in a place before it can be called home? And what if you leave what you consider home, want to go back, but know you never can? These questions are swirling in my head tonight after a whirlwind day with Alpha Chi Omega’s first ever alumnae service initiative in New Orleans.

The summer after I graduated from the University of Oklahoma, my best friend from fourth grade invited me to come down to New Orleans and share an apartment with her. She was working at Charity Hospital and had a car; I had no car and not a clue of what to do for work. After a concentrated effort to find gainful employment, I found myself in a manager trainee program at the original Canal Street location of D.H. Holmes Co., Ltd., a New Orleans department store chain with locations in five Southern states. I was thrilled; my new roommate and I found an affordable spot in the French Quarter, work was just a five minute walk away and we both traded in our out of state drivers’ licenses and declared ourselves Louisiana residents! Home Sweet Home!

Fast forward forty years after living in seven more cities. Today I found myself driving around the Crescent City with several of my Alpha Chi Omega sisters who, like me, have joined our fraternity’s initial alumnae service endeavor to make a difference in the Big Easy. We had no idea what we would be doing here when we signed up to volunteer. The application had a list of skills that we were requested to check off. Carpentry? Plumbing? Finish Work? Well, I could finish my work but none of the above found a mark on my application. As a mother of two, the child care square had my only mark. My ‘making a difference’ would be a long shot, for sure. But the Girl Scout Motto that had served very well for many years echoed in my head: ‘Be Prepared.’

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Susan and Danae, new skills: tapping and mudding

Sure enough, after our tour of the Lower Ninth Ward where the most devastation had occurred during Hurricane Katrina, we were on our way to begin working with a young family who had lost their home to Katrina and were now renovating a 1951 small abode. And guess what? On the job training was the order of the day. Drywall and insulation installation, taping and mudding, how to use a grater to smooth off the edge of plasterboard, using a power screwdriver (both forward and reverse) and learning SO MUCH! Who knew you put baby powder on your skin before you handled that devilish pink insulation? That there were options on taping: a stretchy mesh vs. wet paper; both needing lots of mud at just the right consistency. This was being prepared and rising to the needs. We were, to a sister, real, strong women.

Each of us comes from a different perspective: what shapes and molds us is as unique and different as our fingerprints. Today each of my sisters had different reactions and impressions from the unique people and places we encountered. Most would agree that the full range of human emotions were alive and well in our collective experiences. From horror and anger to compassion, laughter and tears, we were united in the understanding that too many of our fellow Americans had lost their homes here and many were, after too many years, still homeless. Too many families were forced to flee New Orleans in the wretched aftermath of the breached levees and storm surge. Too many left and many have not returned. They will never return.

Yet there is a core of folks who have managed to remain, many of whom lost everything when the waters rushed in, just like one of our tour guides today, Denise. Others have come to New Orleans to try and make a difference, like our job foreman, 82 year old Walt, who has renovated churches throughout the Midwest and moved on to rehabilitating homes in New Orleans. Then there is Mark, a former New Orleans police officer who lost his home and was forced to resign from the force because he no longer lived within the city proper. He lived nowhere and drifted from jobs and relatives’ couches until found his future home on Montgomery Street, which we are helping to restore and renew. Mark’s son, four year old Cole, watches a diverse group of women help his dream come true: a bedroom in a home – his home – where we hope his family will be safe and happy for many years to come. Home Sweet Home!

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Give Yourself Over to the Experience

VAW_ball_blog2By Kathryn O’Hagan; Zeta Sigma, Missouri State University

 As a fraternity and sorority advisor, my days, and often my evenings and weekends, are filled with meetings, programs, events and managing crises. Frequently, I get home from work and want to sit in front of my television, binge watch something on Netflix and not think about the stress that was my day. Needless to say, there are times when volunteering more of my time and energy for others does not sound appealing.

But when my life is at its most stressful, there is nothing more fulfilling and gratifying than volunteering my time and energy to serve others. When I feel overstimulated, I try to take the time to serve those who have fewer opportunities than I do. When I’m lacking motivation, I work with students who crave a mentor to motivate them. And when I need to remind myself why I work in higher education, I give myself over to Alpha Chi Omega and remember that I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have the opportunity every day to follow the Panhellenic Creed and “stand for service through the development of character.”

As collegiate members of Alpha Chi Omega, we are charged with participating in all walks of university life. Whether it be in a leadership role in student government or as a general member of the chess club, our involvement should extend beyond our sisterhood. After graduation, that concept should remain steadfast. “To see and appreciate all that is noble in another,” one must put themselves in another person’s shoes. Take the time to continually commit yourself to your sisters, your community and your passions. “Appreciate every little service rendered” by volunteering and providing services to others. Give yourself over to the experience of being a servant leader, and not only will you help others, but it will also put your busy, stressful life into perspective.

What may seem like a small contribution of my time is often more than what is needed. To let your “lyre send forth the chords of love, unselfishness, sincerity,” one must be willing to put the needs of others first. I chose my career in part because it enables me to give back on a regular basis. Working to further the fraternal movement is a passion that extends beyond my 9-to-5 life. And while I may need to de-stress sometimes, my days are filled with laughter, learning and caring. I couldn’t imagine a better use of my time.

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Every Difference Makes a Difference

Inaugural Alumnae Global Service Initiative participants

Inaugural Alumnae Global Service Initiative participants, Day 1 in New Orleans

By Britain Dwyre Riley; Beta Eta, Florida State University

Traveling from all corners of America – Alpha Chi Omega alumnae and Alpha Chi headquarter professional staff converged at Camp Restore in New Orleans, Louisiana for the inaugural Alumnae Global Service Initiative Trip. For me, this trip was special. Not only would I be volunteering with my sisters, but I would also be volunteering in my hometown – a city close to my heart. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that I am humbled to be a part of.

After the regulatory “camp” tour and assignment of “camp chores,” the team took time to relax, unpack and settle in. For many of us, sleeping in bunk beds is a trip down memory lane to our collegiate days in residence halls and chapter facilities; this time, however, the conditions are different. Camp Restore opened in 2006 following Katrina. The camp was a place of hope, a place where those willing to volunteer congregated. Following Katrina, hundreds of volunteers occupied the camp, often sleeping in PODS and FEMA trailers. Nearly a decade after the camp opened its doors it still remains prevalent in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Volunteers continue to fill the gap left behind in the rebuilding of the city.

We were each drawn to apply for this trip for different reasons, but a common theme was a desire to give back surrounded by our sisters. We wanted to strike on the cords of love, unselfishness and sincerity. We wanted to make a difference, giving of ourselves as we are able.

Over introductions and subsequent dinner, we mingled with the leaders of the camp and gained a glimpse into their daily lives and the life of a New Orleanian, post Katrina. Following dinner participants gathered for reflection and were challenged to define our view of the culture of New Orleans. We all found the city to be one rich in heritage and culture. A city of passion and hope. A city rich in the spirit of family. After reflection we watched a documentary that illustrated the city’s trials and tribulations post Katrina and the obstacles that are presented to current residents and those wishing to return to the city. The documentary clearly, and undeniably, showcased the city’s rich and resilient heritage, and left us driven to make an impact in the coming days. As we ended the night we returned to our bunks, each reflecting on the impact that this trip, this city and our fellow Alpha Chi Omega sisters will leave on each other and on the great city of New Orleans.

I head to bed anxious to share this great city and this experience with my fellow sisters who are here and, thru this blog, with sisters across the nation. May each and every sister remember the importance of every service rendered and be inspired to volunteer.  After all, every difference makes a difference.

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Real. Strong. Women. More Than a Tagline

VAW_ball_blog2By Michael Marino, Delta Chi Fraternity

I think it is fair to say that I am not what you would think of as a typical Alpha Chi Omega volunteer. Nevertheless, I am incredibly proud to play a small part in contributing to the work of this organization. Alpha Chi Omega is an organization that truly does what it says it is doing. Real. Strong. Women. is more than a tagline; it is an active practice and an important part of the Alpha Chi Omega experience. Every day, Alpha Chi Omegas demonstrate their strength, and I am honored to contribute to this mission through my volunteer role.

I began volunteering with Alpha Chi Omega when I was a staff member at my own fraternity’s headquarters. During that time, I became close friend with an amazing group of chapter consultants who connected me with the Alcohol Skills Training Program (ASTP). I jumped at the chance to apply my interest in alcohol and drug education to an organization that was proactively addressing these concerns with their members. In the two years since I began facilitating ASTP, I have not been disappointed. Alpha Chi Omega does an incredible job addressing risk management with their chapters, and the wonderful collegians I have met through this role are inspiring. College students don’t always want to talk about alcohol, but the women I have worked with through ASTP have been open-minded and excited to learn more. Each ASTP visit allows me to get to know a new group of women, learn about their chapter’s personality and have critical conversations about alcohol. I know that this role matters for the women in each chapter I visit, and that Alpha Chi Omega cares about its members.

I plan on continuing in this volunteer role for a long time. I believe in the work Alpha Chi Omega does and want to continue contributing to it. This volunteer role has been an enriching experience for me and, I hope, for the chapters I have worked with. As a man and a non-member, it could have been easy to pass up my offer to volunteer, but Alpha Chi Omega has truly embraced me and given me ways to support the organization in a meaningful way. I am so proud to be a volunteer for Alpha Chi Omega because I know that this work is developing real, strong women who will change the world.

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You Win, Grown-Ups!

VAW_ball_blog2By Melissa Ramirez; Beta Omega, University of Toledo

There’s a piece advice grown-ups often like to dole out: If you can turn your passion into a career, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

I didn’t believe this was really possible. After spending 10 years in the television industry, I felt unfulfilled. While I enjoyed the work, I didn’t feel as though I was helping anyone or contributing anything to society. During that time, before my husband and I started our family, we were focused on our careers, each other and enjoying life. Still, I was restless. I decided to donate my time by volunteering for Alpha Chi Omega at my alma mater, the University of Toledo.

I spent four to five years as the chapter advisor for the Beta Omega chapter and truly enjoyed every minute of it. Okay, maybe not EVERY minute. Meetings that ran until 10 p.m. didn’t seem ridiculous as a collegian, but as a person who had to wake up for a full-time job the next morning, it was insane! As a chapter advisor, I was able to work one on one with incredibly smart, sharp and driven young women. Each year, I looked forward to meeting the newest chapter president, unsure and nervous about her upcoming term as the leader of her peers, and watching her grow and become more confident as the months passed. I described these women as people who had all of the tools to be successful but didn’t know how to use them yet. It was my pleasure to help them learn how to use their leadership skills to improve their lives and the lives of others.

After having our second child, I was no longer able to balance home, work and my responsibilities as a chapter advisor. Since running away from home and living in the chapter house was not a viable option, I stepped down from my position. I missed the energy of the chapter and even missed the late night calls from the executive board, wanting to run a thought by me. Volunteering was something I did for me. I know I helped them, but it made me feel good to help.

Fast forward a few years, when we relocated for my husband’s new job and I had an opportunity to start fresh in my career. I put much thought into which direction I should take and decided, because of my volunteer experience with Alpha Chi Omega, I wanted to go the nonprofit route. I currently work as a regional membership director for the Greater Cleveland YMCA. I oversee team leaders for six different branches and, much like I did for Alpha Chi Omega, I help these leaders be the best they can be for the teams around them. Once again, I get to be surrounded by smart and driven emerging leaders who have all of the tools but need help to make it all work.

You win, grown-ups! You were right, and I’m living proof of that. I found my passion for developing leaders and made it a career.

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Superwomen

VAW_ball_blog2By Brittany S. Rende, Beta Delta, College of William & Mary

When asked why I volunteer my time for Alpha Chi Omega, I can give the standard answers such as, “I love giving back,” “I want to give the same experience I was fortunate to have,” and “It’s not just four years it’s for life.” While all of these answers apply, I discovered my real “why” at a recent conference.

I was sitting with another Alpha Chi when we were asked to define what being a “superwoman” means to us. We both just started listing Alpha Chi Omegas. Among those we listed were Marsha King Grady, Mary Winkler, Jennifer Crotty and the women who serve on executive boards, especially at our colonies. Working with these women and seeing what they do for our collegians is incredibly inspiring.

Every Alpha Chi Omega I have met has embodied my definition of a superwoman—a woman who strives to be better every day, making the world around her more loving and strengthening her relationships with others. None of us are perfect, but that’s what makes our stories beautiful. I love working with Alpha Chi Omega to learn from these women, both collegians and alumnae, how they manage to do it all and inspire Alpha Chi Omega members to be superwomen.

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Passion and a Promise: Volunteering from the Heart

VAW_ball_blog2By Laura E. Sanders, Delta Xi, Denison University

Volunteering for something you love, something that has helped to shape you and is in your core, is easy. Not that the volunteer tasks themselves are easy, but the drive and the motivation to give back comes naturally. Alpha Chi Omega helped me become the woman I am today in so many ways that it is only natural for me to want to give back to the organization, our chapters and my sisters.

As an initiated sister of Delta Xi, I miss out on one part of the alumna experience that so many sisters enjoy. I can no longer return to my chapter house and meet new women who have joined our sisterhood, as Delta Xi closed in 2008. While this pulled at my heartstrings, it also reminded me how much bigger Alpha Chi Omega is than our initiating chapters. Yes, that experience shaped my collegiate understanding of sisterhood; yet, I have grown and learned so much more recently as an alumna member.

My “story” as an alumna volunteer is an interesting and varied one. Of course I think it is interesting, because I lived it. In truth, the fact that I have had the opportunity to share my talents with Alpha Chi as a specialist, co-director of collegiate volunteers, convention teller, member of the volunteer management team and now a province collegiate chair has filled me with such pride for all we can do as a sisterhood. There are days when I wish my email would stop filling up or the phone wouldn’t chirp at me, but those days are few and far between. Seeing the strength and wisdom our sisters across the country are able to willingly pour into this thing we call sisterhood is astounding. Impactful work makes a soul and heart happy. I know the impact I can make as a volunteer working with alumnae advisors and collegiate leaders is tremendous. Conversely, I have learned so much from other volunteers and collegiate sisters that I keep growing and learning with each interaction. On days that my passion is waning, I need but a text from a chapter president to remind me that we do amazing things together.

Time and talent are precious commodities, the value of which cannot be simply understood. I give my time, talents and small treasures to Alpha Chi Omega because I think of myself as a bit of a gardener. (I like allegories and metaphors, if you haven’t yet noticed.) I believe as volunteers we are able to plant a seed, fertilize it, water it and then watch with pride as it grows. Sisterhood, leadership, commitment to serve others and knowledge of Alpha Chi Omega grow strongly in others when we help by volunteering. The overflow I have experienced within my heart and mind as I volunteer with sisters keeps me coming back for more. Together we seek the heights, not just as an organization or chapter, but also as real, strong women.

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