By: Micah Woodul
Alpha Gamma, University of New Mexico
And that’s a wrap! Just like that, our global service initiative is over. It’s hard to believe all the anticipation, planning, waiting, conference calls, packing and re-packing, and now even the working, the cleaning, the raking, the planting, the mopping, the sweating, the freezing and the service have come to an end. What seemed to take forever to get here was over in a flash, but what an incredible four days it has been. Those four days being set in picturesque Shenandoah Valley in Woodstock, Virginia.
Even though we had the comfort of knowing that the “strangers” we were meeting to share in this adventure were our AXO or other affiliated Greek sisters, there was no way to know how deep the collective inner strength, love and beauty of each woman would affect the other. Through our service at Response, Inc. and our service to each other (we were responsible for warming up and readying a meal for the others), we revealed much about ourselves. We shared our talents, like green thumbs or toilet seat replacement. We revealed our shortcomings, some of us just aren’t morning people, and some don’t ever cook bacon! We learned about each other’s hopes and fears. We were vulnerable and strong at the same time. We were able to find humor in the face of adversity, like yard work in the pouring rain; and share the meaning of sisterhood, as poignantly shared by a sister who is an only child. Working side by side for the benefit of others, brought great joy and fulfillment to our group.
So, as we awoke this morning and readied ourselves to begin to get back to our other lives, we had much to ponder. We only had a few more moments with each other. One more breakfast visiting and laughing around the big table. One more time cleaning up the kitchen and exchanging information. One more time loading into cars and keeping track of each other’s schedules. Saying goodbye was difficult. Especially when considering that really we all just met a few days prior. However, it is amazing what you find within yourself and fellow volunteers on the path of service to others if you open your heart, and your mind. Because on that path, as you listen and share, as you problem solve and support, you find you have more of a connection with your AXO “sisters” or whomever you are with than you every thought possible. No act of service, however small, is ever wasted.
By: Lauren Wake
Beta Nu-University of Utah
I am obsessed with the symphony. No really – I have an unhealthy love for this piece of Alpha Chi Omega heritage. I went to the University of Utah, which is one of the few chapters that still sings it consistently, and let me tell you the melody is beautiful.
But the melody really isn’t what does it for me, it’s the meaning and intention behind every single word in the song. Think about it: an entire song dedicated to not just our sisterhood, but to our mission and our history and our Ritual. It’s fantastic, which is why the Symphony of Alpha Chi Omega has been on repeat over and over and over again in my head since I got on a plane in Los Angeles at 6:15 AM to head to Woodstock, Virginia. And sisters, that 6:15 AM flight was just the beginning of a grueling (but SO rewarding) weekend.
The ten of us started off as (almost) perfect strangers. We range in age from 23 to 65+. We come from all over the country. We have different tastes, different accents, different life stories, but the one thing we shared was Alpha Chi Omega. We shared the symphony.
Over the course of this weekend I have truly learned what it means to be a sister. I cannot count how many times I have been tired and broken down, wishing I had four more hands, when two more real, strong women were walking towards me, ready to lift me up. We had rough manual work to do. We had grueling weather conditions. We had a daunting task and reality to face, but we persevered.
We saw the beauty in even the most common things of life (new toilet seat anyone?). We shed the light of love and friendship to each other, and to the facilities at Response, Inc. We appreciated every little service. We appreciated those with badges different than our own (hi Kaye & Kristyn!). We put love, unselfishness and sincerity into everything we did, and we did it all with happiness, joy and peace. We lived the symphony, and we lived it well.
Each one of the women I have met this weekend helped me love each line of the symphony a little bit more through their strength, hope and determination, but most of all through their sisterhood. I may be leaving Virginia with some sore muscles, but I am also leaving it with nine new beautiful and blossoming relationships with some of the greatest sisters I know. You are all my symphony!
By: Anita Kelly Grant
Epsilon Lambda, University of Texas-Arlington
Today was our first day of work for Alpha Chi Omega’s Global Service Initiative. While eating breakfast, our host, Kaye, asked us to reflect on the meaning of service versus volunteering. As I worked alongside my sisters, my mind continued to wander back to this question. And I must say that throughout the day, I saw many examples that illustrated just what volunteering and service truly mean.
We started our day by meeting with Beth, the volunteer coordinator of Response Inc. Response Inc. is a community organization dedicated to preventing and helping people overcome sexual abuse, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. Response Inc. provides outreach, advocacy, education and supportive services to its clients and the community.
Beth gave use a tour of the facility while explaining the day-to-day functions of the organization. I was humbled and intrigued by the support they provide to such a large service area and how dedicated the staff was in carrying out their mission. I felt honored to be with my sisters who were as passionate and eager as I was to help.
At the facility, we identified so many areas that needed our attention – there was no shortage of things to do! We split into two groups and we went to work; one group cleaned inside the house and the other group worked on the outside. It was a hot and humid day, but no one seemed to mind. We were engrossed in our hard work and the energy and enthusiasm was contagious. The day went by quickly and we returned to our home base, tired and spent, but with a huge sense of accomplishment.
It has only been day one of this Global Service Initiative, but I am truly looking forward to tomorrow and to spending more time working with my sisters. I am proud to be a part of such a selfless group that understands the meaning of teamwork and altruism. To give of your time, talent and treasure to a greater cause that benefits others is such a rewarding experience. It is the true spirit of volunteer service and it personifies what it means to be an Alpha Chi – to spread the light of love and friendship.
So back to Kaye’s question: what is the difference between volunteering and service? For me, I see them as a continuum. We volunteer because we identify with a cause we feel is worthy of our time and energy. As we see the positive impact that our actions have on the community, our desire to serve becomes a calling for something much greater. It is this sense of kinship and connection with those who share our passion that drives us and gives us hope that our actions will incite others to give back as well. When people give of themselves to meaningful causes, they are investing in the kind of community and world in which they want to live.
By: Carly Sivillo
Beta Omega, University of Toledo
Today, April 20, 2017, marks the first day of the alumnae Global Service Trip. I came into this trip a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was the first to arrive at the airport, and soon after I had arrived and settled in, I met Chris, another trip participant.
After meeting Chris, I became more comfortable as she had been on the previous alumnae trip and was telling me all about her experience and how fun it was. A bit later, we met up with the rest of the ladies who had flown in. We all hit it off right away! We spent the rest of the time at the airport chit-chatting away, and the time flew by.
Before we knew it, Kristyn and Kaye were picking us up from the airport. Once we arrived at the Tri Sigma house, Kaye, who was the Tri Sigma national president for six years, began giving us a tour of the beautiful home we will be staying in for the next four days.
As we settled in, all of the women got together in the porch area and talked for hours! I must say, I was a little intimidated when I found out that I was the youngest member out of the group; I just graduated in 2016 and am new to the alumnae world. But these ladies have made me feel so comfortable. I am looking forward to spending the rest of the weekend learning from and working with them.
I am so excited to start our work tomorrow at Response, Inc. and continue developing a bond with other Alpha Chi Omega alumnae. A quote from Chris’s shirt stated, “It’s not just 4 years, it’s a lifetime,” and this trip is already helping me understand what that truly means.
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
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.
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
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
By Megan Meyers; Phi, University of Kansas
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.
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.
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.’
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!
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.