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Paying for College: Will Your Planning Make the Grade?

Angela Park SheldonBy Angela Park Sheldon
(Alpha Psi chapter, University of California-Los Angeles)

Kids grow up too fast, so treasure every moment.”  If I had a dollar for every time someone gave me that advice, I might have enough money to send my kid to college! Some might assume it’s premature for me to be thinking about paying for college when my child is only an infant, but it is absolutely necessary if you are planning on paying for some, if not all, of your child’s college education costs.

Friends of mine remember when college tuition costs were about $4,500 per year, while others recall paying only several hundred dollars a semester!  For the 2009-2010 school year, the average cost of tuition and room and board was $12,804 per year at a public institution, and $31,023 per year at a private institution.  Therefore, if your child is in college now, you will spend around $51,216 over the course of four years at a public institution.  If your child is born today and won’t be entering college for another 18 years, the cost climbs to $230,555, once adjusted for inflation of 8 percent.  Even though the Consumer Price Index (CPI) estimates general inflation has averaged between 3 and 4 percent every year, college education expenses have increased by roughly twice that amount.

The thought of saving $230,555 is daunting, especially considering other financial responsibilities such as planning for retirement, paying medical expenses, buying a house, caring for elderly parents and even paying for other children to attend college.  Short of a scholarship or a grant, how do you pay for such an exorbitant expense?  This is where planning early makes a big difference.

Fortunately, there are special savings vehicles designed specifically for higher education expenses such as the Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) and the 529 plan.  The Coverdell ESA allows annual contributions of $2,000, and there are income restrictions for those earning a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $110,000 as an individual, or $220,000 as married filing jointly.  The 529 plan, on the other hand, has no income restrictions, and the lifetime contribution maximums are over $300,000 in most states.  Considering that four years at a public university is expected to cost over $200,000, the 529 plan would allow you to save the amount needed to cover the costs.

The 529 plan is a tax-deferred account, meaning you do not receive a 1099 tax form until you start taking distributions.  There are no taxes due on this account every year, even if there are gains in it.  The distributions also come out tax free as long as they are being used for qualified higher education expenses such as tuition, room and board, and books.  If you take an unqualified distribution from the account, you would owe taxes on the gains and pay a 10 percent penalty.

As an advantage, several states actually allow for state tax deductions on part, if not all, of the contributions.  In some states, matching grants may be available for those whose incomes and other criteria meet the requirements.  These benefits usually only apply to those who live in the state but usually do not restrict the child from attending college in other states.  Unfortunately, there are no federal tax deductions for the contributions.

Until the 529 plan came into existence, some people were using Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Trust to Minors Act (UTMA), which are special accounts designed for minors.  For many parents, the biggest downside to these accounts occurs after the money is gifted into these accounts; parents lose possession of the funds.  Therefore, when a child turns 18, or 21 in some cases, he or she would have total control of that account.  I know I certainly would not have been wise about my money had I come into possession of a large sum of it at 18, or even 21.

This is another reason many parents, and grandparents, appreciate the 529 plan.  It allows the donor to maintain control so if one child ends up on the wrong track in life, the money can be moved to another beneficiary of the donor’s choosing.  Furthermore, while the UGMA or UTMA is in the name of the child and would count toward the child’s assets when determining financial aid, the 529 plan is owned by the parent or grandparent and would not count as much, if at all, toward the child’s assets.  If possible, I advise my clients to have a grandparent own the 529 plan so those assets are not counted at all when a child is applying for financial aid.  You can even name yourself as the beneficiary of a 529 plan if you are planning on going back to school.

For some people, investing might be intimidating with its myriad choices.  The 529 plan simplifies everything for the investor, and most plans offer professionally managed age-based portfolios.  For example, if your child will most likely attend college in 2030, the portfolio automatically adjusts over the years to meet the goal of distributions starting in 2030.  Initially, the portfolio will be more heavily invested in stock accounts, but as the child grows older, the investments will shift toward a fixed income/stable portfolio.

Aside from the fact the 529 plan is a great way to save for college, it is actually a wonderful estate planning tool.  Currently, each spouse can gift $13,000 per year per beneficiary without paying a gift tax.  With a 529 plan, accelerated gifting up to five years is possible.  If my parents wanted to gift $65,000 each into my daughter’s plan in 2012, they could do that without triggering a gift tax.  They wouldn’t be able to make any additional gifts for the next five years, but this allows them to remove $65,000 per spouse (or $130,000 jointly) out of their estate.  For those whose estates might be quite substantial, this would be one easy way to plan for their heirs.

As with any long-term financial goal, starting early and saving regularly can make a big difference thanks to the power of compounding.  For example, if you invest $300 a month for 18 years, assuming a 7 percent rate of return, you could save more than $126,000 in time for college.  Waiting just one year could cost you almost 10 percent, and waiting five years could cost you nearly 5 percent.  Whether it’s $300 per month, or even $25 per month (the minimum monthly contribution for most plans), getting started is the most important step.  529 plans have made it easy to save monthly or quarterly with automatic deductions out of your checking account.  Some employers even offer this service through the company with salary reductions, just like with your 401(k).

If you are at any time dissatisfied with your current 529 plan, you can always change to another plan without any tax consequences as long as the funds continue to stay in the 529 plan.  However, you can only roll into a different 529 plan once every 12 months.  Most people do not rollover their 529 plan to another plan because they are usually satisfied with their current plans and see no need to make such changes.  But, this option is available and could make sense if you move from a state that doesn’t give any benefits to a state that does give benefits on the 529 plan.

Too often, I see people having to resort to taking a home equity line of credit or even taking money out of their IRAs.  These funding sources might seem like a good idea in a pinch, but in the long run, it can be quite detrimental to your overall financial health.  While loans may be available to your child for college, there are no loans available to help fund your retirement.  It is important to be a positive financial role model and consider your personal financial needs as you age.

As for my infant daughter, I’m planning on opening a 529 plan and will be making it a point to have friends and family gift to the plan for holidays and birthdays.  There are even websites to make this very easy for the end user, such as www.giftofcollege.com.  Additionally, if I register my 529 plan on www.babymint.com, I can apply a percentage of my shopping dollars from select retailers into my 529 plan.  How will you pay for your child’s college education?

Tortuga Wealth Management
Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  Investment advice offered through Tortuga Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial.  The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.  To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.  This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice.  We suggest you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.  Prior to investing in a 529 plan investors should consider whether the investor’s or designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other benefits that are only available for investments in such state’s qualified tuition program.  Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax free.  Tax treatment at the state level may vary.  Please consult your tax advisor before investing.

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Assessing Our Achievement: The Chapters of Alpha Chi Omega

W12 On Campus FeatureSince 1885, the women of Alpha Chi Omega have held achievement, along with wisdom and devotion, in high regard.  Whether in the classroom, the chapter room or out in the community, the accomplishments of our members and our chapters continue to reinforce what we already know—Alpha Chi Omegas seek the heights in all we do!

This is an exciting time for our collegiate members.  We continue to grow and expand our presence nationwide, with the recent additions of the Kappa Pi and Delta Rho chapters at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and University of Arkansas, respectively.  Each of our sisters now has an opportunity to experience MyJourney, an inspiring new four-year membership program expanded for all collegiate members at every phase of their college years.  In January, our leaders will participate in Leadership Academy, a motivating program to kick off 2013 with new ideas and the momentum to put those ideas into place.

Our lifetime engagement programs, such as the newly created Young Alumnae Board and Parent Task Force, are giving alumnae and parents new opportunities to stay involved with Alpha Chi Omega.  The ever-increasing opportunities to connect virtually keep us nearer to one another and better able to applaud the accomplishments of our alumnae sisters and chapters.  Whether you are one of the more than 10,000 sisters linked with the Alpha Chi Omega Networking Group on LinkedIn or connected with the newly expanded Coffee with Celia to celebrate our ritual, you have likely taken notice of Alpha Chi Omega’s virtual growth.

As we note the progress of our organization, it is important to consider the role each of us plays in making this development happen.  Our collegiate members have a chance to be as involved as they desire, focusing on Alpha Chi Omega’s standards and forging their own path.
Our alumnae have an opportunity to step in and contribute to the success and sustainability of our chapters nationwide through myriad volunteer opportunities.  A chapter’s success is a reflection of its advisory board, and both collegiate and alumnae members must work hand in hand to flourish.

As 2012 concludes, we pause to review our successes of the year and acknowledge areas of needed improvement.  The following goes beyond the information in an annual report and shares with you, our sisters, the benchmarks for 2012:

Alpha Chi Omega by the Numbers

Fraternity

  • Number of active collegiate chapters*     135
  • Number of active collegiate members*     11,545
  • Number of new members, fall 2012 semester     3,848
  • Number of chapters with a 3.0 or higher GPA**     112
  • Number of chapters participating in fall formal recruitment     97 including two colonies
  • Number of chapters participating in deferred formal recruitment     38
  • Number of newly opened or reopened collegiate chapters in fall 2012     2
    • Delta Rho, University of Arkansas (recolonization)
    • Kappa Pi, UNC-Wilmington (new)
  • Number of chapters closed in 2012     0
  • Number of collegians involved in chapter leadership positions (executive board members)     1,735
  • Number of chapters on probation/suspension     3 on probation; 6 on sanctions
  • Number of collegians participating in 2012 Alpha Chi Omega training
    • 2012 Convention     269
    • 2012 Leadership Academy     264
    • Spring 2012 Barriers to Facilitation***     189
    • Fall 2012 Barriers to Facilitation     90+
  • Number of risk-management incidences, 2011-12 academic year****     97

*Approximate figures as of Nov. 5, 2012.
**Based on chapter-submitted reports.
***Training precursor to facilitating MyJourney
****Reported incidences categorized by: alcohol in facility, hospital transports, unofficial events, issues with registered events, new member event issues, hazing during new member period, hazing during initiation, philanthropy events with alcohol, bullying, social media, sexual assault, paying for social events with alcohol with chapter funds, t-shirt themes, body images


Foundation

  • Number of total collegiate donors     579
  • Number of donating chapters     97
  • Number of collegians in Scarlet Ribbon Club     550
  • Number of collegiate scholarship winners (2012-13 school year)     90
  • Number of chapters giving to the Local Philanthropic Initiatives fund*     53 collegiate chapters; 8 alumnae chapters

*Includes domestic violence awareness support


Housing

  • Number of NHC-owned collegiate properties     20 properties
  • Number of LHC-owned collegiate properties     51 properties
  • Number of 2012 NHC renovations     35 approximately
  • Number of 2012 LHC renovations     25 approximately
  • Number of collegians residing in NHC and LHC properties     573 approximately
  • Number of chapters without housing     17 chapters
  • Number of properties with fire suppression systems installed     70%
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Life: A Balancing Act

Diane PaddisonDiane Paddison (Chi chapter, Oregon State University) begins every morning with an invigorating workout. To many, that alone is an amazing accomplishment!

A deeper look into her life reveals an amazing career at the top of her profession; a marriage that works remarkably well; four children who will forever carry memories of her “being there” for the important moments in their lives; a successful book published to rave reviews; an organization founded to fill a void in the lives of young women everywhere; a Harvard degree; a blog with thousands of followers; speaking engagements; volunteer service on committees and boards—both locally and nationally; a university trustee; and an unwavering faith at the foundation of it all.

Exhausted? It’s enough to make a person want to crawl under the covers and take a nap.

It also sounds like the idealistic life of someone who was raised with plenty of wealth and privilege; someone who’s had opportunities land in her lap at every corner; someone who doesn’t know what it means to struggle and question and make mistakes along the way. It’s not.

Instead, it is the story of a strong woman whose work ethic was instilled out of necessity at the very young age of five when she began work on her family farm. It is the story of a grounded woman who realized that opportunities to grow present themselves in every life situation, both the good and not-so-good. It is the story of an authentic woman, one who wants to share the lessons she’s learned along her life’s path to encourage and inspire today’s young women trying to balance relationships, career and faith.

A Google search for “living a balanced life” will yield nearly 14 million results. Everyone seems to be searching for the secret, and many are claiming to have the answers. So, what makes Diane Paddison special? Let’s start at the beginning.

The Road to Success
The second of four siblings and oldest daughter of a farming family in rural Oregon, Diane developed a head for business when she began helping her father at the age of five. In the most literal sense, she began climbing ladders early, as she often found herself picking fruit from trees to sell in the family roadside market. As she grew, so did her responsibilities. In high school, she often supervised classmates who earned extra money by helping on the farm. Perhaps learning to assert her authority while still maintaining friendships was an early lesson in diplomacy. It was certainly a lesson to fall back on as president of her Alpha Chi Omega chapter at Oregon State University.

When it came time to leave home for college, Diane decided on a career in fashion merchandising. “Growing up in a rural area, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to all of the opportunities out there,” she said. “Through 4-H I was involved in things like sewing and cooking. Because of the sewing experience, along with the environment of a family-run business, I thought fashion merchandising was a good option.”  But after an internship in the field, she knew this was not what she wanted her life’s work to be. As she struggled to find the answer that was right for her, it was a couple of close friends who suggested she apply to Harvard Business School.

Feeling less than confident about her chances of being accepted into the program, coupled with the lack of funds to pay for more schooling, she learned a lesson in the value of both friendships and getting involved. Those friends, acting as if it was no big deal, convinced her she needed to try, so she did.

As Diane filled out her application, she highlighted her leadership activities outside of the classroom while at Oregon State: she was an active Alpha Chi Omega, served as head of special events for the Memorial Union Programs Council (in charge of campus-wide events such as homecoming) and participated in the Blue Key Honor Society. “Being the president of a sorority when you have 120 members and 60 women living in a house together taught me so much about managing a group of people, especially when these are your college peers,” she stated. “You had to do it in a way so they understood there were rules and guidelines, but you also want to be their friend. I made that a major emphasis on my application to Harvard Business School.”

To help financially, she opted to apply for a deferred enrollment program, which gave her two years between her undergraduate and graduate course work to earn some money. Diane subsequently faced the challenge of finding an employer who would understand her two-year availability. She felt fortunate to speak with representatives from IBM at a job fair who supported her drive to continue with her education and, in fact, offered her a position within the company on the East Coast, near Harvard.

After two years at IBM, with some money in her pocket and invaluable business experience on which to build, she began her Harvard journey. Reminiscent of her initial impression, she said, “When I first arrived, I thought I was an admissions mistake! I was blown away by my classmates. Harvard was very challenging, super rewarding and an unbelievable opportunity.”

Climbing the Ladder
Upon graduation, her struggles to find balance in her life would take center stage. Having met her future husband during a trip to Oklahoma City with her sister just before leaving home for good to start her job at IBM, she maintained a long-distance relationship throughout the two years it took to earn her MBA. While her peers were excited to be recruited to positions with major companies in major cities, she knew her journey would take her to Tulsa where she wanted to build a life and start a family with the man she loved.

While at Harvard, she turned down an offer with Trammell Crow Company, one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the country. Although they had an office in Tulsa, she didn’t believe she was cut out for the commercial real estate industry. And although she landed a position at a consulting firm, she continued to be frustrated by her efforts to find a professional opportunity she felt was a good fit for her, allowing her to define her life in terms of all of the elements she considered important.  She eventually accepted a position with Trammell Crow and began to climb the ladder that would ultimately lead to serving on the executive team of three global Fortune 500 companies—where she was the only woman all three times.

Shortly after she began her job at Trammell Crow, Diane discovered she was pregnant. With her career set, her family life was headed in the right direction. She was fortunate her employer supported her desire to set boundaries that allowed her energy to be focused on her family as needed.

With a successful balance between work and family, and as a young professional Christian woman, Diane felt there was room to grow in her ability to focus on her faith and ensure this all-too-easy-to-ignore aspect of life remained an integral part of her present and future.

Walking a Tightrope
Just a few years later, with two children and a thriving career, her marriage began to unravel. She was dealing with what she terms “unexpected brokenness.” More recently, she lost both of her parents in a 16-month timeframe, her daughter became sick in June of 2012 and her son went through and triumphed over a time of personal struggle. She never expected to encounter such personal anguish. Yet, in both phases of her life, she was facing these circumstances just the same. After her divorce, she knew she had to pick herself up and create a learning opportunity that would help to further define the person she wanted to be. “We all have stuff that happens. It’s easy to appreciate the great stuff, but it’s what you do with what happens that isn’t great that makes the biggest difference,” she stated.

She had accepted a national position with Trammell Crow in 1996, and shortly after her divorce in 1997, she moved to Dallas. Upon searching for a church community that offered avenues to celebrate her faith as she desired, she recognized a need for opportunities for professional women to become involved in their church.

While the roles women held in business, the family and the community continued to evolve, it was still difficult to find a church community that acknowledged these changing times and offered support and faith-based guidance to young professional women. Diane exemplifies this evolution in her accomplishments, determination and strength. She says, “I had always been the primary breadwinner until the last few years. In fact, in 40 percent of families today, the wife is the primary breadwinner. And, over 50 percent of advanced degrees are going to women. This trend is not going to change. But, we are different than men. We need role models.”

Striking a Balance
In the ensuing years, she has become the very role model that was missing in her life. She has become an inspiration to many who are searching for a balance that includes not only their career and family but their faith as well. She met Chris, her current husband of 12 years, with whom she shares a blended family, doubling the number of children from two to four. She enjoys a strong and healthy marriage based on open, honest communication. She took her career to a new level as the chief strategy officer for Cassidy Turley, staying within the commercial real estate industry but decreasing the number of hours she works in a week to devote time to other passions.

One of those passions is community service.  “We’re called to give back,” she says. “I have been so blessed in my life, and I have a real passion for helping professional women with practical life advice.” Her many service projects include terms on the National Advisory Board for The Salvation Army, serving as a board member for the Harvard Business School Christian Fellowship Alumni Association and as a foundation trustee for Oregon State University.

Diane’s opportunity to inspire and motivate young professional Christian women is embodied in 4word, an organization she founded that has grown tremendously since the website (4wordwomen.org) was launched in the fall of 2011. “I felt a passion once I ended my 24/7 career in the real estate industry. I wanted to evaluate what my gifts were and what I really enjoyed and use that to give back.”  The website has a highly engaged and growing digital community with over 500,000 digital impressions each month, and returning visitors spending an average of 3.3 minutes and viewing at least three pages on the website. Readers find blogs, inspirational articles, interviews, recommendations and general information about living in a way that encompasses the three vital elements of a balanced life—work, faith and relationships. She has, in fact, been the motivation behind local chapters of 4word, in several communities, gathering to discuss the issues she addresses.

At the same time the 4word website launched, Diane published her life’s story in a book met with rave reviews titled Work, Love, Pray. She is a Christian woman, aiming to help young professional Christian women find the motivation to succeed in living their best life in balance. Her faith is at the core of her values and strength. She was insistent the cover of her book indicate the target audience as Christian women. “I didn’t want anyone to feel they were misled,” she says. “This book is written from my perspective. I am a Christian and feel it is important that readers understand that going in. That being said, I have received feedback from women of other faiths that my message can easily be applied to whatever faith exists in the lives of young women everywhere.”

In fact, the subtitle of the newest edition (a reprint was published in October of this year) indicates that the content provides “practical wisdom for professional Christian women and those who want to understand them.”  The change was made after receiving feedback from many outside of her target audience of “young, professional Christian women.” Older women, perhaps purchasing her book as a gift to their granddaughters, often share how much this book would have helped them as they began their careers. Men have written to convey a greater understanding of the women in their lives after reading the book. One email from a woman of Hindu faith indicated how relevant Diane’s message was to her simply by applying the principles to her own belief system.

Finding Fulfillment
So, let’s recap. Diane Paddison has reached the pinnacle of her career. She reaps the rewards of a marriage built on values and open, honest communication. She has managed to raise her children to become productive, grounded adults with shared values – a feat not without its challenges. She volunteers her time to her communities. She stays active in her church. And, let’s not forget she works out every morning!

So how does she do it all and what makes her special? The secret is that she doesn’t do it all, not all at once. She does those things most important to her at any given time in her life. “We have a lot of time in our lives to do so many things, but precious little time to raise our children,” she warns. “From 1985 to 2007, I really focused on my family and my work. You can’t get that time back. Now that our youngest is off to college, I devote more time to other areas of my life. If I’m not working on a board or with Cassidy Turley, I’m working on 4word.”

“We are real women. Facing real issues. In the real world. On the one hand, inspiring. In turn, being inspired. Together, creating a more positive reality, for ourselves and others. We are strong women. Strong in the courage of our convictions, the confidence in our actions and the purpose in our hearts. To know us will be to experience a voice that is respectful, genuine, open, empathetic and honest. Real.” These words are from Alpha Chi Omega’s Declaration of Our Shared Commitment, but could just as easily be written about Diane Paddison. She is your sister. She is a real, strong woman.

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Reaching the Heights, Together

Mikelle BradyBy Mikelle Brady, National Housing Corporation President
(Alpha chapter, DePauw University)

Together let us seek the heights. If you’re like me, you’ve thought about our open motto a time or two.  Seems pretty simple—not much interpretation needed.  But recently, I’ve been pondering the motto from a slightly different point of view.  Exactly how does this apply to the Alpha Chi Omega housing world?

The National Housing Corporation (NHC) has been changing the focus lately.  Rather than concentrating on the owner of our Alpha Chi Omega properties, we’ve centered on facility pride.  If our letters are on it, it’s an Alpha Chi Omega house.  With a focus that’s more broad and all-encompassing than in previous years, we’re able to really keep our motto in mind.  Working together, we can be sure to offer safe, affordable, competitive housing to our members.  And when I say “we,” I mean all of us affected in some way by Alpha Chi Omega housing: Alpha Chi collegiate and alumna members, local housing corporation (LHC) and NHC volunteers, university personnel, parents.  Have you ever thought about how far-reaching the “together” of our open motto can be?  I recently found two examples.

Over the summer I purchased a copy of our most recent history book, which tells different stories from Alpha Chi Omega’s first 25 years.  In it, I read the account of how the first Alpha Chi Omega-owned house was built—completed only 10 years after our Fraternity’s founding.  The details of how our members at Beta chapter at Albion College so quickly built their own house make me proud.  Those sisters wanted to accomplish a goal, and they were resourceful!  The members built not only a brick structure to live in, but also built partnerships with important college personnel, alumnae and parents in order to get the job done.  Were they nervous?  I’d imagine so!  But the members reached out to the supportive community around them and built a lodge of their dreams.

Fast forward more than 100 years.  Another group of Alpha Chi Omegas dreams of building a new house for our Delta Pi chapter at the University of Tennessee.  Over many years these sisters build partnerships with important university personnel, a strong group of local alumnae, vital parents of members and the NHC.  Together, the many members and non-members work to raise funds, secure state bonds, make and execute plans, and lay the financial framework for the new chapter house to be self-supporting.  As you can see in the photo spread on pages 32-37, the new Delta Pi house is a dream come true for those who worked on the project.  But take away one of the partners, and that dream would not have become a reality.  I can only imagine in 100 more years, as members are reading our history book, they too will be impressed by the resourcefulness of how together this dream was realized.

Yes, our motto Together let us seek the heights still rings true today, and applies very much to our Alpha Chi Omega housing.  It stretches far beyond our chapter sisters, local alumnae and national headquarters.  Working together to form strong partnerships with all who can influence our success truly allows us to make those dreams come true—with the help of others, we can reach the heights.

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Strengthening Our Sisterhood Today and Tomorrow

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Alpha Chi Launches Largest Fundraising Campaign in its History

The big news at Alpha Chi Omega’s 57th biennial National Convention involved a big number—$7 million, to be exact.

That’s the goal of For Now/Forever, the fundraising campaign publicly launched at the convention. The campaign’s objective: Ensure that today’s collegians and tomorrow’s receive all the benefits each Alpha Chi Omega received from our sisterhood—and more.

The even bigger news emerging from the convention was the campaign’s success to date. During its quiet phase, For Now/Forever has raised more than $6 million, including the first two $1 million gifts in Alpha Chi Omega’s history. Those gifts were made by past Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Chair Anne E. Helliwell, of Gamma Iota chapter, University of Florida, and past Trustee Jo Hurley, of Phi chapter, University of Kansas.  In all, more than 170 Alpha Chi Omegas have contributed or pledged to the campaign— with gifts ranging from $1 to $1 million. Now, it’s up to Alpha Chi Omegas nationwide to put the campaign over the top.

“Looking into the future, I would love to see the Foundation have the money we need to provide every experience we’ve had, and more, to those young women and little girls—most of whom we don’t even know—who are going to end up joining Alpha Chi Omega,” Helliwell said.  “We want to be able to provide the programming that’s relevant to their time in life. It’s going to be different from what’s relevant today or what was relevant when I was in school. We need to have that funding, and we need to have that flexibility.”

Helliwell said the campaign was launched only after careful research.  “We asked a sampling of our members what they thought Alpha Chi Omega was providing, what the Alpha Chi Omega experience was, that type of thing, Helliwell said. “And we were very pleased with what our members had to say.”

“When we got those results, we started doing studies with some of our donors to ask ‘If we did this, or if we did that, would you support us?’ Again, we were very pleased.  So in January 2011, we made the decision to launch a campaign—one that’s going to make an enormous difference in the lives of our members now and forever.”

Co-chaired by past National President Donna Chereck, Alpha Phi chapter, University of Texas-Austin, and former Foundation Board of Trustees Chair Kitty deKieffer, Epsilon Kappa chapter, California State University-Fullerton, the campaign is not about bricks and mortar, but about programming that helps recruit and retain members.  “One of the dilemmas for Alpha Chi is that part of what we teach our members is to be out in the community and be supportive of different philanthropies in their community,” said past National President and Foundation Trustee Marsha Grady. “So it would be very easy to create a model where we teach our members how to go out and support other charities without reminding them that Alpha Chi Omega is our number one charity. The Alpha Chi Omega Foundation provides support for educational leadership programming for our members. That, in turn, helps us continue to build the organization.

“With the escalating cost of higher education, all members need to pitch in to ensure that Alpha Chi Omega continues to be exceptional,” Grady said. “We have 160,000 addressable living alumnae. We look to them to support this organization, so our collegiate members do not have to bear all our programming costs. We need to keep the experience affordable and reachable for every strong woman who’s out there, regardless of how much money she has. And the way we do that for our collegiate members is for the rest of us to step up. We pay it forward, so that other people in the future have the same experience that we had.”

The For Now/Forever campaign emphasizes areas of “greatest need.” In other words, the dollars go where they’re needed most at any particular moment, with recognition that those needs change over time.

Your Gifts Could Help Our Initiatives Grow

MY JOURNEY
In 2010, Alpha Chi Omega introduced an innovative, research-based life-skills and leadership-training curriculum at select chapters. As of this fall, the program has been rolled out to all chapters nationwide. The courses are fun, engaging and getting rave reviews. And with For Now/Forever donors’  help, Alpha Chi Omega could sustain this program without collegians bearing the entire cost. That, in turn, would encourage member retention and deepen commitments to our sisterhood.

LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

Alpha Chi Omega has long been able to bring just one officer from each chapter to its annual Leadership Academy, with the chapter covering much of the cost. With For Now/Forever donors’ help, Alpha Chi could engage more top collegians in this proven training. That, in turn, would help all Alpha Chi chapters—and our national organization—build recruitment, retention, revenue and reputation.

VOLUNTEER TRAINING
Alpha Chi Omega needs many volunteers. And to make those volunteer experiences memorable and meaningful, it needs those volunteers to be well-trained. Some chapters, unfortunately, have had to work without chapter advisors or other volunteer support. To remedy this, Alpha Chi Omega has developed a new volunteer-training curriculum. That, in turn, would better serve our collegians. With For Now/Forever donors’ help, Alpha Chi Omega could roll this volunteer training out to more and more sisters nationwide.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE EDUCATION, PREVENTION AND SERVICE
Two decades ago, Alpha Chi Omega designated domestic violence as its official philanthropy. It’s a way for our women to serve other women very much in need. Today, Alpha Chi Omega supports many domestic-violence programs, but they often lack the resources needed to reach all the members, college women, high school students and victims of domestic violence we would like to reach. With For Now/Forever donors’ help, Alpha Chi Omegas can be stronger advocates, better able to prevent more cases of domestic violence and serve more women and families who’ve become victims.

Thank You
The Alpha Chi Omega Foundation thanks Anne E. Helliwell (ΓΙ) and Jo Sicking Hurley (Φ), Alpha Chi Omega’s first members to reach the Mount Olympus Roll, the giving society honoring those whose contributions exceed $1 million. Thank you so much for setting such a tremendous example and for inspiring so many women—for now and forever!

We Need Your Help
“The women of Alpha Chi Omega have, since the beginning, demonstrated their generosity, compassion and commitment to their own sisters and to the greater good,” said Alpha Chi Omega Executive Director Cherí O’Neill. “The For Now/Forever campaign is just the latest example of that commitment, and we’re extraordinarily grateful to all the women who’ve donated so far—and eager to hear from other sisters who want to leave a legacy through this campaign.

“Whether you’re a collegian giving up one pizza per week for the cause, a working professional giving back through a major gift, or an alumna leaving a gift that will last far beyond your lifetime, you can truly make a difference for now and forever,” O’Neill said. At the Foundation luncheon during the convention, campaign leaders said gifts could take many forms, including:

  • making an individual gift on either a one-time or recurring basis
  • joining with sisters for collective gifts
  • making Alpha Chi Omega part of one’s estate plan.

To watch a special campaign video and to make a gift online, please visit alphachiomega.org/Foundation, then click on the For Now/Forever link. The Alpha Chi Omega Foundation may be reached at 317.579.5050 or foundation@alphachiomega.org.

For more information on giving to For Now/Forever, refer to the official pledge form on the following page.

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The Lyre, Summer 2012 / A New Step in the NHC Journey

Corner_Officeby Aggie Smith Steiner, National Housing Corporation President
(Beta Eta, Florida State University)

In 2010, the Fraternity, Foundation and National Housing Corporation (NHC) embraced a strategic plan to continue our fraternal journey to excellence.  Each entity committed to develop strategies and set programs in place with an understanding that “being a relevant organization, driven by a strong reputation, will enable Alpha Chi Omega to recruit members, retain them and ultimately generate the resources necessary to sustain and grow the whole organization.”  For the NHC, this included taking an in-depth look at who we are, what we do and where we want to be.  These efforts were not only directed at NHC-owned, -leased and -managed properties, but also local house corporations.

When it comes to our local house corporations, many are doing their best to function as a “business with a heart.”  Board members are actively engaged in the process.  They selflessly volunteer their time and expertise in amazing ways to ensure that our collegiate women enjoy premier living environments. Health and safety concerns are quickly identified and addressed.  Décor and maintenance issues are updated on a recurring calendar.  These local house corporation boards benefit from strategic plans.

Unfortunately, not all of our collegiate chapters have such engaged alumnae.  Some chapter facilities are in need of décor updates or major renovations.  On an increasing number of campuses, the collegiate housing environment is changing with little or no warning.  The result is insufficient time available to acquire the funds and support necessary to build.  Economic times continue to be uncertain.  But we all must understand that if Alpha Chi Omega’s letters are on the property, it does not matter who technically owns it.  All Alpha Chi Omega facilities, like our members, represent our organization as a whole.

With increasing regularity, local house corporations are, fortunately, seeking guidance from the NHC on ways to perform their responsibilities and to meet the expectations of the national organization.  Recognizing that fully functioning house corporations are critical to the success of our collegiate chapters, the NHC called upon a group of local house corporation presidents to develop a tool for gathering information—setting expectations and identifying benchmarks for premier living environments.

Last fall, the Housing Corporation Certification Task Force (HCCTF) announced the first-ever certification program meant to identify best practices through a rating system designed to recognize local housing corporations that follow good organizational policies, implement quality business strategies and achieve high-performance facilities.

“We feel this program allows for self-assessment, opportunities to achieve higher performance levels and recognition of the outstanding work of our housing volunteers,” said HCCTF Chair Christina Greenwell Mullins.

This certification program is a major first step in the NHC journey to excellence for all Alpha Chi Omega facilities.  During this year’s national convention, we will be recognizing those local house corporations who have completed the program as “certified” and honoring those who have achieved silver and gold levels.

The NHC’s journey to excellence has not finished, but we are definitely well on our way!

For more information about the Housing Corporation Certification and Recognition Program, please visit alphachiomega.org, Resource Center, Chapter Housing, Housing Tool Kits, Certification & Recognition Program.

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The Lyre, Summer 2012 / MyJourney

On_CampusAlpha Chi Omega’s four-year member experience, MyJourney, officially begins at every collegiate chapter this August.  Alpha Chi Omega’s National Council; headquarters staff; and countless advisors, volunteers and alumnae share in the excitement of what this means for each and every one of our collegians.

More than four years ago, a team of Alpha Chi Omega staff members set out on a journey.  It was a journey of discovery designed to learn directly from collegiate members their wants and needs in correlation to their Alpha Chi Omega experiences.  To better analyze the information obtained, Alpha Chi Omega partnered with The Leadership Institute-Women With Purpose to conduct a comprehensive, experience-based research project.

There was an overwhelming response to the call for information with thousands upon thousands of collegiate members, including many who had resigned, completing surveys and offering feedback.  Alumnae, specifically, participated in the research study in order to help fill in the blanks regarding what employers are looking for when hiring graduates and to offer a perspective on what would have been helpful to have learned or experienced before graduation.

The Leadership Institute-Women With Purpose conducted scores of one-on-one phone conversations to expand the “numbers” into real conversations with real women with real needs, wants and aspirations.

After crunching all of the numbers and sifting through all of the conversations, the response was clear.  Collegians asked for three things:

  1. a way for their Alpha Chi Omega experience to include conversations about topics and ideas they were struggling with in the “real world”
  2. an intentional connection between Alpha Chi Omega’s core values and each member’s everyday life
  3. ways for chapters to help juniors and seniors stay engaged in the chapter

In response to these three core needs, MyJourney was created.

The Curriculum

For two years, 10 chapters have been piloting curriculum designed exclusively for Alpha Chi Omega.  The following are the MyJourney programs:

Freshman Courses

  • Your first campus exam.
  • Real, strong women know where they stand on their values.

How to make “laugh-out-loud, know-my-deepest-darkest-secret and most-embarrassing-moment” kinds of friends.

  • Trials and tribulations: Working with the personalities in your chapter.
  • Finances schminances.
  • Dreaming for the future. Setting goals for today.

Sophomore Courses

  • Leadership from every seat.
  • Why define, redefine: Learning to unlabel.
  • I may need an eraser for my mouth: Using tact and diplomacy.
  • A thing called love.
  • A thing called love: When relationships get derailed.
  • Living an intentional life.
  • Advocacy: How to find your “why.”
  • And the award for best actress in a drama goes to…
  • Making time and space to do it all.

Junior Courses

  • Etiquette that has not gone out of style.
  • The chemistry of stress.
  • Yes, I do have an opinion.
  • Dream big, give bigger.
  • Why is she so lucky?
  • Little sis appreciation, pay it forward.
  • Help me, help you.  The role of a good mentor.
  • I’m trying to land an interview, now what?
  • Last hired, first fired.

Senior Courses

  • When common sense is not so common.
  • How to be more creative and innovative starting today.
  • Giving and receiving feedback.
  • What does sisterhood mean after we graduate?
  • The difference a dollar makes.
  • Don’t be that girl.  Stay engaged.
  • Embrace the change: Getting ready for my 20-something life.
  • The art of negotiation.
  • From politics to performance for groups and teams.

Educational and Fun

MyJourney is interactive and designed to give collegians the chance to have healthy conversations you are, most likely, not already having with your sisters—or your parents, friends or faculty members.  Plus, the conversations collegians may be having in class about some of these topics are wildly different than the conversations collegians can have with sisters in a comfortable environment, and with no pressure for academic success.

“One thing that really surprised me about the MyJourney program was the amount of participation we had from our sisters,” said Jenna DeLuca, a junior in the Eta chapter at Bucknell University.  “I’ll admit, I was worried that our chapter members might not be completely receptive to the discussion topics, but once we got started, the contributions were rolling in!”

DeLuca added, “Everyone has liked having the opportunity to share some lessons, laughs and personal stories.  I also feel that, often, college students don’t have the opportunity to talk about important things, as we get caught up in the day-to-day goings on of university life.  Sharing MyJourney sessions with our chapter gives us all the opportunity to slow down, even if just for a little while, and reflect.”

Jane Guemmer, a junior at the Beta Eta chapter at Florida State University, said, “There are only three sessions per semester.  We just do one a month, and everyone is encouraged to do them as Chi Connections too!”

“There’s a part where you get to share with sisters your strategies for handling stress,” Guemmer adds in regards to her favorite program—the junior program called “The chemistry of stress.”  “I not only learned from the book, but I learned so much from the girls I see every day! I still use the ideas sisters gave me, and I can honestly say the program has helped me this past semester.”

Peer Facilitated

The programs of MyJourney have been created to be peer facilitated—a chapter sister will be facilitating each program.  MyJourney facilitators are part of the collegiate chapter’s vice president of member programming’s (VPMP) committee.  And, all chapter facilitators will have the opportunity to participate in headquarters-sponsored facilitator training.

VPMPs will have a MyJourney specialist who will work with the chapter to ensure a successful implementation of this program.  These Alpha Chi Omega alumna volunteers will answer questions, offer implementation suggestions and help collegiate chapter facilitators succeed.

It’s About You

“This program is about you!” says MyJourney specialist Kristen Onkka, an alumna from the Xi chapter at the University of Nebraska. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to become an improved version of yourself, all with the support of your sisters.”

When you joined Alpha Chi Omega, you were told you were becoming part of a sisterhood that cared about helping you become a better you.  MyJourney is one very tangible way Alpha Chi Omega is fulfilling that promise.

“The outside world is hard,” says Anna Meldau, a MyJourney specialist and alumna of the Iota Tau chapter at California State University-San Marcos.  “College will teach you some; Alpha Chi Omega will teach more.”

For more information on MyJourney, please visit alphachiomega.org or call headquarters at 317.579.5050.

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The Lyre, Summer 2012 / Legacies and Recruitment

LifeHugging her tightly, you cannot believe you are already saying goodbye.  You try not to cry and remind yourself she is not a little girl anymore.  She is a young woman about to start her journey to independence and maturity.  Her dorm room is furnished; her first collegiate classes are only days away.  She has never been on her own before, and that worries you.  But, she plans to “Go Greek,” and you find a sense of knowing comfort for the time being.  After all, you are an Alpha Chi, and you just know she will be one, too.

It is easy to remember what Alpha Chi Omega gave you as a collegian—your “home away from home,” a solid support system of caring sisters, all of those “we stayed up too late and our parents should never know” memories.  Alpha Chi Omega and the women you met were integral in your transition from childhood to adulthood.  It is only natural that you would want the same memories and opportunities for your daughter.

But what happens when she is not invited to return to Alpha Chi Omega during recruitment?  What happens when, after meeting the different sororities on campus, she admits that Alpha Chi Omega is not the best fit?

Every one of Alpha Chi Omega’s collegiate chapters has its own personality and style.  And although it may be hard to imagine your chapter is any different today than it was when you were a collegian, with every year, every chapter’s persona shifts.  Our chapters are as unique and ever-changing as our sisters are themselves.  Legacies, participating in recruitment decades after their Alpha Chi Omega relatives, often struggle between what they are supposed to do and what feels right for them.

Alpha Chi Omega understands this struggle, but also knows being a legacy is an honor.  Through the Fraternity policies and continuing education, it is Alpha Chi Omega’s hope that not only will legacies want to join Alpha Chi Omega, but also that they and their relatives understand what is to be expected.

The Policy

As outlined in the Polices of Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity, a legacy to Alpha Chi Omega is a sister, daughter, granddaughter or great-granddaughter of a member.  In the case of step relations and blended families, the Alpha Chi Omega member and her undergraduate family member (the potential new member) define their legacy relationship.

While legacies are not guaranteed membership in an Alpha Chi Omega collegiate chapter, all chapters welcome the opportunity to meet Alpha Chi Omega legacies.  With the legacy designation, the potential new member, if she meets membership standards and eligibility requirements, will be considered a preferred candidate.  This means she will be invited to the first invitational round of events during the formal recruitment process.  If this is during an informal recruitment or continuous recruitment process, she will be invited to at least one recruitment event.

If both the legacy and the chapter have expressed interest in one another, she may be invited to attend the preference event.  If in attendance at this event, the legacy will be placed on the first bid list by the chapter.

Why a Legacy May Not Receive a Bid

The recruitment process is only for a short period of time and it is difficult to really know what each sorority is all about.  So, how does each woman choose her sorority affiliation?  She picks because of her strong pull to the women of the chapter, just as most sorority women did before her.

In most cases, a legacy does not receive a bid because the sisterly connection between today’s chapter members and the legacy is just not there.  The legacy feels she fits best within another sorority on campus and chooses not to pursue Alpha Chi Omega.

In some cases, there is not enough space available in the chapter to accept all legacies.  Based on fellow Greek organizations on campus, facility capacity, and other local technicalities, the university’s Panhellenic council decides the number of new members each sorority is able to accept.  Particularly on large campuses, there are often as many legacies going through recruitment as the Alpha Chi Omega chapter is able to accept in new members.

It is always difficult when a legacy is released during recruitment, but as long as the chapter follows university and Fraternity policies, the Fraternity respects the decision of the collegiate chapter.

Alumnae Responsibilities

Long before it is time to submit any recommendations to a collegiate chapter, alumnae have the privilege and responsibility of helping to grow Alpha Chi Omega’s membership in the following ways:

  • Promoting Alpha Chi Omega as an active part of her life.  This will increase the name recognition and familiarity of Alpha Chi Omega to legacies and other potential new members prior to recruitment.
  • Increasing the strong reputation of Alpha Chi Omega by identifying and connecting with women who would make great additions to our membership.
  • Educating legacies and other potential new members regarding Alpha Chi Omega’s standards and values, as well as privileges of membership.

When the time comes, it is the responsibility of alumnae to make the chapter aware that a legacy or other potential new member will be participating in recruitment.  To do this, all alumnae are encouraged to complete a recruitment information form, also known as a recommendation, for any relative or friend who will be participating in recruitment.  All information contained on the recruitment information form is highly confidential and for membership selection purposes only.  It is never discussed with non-chapter members or with the prospective member.  This confidentiality is the responsibility of both alumnae and collegians.  To submit a form, visit alphachiomega.org and click the “Recommend a Member” link featured on the homepage.

Legacy (and All Potential New Member) Responsibilities

Sorority recruitment is like one interview after another.  When going on an interview you want to have well-thought-out answers and provide specific details that pertain to the questions.  At each chapter, a potential new member will have several minutes of conversation to meet members of the chapter and to make a good impression.  Standing out in a positive way is critical when the sorority members are meeting so many women and must make membership decisions based on these interactions.  It is the responsibility of all potential new members to do what they can in preparation for the recruitment process.

While recruitment can be an exciting time, many potential new members will put in a good amount of work before they ever step foot on campus.  The following are a few suggestions for all potential new members:

  • Involvement in high school.  Whether it is through community service, leadership experience in clubs, playing on sports teams, involvement in youth group, or scholastic clubs, it is important for potential new members to be involved and to help demonstrate their character, leadership ability and personal development.
  • Meeting GPA requirements.  The national requirement for membership in Alpha Chi Omega is a 3.0 GPA for incoming freshman from high school and a 2.5 GPA for all prospective members with previous university grades.  Many collegiate chapters have voted to have a higher GPA requirement than required in the national policies.
  • Reading all information provided by the campus Panhellenic.  Most campus Panhellenics provide specific information regarding recruitment on that campus.  It is important to read through the information provided to get a better understanding of how the recruitment process works and what to expect throughout the process.  Often, this information includes wardrobe guidelines as well as financial specifics.
  • Recruitment conversation preparation.  Recruitment is the time to shine and for potential new members to show their personalities.  Just as the collegiate chapters prepare to host exciting and memorable conversations, potential new members should be prepared to answer questions about themselves and what they are looking for in the sorority experience.  Remember, the recruitment conversations are a time for all potential new members to listen, smile, speak sincerely of themselves and express interest to the chapter.

Be Her Badge What It May

Whether your legacy joins Alpha Chi Omega or another sorority on campus, she will, no doubt, have a memorable experience just as you did.  The letters may be different from sorority to sorority, but we all share a common value: We all wish for our sisters a most beneficial, unforgettable and healthy collegiate experience.

Kristen L. Soltis (Gamma Iota) stated in her article “Be Her Badge What It May” (The Lyre, fall/winter 2009), “I realized that what I wanted for her wasn’t a certain set of letters on a shirt.  I wanted her to have an experience as rewarding as the one I had.”  Alpha Chi Omega welcomes the opportunity to get to know every legacy during the recruitment process, but in the end, it is not about our letters.  It is about each woman and knowing she has found her fit in the Greek community.

FAQs

Do legacies automatically get a bid from a chapter?

No, a legacy does not automatically get a bid from a chapter during recruitment.  The chapter is required to follow the Fraternity’s legacy policy, but that does not mean a legacy will automatically receive a bid.

How does the legacy policy work during informal recruitment?

According to the Fraternity’s policy, a legacy who meets membership standards and eligibility requirements is considered a preferred candidate during the informal recruitment process and should be invited to at least one continuous recruitment event.  Most often during informal recruitment, all events are “open events” and do not require an invitation to attend.  Therefore, during informal recruitment, a formal invitation may not be extended by the chapter because the event is open to all unaffiliated students.

Are chapters required to call alumnae when a legacy is released?

Alpha Chi Omega does not have a policy requiring chapters to notify alumnae when a legacy is released during recruitment.  However, through continued education, we are now recommending chapters send an email to the alumna who completed the recruitment recommendation form to inform her if a legacy has been released during formal recruitment.  This practice will be done for alumna members who indicate on the recommendation form that they would like to be notified.

While some alumnae may prefer a phone call, due to the time of night (sometimes as late as 3:00 a.m.) when the membership selection decisions are finalized and due to the amount of time between when the membership selection decision is made and when the potential new members find out their bids, the best way for chapters to notify alumnae is through email.  Fall 2012 will be the first formal recruitment season in which chapters will be notifying alumnae through email in regard to legacies released during formal recruitment.  It is our hope that this will close the gap of phone call notification and not notifying alumnae at all.

Where do I send recruitment recommendations?

All recruitment information forms should be sent directly to the collegiate recruitment information chair (CRIC) from the collegiate chapter of which the alumna is recommending the potential new member.  The contact information for all CRICs may be found in the recruitment directory at alphachiomega.org, Resource Center, Recommend a Member.

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The Lyre, Summer 2012 / Living and Loving Life

Real_Strong_WomenA close-knit family, a high school cheerleader, a sorority legacy, a cheerful personality to match her bouncing red hair—Amanda Ball Richter, a 1999 initiate of the Sigma chapter at the University of Iowa, was the epitome of the all-American college girl. But overnight, she found herself fighting for her life due to the quickly ravaging effects of a freak illness.

Amanda’s story is not one of sadness, but instead, a story of celebration. A loving, thriving mother, wife, friend, daughter—Amanda is proof that life, wonderfully, can and does go on following tragedy.

As an incoming freshman, Amanda immediately decided to go through recruitment.  Following in her older sister’s footsteps, she joined  Alpha Chi Omega and jumped right in for all the sorority-life offerings.  She lived in the chapter house and ran for the executive board position of vice president finance.  She befriended all of the women in her chapter and wore her letters everywhere.  Her grades were good, her spirit was bright—the college experience was looking very good for Amanda.

As she approached her junior year, Amanda decided to take advantage of the study abroad opportunity made available to students through the university.  Wanting to have a better understanding of her Irish roots, she chose Ireland for her semester-long getaway.  Although it was difficult to leave her family and friends behind, on New Year’s Day 2002, she packed her things and made her away across the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle.

Fighting for Her Life

A couple of months had passed since she began her time in Ireland, and it was everything Amanda had imagined it would be.  She made many new friends, learned of her own heritage and culture, and was able to travel other European cities and countries.  Following one such trip to London, Amanda noticed herself having a simple sore throat and a tired feeling. She attributed both to her recent travels.

Spending the evening with her flatmates, Amanda began feeling nauseated, so she went to bed.  The next thing she knew, it was 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and she was in a delirious state.  Amanda has no recollection of the weeks that followed, and she is only able to recount through stories and experiences told to her by doctors, family and friends.

Her flatmate, another student in the study abroad program, found Amanda passed out in her room—her legs already suffering from septic shock.  She was rushed to the University College Cork Hospital, and her family was notified of her diagnosis, meningococcal septicemia (commonly referred to as meningitis B) with only a five percent chance of surviving through the night.  Amanda was immediately placed in a medically induced coma which ultimately lasted for 18 days.

While in the coma, doctors were able to treat the meningococcal septicemia; however, the excessive use of antibiotics wreaked their own havoc.  Due to the illness and the necessary treatment, the flesh on Amanda’s legs was eaten away and she experienced failures in almost every organ of her body.  Luckily, her brain and heart remained untouched.

When Amanda finally awoke, she found her mother, father and the high school sweetheart who would become her husband at her bedside.  Nurses asked many questions in order to analyze Amanda’s mental state, and fortunately, she had no discernible difficulties.  She was, however, unaware of her own physical state.

Amanda remembers, “The skin on my hands was black and peeling like a snake…I had massive muscle and tendon loss in my legs.  Without bandages, the bone was exposed.  I didn’t know what to talk about with people; it was all very surreal.”

Following the coma, she stayed in the hospital for an additional four weeks.  Then, she was transferred to the University of Chicago Hospital for five weeks—where she underwent multiple surgeries and skin grafts and suffered from a pulmonary embolism—and finally, to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for three weeks.

Amazed by her own recovery, Amanda looks back on the doctors who meant so much to her.  “The doctors in Ireland saved my life.  I hope to go back some day to thank them.  Dr. Song [my plastic surgeon at the University of Chicago Hospital] saved my legs.  Dr. Song gave me my individuality…I was me again.”

Amanda’s recovery was far from over; she was still wheelchair bound, undergoing rehabilitation, had to wear a purse-like bag containing the items needed to increase blood flow to her legs while removing unwanted fluids, and was met with constant questions for which she never knew how to answer.  But with her own willingness and determination, she returned to the University of Iowa in fall 2002 to continue her collegiate career.  And in spring 2004, Amanda received her diploma by walking across the graduation stage—albeit with a cane.

A Sisterhood of Support

“While in Ireland, I was the one with the most mail.  Every day, I received cards in the mail from sisters.  Some I was close to, some I was not.  Opening the mail, I could actually see a progression within myself.  I could actually open the envelopes myself.”

Not only had Amanda’s sisters sent letters, cards and more during her hospital stay in Ireland, but once home, the women made sure Amanda missed out on nothing of her senior year.  “I had over 100 girls supporting me.  For senior night, they made sure to push me from stop to stop, so I was able to join in.”

Amanda attributes many of her life- and career-skills to her time with the chapter, and she stays in contact with her sisters to this day.

Her Happy Ending

Today, Amanda is happily married and the mother of one, with another on the way.  She serves as a financial planner with World Kitchen and, in her own words, is “living the life I always dreamed of.”

Her scars, walking cane, ankle splints and existing medical needs serve as a reminder of the obstacles she has had to overcome and those she will overcome, but they do not get in her way.

For instances when her scars seem to be getting her down, she tries to stay as positive as she can.  “I find a way to make it work,” she says.  “Bad things happen sometimes.  What matters is how you handle it afterwards.  Just being able to live the life I always wanted after being so close to death and with my physical issues, that’s my success.”

Words of Wisdom

At the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis, Amanda celebrated her first “life party.”  Celebrating the day that changed her life, 2012 marks her tenth anniversary.  With this milestone, she hopes to share with others in order to provide further awareness of the illness and its symptoms.

“Meningitis kills in 24 hours; I was already 20 hours along when I arrived at the hospital.  I couldn’t save myself.  You have to look out for each other.”

And to all her Alpha Chi Omega sisters, alumna and collegiate alike, who may be dealing with their own grief, she urges, “Lean on people.  Reach out.  Talk to people to work through your feelings.  It is the only way to work through the problem.  Stay positive, because life really does go on.”

Amanda Ball Richter resides in the Jefferson Park area of Chicago, Illinois, with her husband, Ryan, and two-year-old daughter, Andrea.  They look forward to the arrival of their second child this July.  Amanda may be reached at abrichter@gmail.com.  For further information on the causes, symptoms and complications of meningitis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov or the National Meningitis Association website at nmaus.org.

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The Lyre, Spring 2012 / Personal Branding and Your Online Presence

Corner Officeby Marsha King Grady, National President
(Alpha Upsilon, University of Alabama)

One of the things I love most about being an Alpha Chi Omega is knowing I have more than 150,000 sisters out there waiting for me to meet them! When I joined Alpha Chi Omega, I really wasn’t concerned about any sisters other than the 150 in my Alpha Upsilon chapter—then I went to state day and met sisters from Auburn and Birmingham Southern, then I moved to Austin, Texas and became an advisor to the Alpha Phi chapter, and then I moved to Iowa City, Iowa where I was “adopted” by my Sigma chapter sisters.

In my years as a volunteer, my circle of Alpha Chi Omega friends continued to grow. As I’ve traveled to leadership academies, province days, reunions and conventions, I’ve met sisters of all ages from different chapters and different parts of the country. They’ve become my friends.

For folks who haven’t experienced the phenomenon of lifetime membership in a national sorority, it’s hard to describe this network of friends—some I’ve met only once and others I see only once every two years at conventions—with whom I share this strong bond of sisterhood.

With the advent of social media, I’ve been able to turn what used to be single or occasional connections with sisters into ongoing relationships. I can keep up with awards, graduations, marriages, careers, children and grandchildren—“participating” in their daily lives as well as major milestones. I’ve loved how social media have helped me maintain and enhance these special relationships.

As those who are my Facebook friends or who follow me on Twitter know, I’ve embraced social media for all of their positives. I love the ability to easily share a message with many and to develop and maintain connections with people and organizations I care about.

But social media can have downsides. If I didn’t know it intuitively, I’ve certainly heard it and read it— what you send into the cloud of social media is there for the world to see. Even if you limit your audience, it’s still your world, and it all influences how others view you. A branding consultant friend reminds me regularly that my presence in social media is part of my “personal brand.”

For many reasons, I have tried to ensure my online persona is one of which I can be proud. After all, I represent Alpha Chi Omega and my employer (my local school district’s foundation) when I’m on social media. But I also know that my teenage children see what I post, as do my favorite aunt and my pastor. My status updates, tweets, linked articles and photos are noticed and remarked on by others, and they reflect on me. So, I’m careful what I share online—with occasional exceptions related to my passion for Alabama football!

I am constantly amazed at what many of my online friends of all ages choose to share—unflattering or embarrassing photos; tales of their latest drinking binges; criticisms of their boss (or professors, former friends, their child’s coach or teacher); off-color or insensitive jokes; unnecessary profanity (my grandmother would have pointed out that all profanity is unnecessary); all of the details of their latest gastrointestinal difficulties; and the good and bad points of their latest date. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the First Amendment, but really, people, does the world need to know all this? And while you certainly have the right to say these things, why would you want to share them with the world?

These things reflect on you! They help define how people see you—your personal brand.

When Alpha Chi Omega launched its “Real. Strong. Women.” brand a few years ago, that’s what we were looking for—a universal way to describe Alpha Chi Omega as an organization, but also as individual members. It’s not just something we say, it describes who we are. That’s one reason I’m very careful about my online persona. I want my personal brand to reflect Alpha Chi Omega’s brand—every day in every way, even when I’m not wearing my badge. I want “Real. Strong. Women.” To be my brand inspiration. By the way I live my life, I hope to create my own version of a real, strong woman based on Alpha Chi Omega’s values of wisdom, devotion and achievement.

In a 1997 Fast Company article entitled “The Brand Called You,” management guru Tom Peters reminded us that “the important thing to remember about your personal visibility campaign is: it all matters. When you’re promoting brand you, everything you do—and everything you choose not to do—communicates the value and character of your brand.”

It’s simple. You are a brand, and your brand is you. Peters wrote, “The brand is a promise of the value you’ll deliver.” What value do you bring to the world around you? Is your brand representing this value? My suggestion: aspire to be a real, strong woman and your brand will follow.