By: Nina Ries
Epsilon Psi, University of California – Irvine
Alumna Appreciation Award Recipient
Although I typically write on the subject of business and real estate matters, there is an overarching issue that impacts us all.
There seems to be tremendous focus on being “busy” – and the most popular answer these days to “How are you?” seems to be “Busy.” Unfortunately, many seem to think that, because they are “busy,” they can be justified in declining additional responsibility, exploring new opportunities, taking on a new venture, volunteering or joining an alumnae group. I firmly believe that this is a mistake. And this mistake can cost you both personally and professionally.
I’ve never regretted saying yes. This is a refrain I hear often.
After graduating from law school, I went to work for a litigation boutique in Downtown Los Angeles where I delved into the world of complex business litigation and multi-faceted real estate disputes. Eventually, I joined a larger firm doing the same thing, but also added transactional work to my practice. During my career, I have received excellent training and had terrific mentors who were invested in my success, as well as some role models and teachers who may not have realized their impact on me. One thing that really stands out to me about my own path – and that of my most successful colleagues – is that in order to really learn and grow, you must be inspired to stretch yourself, to challenge yourself and to expand your horizons. Each of my mentors advised me to say yes to new opportunities from the earliest stages of my career, and they were right. I started off saying yes to projects to gain experience and a competitive edge over my contemporaries. Some of those projects were exciting while others were less so, but all of them were educational, and all expanded my capabilities and my marketability. Indeed, I use my experience as a litigator to draft deal documents designed to reduce the risk of litigation, offering value added to my clients and shaping my entire practice for years to come.
Saying yes to opportunities also extended into my personal life. Saying yes has led to incredible travel stories. I’ve made countless interesting friends by saying yes to opportunities with my alma mater. So when it came to involvement with Alpha Chi Omega’s local alumnae group, the only answer was yes – and my involvement has paid dividends in the form of new business opportunities, new friendships and the forging of a stronger, deeper connection with my fellow alumni. I’ve also had an opportunity to pay it forward to collegians as a way of thanking the alumnae who helped support my chapter when I was a collegian.
At 18, I didn’t appreciate the lifetime of fun, friends and experiences that awaited me — not just for the next four years, but for a lifetime. I’m thankful that membership in Alpha Chi Omega continues through every stage of our lives. Through the alumnae experience, Alpha Chi has always met me where I was. When I was a young alumna living on the Westside of Los Angeles, Gamma Theta Gamma (South Bay and Westside) offered fun events that I wouldn’t have otherwise had time to plan for myself, interesting meetings featuring speakers on a variety of topics that left me smarter than when I had walked into the room, a trusted group of girlfriends for referrals to doctors and service providers and networking opportunities for career advancement. As I gained more experience and became more settled in my geographic area and career, Alpha Chi offered stress relief and support — in spades! My current alumnae chapter (Alpha Kappa Alpha in Pasadena, California), counts as its members alumnae fresh out of college and those who have received their 75-year pins. At our meetings and events, we paint, learn to cook healthy recipes from a trained chef, we taste test dark chocolates and tea, we host speakers on topics ranging from health and well-being to a New York Times best-selling author, we learn about wine and cheese-making, discuss books and – of course – socialize. Through it all, my life has been enriched, I have learned about a variety of topics, I have made friends with incredible women who I probably would never have otherwise met, and I have an ever-growing list of local activities to try and places to visit, all recommended by my sisters. Best of all, over the years, I have met alums from other chapters whom I am lucky to count as some of my best friends — all because of this shared bond. I’m so thankful for it.
Many people ask how one could possibly juggle being a professional, a parent, and a volunteer all at once. My fellow volunteers are doctors, lawyers, engineers, real estate investors, investment bankers, medical researchers, teachers and executives. Most work full time (or more), and all of us have children and family obligations. We take on what we can at the time. During a recent conversation involving about a dozen of us, we all recognized that we have grown both personally and professionally from the experience. So I urge you: join an alumnae chapter and get involved – whether it’s by attending meetings once a month, volunteering as a hostess for a meeting, coordinating a group outing or serving as an officer. You owe it to yourself to explore the possibilities that await you and to take advantage of the opportunity for growth. Your professional success and your personal fulfillment will be the better for it. And I promise you’ll meet some of the most amazing women you’ve ever met through your participation. See you at an Alpha Chi event very soon!
By: Kim McClure
Gamma Omicron, Marshall University
Outstanding Dedication Award Recipient
When I began my college experience at Marshall University in 1987, it wasn’t on my radar to join a sorority. On a whim, I decided to go through rush with some other girls on the floor of my dorm. We went through together, but they felt a calling to another group as I was feeling a strong pull to Alpha Chi Omega. I remember sitting in the formal living room of the house with the grand piano and it just felt like I belonged there. So, when the time came to make decisions on the final day, I wrote Alpha Chi Omega as my first choice and, luckily, they felt the same way.
However, my four years weren’t traditional. I made some academic mistakes with my priorities out of order. Midway through my sophomore year, the university required me to take a leave of absence (that’s the polite way to say I flunked out). I left for a semester, attended community college, and then went back to Marshall that summer for classes. By the end of the summer, I had earned enough credits to be re-admitted to the university, but I wondered if I would be welcomed back into the chapter. Our chapter advisor, Teresa Moore, took me under her wing. She placed me in a room with sisters I didn’t know that well, but that she knew would be a good influence on me. She developed a plan for me to follow for studying and made sure our scholarship chair checked on me occasionally. That structure and the support I received from my sisters is something I will never forget. One of those roommates I didn’t know very well, Shawna Nelson, became one of my best friends and introduced me to my husband, a clear indication that all of that was in God’s plan for me.
I served as rush advisor after graduation as well as chapter advisor for a few years, then I started a family and passed the torch to others. My family has moved frequently through the years due to my husband’s career and I have stayed busy with other things, but like that strong pull to Alpha Chi Omega in Spring 1988, I started to feel a pull to it again when we moved to Allentown, PA in 2008. Feeling that pull of sisterhood, I began reconnecting with my sisters on Facebook. I had not kept in touch with most of them, but as we started getting together over the next few years, it was evident that those bonds we built in college were still strong. We grew up in the Alpha Chi Omega house away from our families, experiencing life and new responsibilities. Each of us experienced the struggles that all young adults have as they are maturing and figuring out who they are when they are on their own. Those days of helping each other study or using three cans of Aqua Net in one night to get “big hair” or consoling each other as we had our hearts broken by the wrong guy or maybe even telling that wrong guy to leave and not come back in solidarity made us who we are today.
I was asked why I volunteer for Alpha Chi Omega today. The organization has brought wonderful people into my life. I want other women to have the opportunities that I had to feel those strong connections, that sense of knowing that this crew of women had my back then and they have it now. We recently formed a virtual alumnae club for members of Gamma Omicron and we have 81 members living all over the USA, in Hong Kong, and India. I am always amazed, but never surprised, to find that whether that person was an Alpha Chi Omega before me, or if they have joined after me, that they are a person of high quality and conscience. I volunteer for many organizations in the community, and they all support great causes. I choose to continue to volunteer for Alpha Chi Omega because it’s a small way to pay back that unconditional support I was given through a dark time in my young adult life. It’s a gift I will never forget or be able to repay, but I am working on it.
By: Kelly Kilgour
Kappa Nu, Carnegie Mellon University
Young Alumna Award Winner
In the spring of my freshman year at Carnegie Mellon, I joined a local independent sorority called Zeta Psi Sigma through informal recruitment. I came for the free pizza and stayed for the friendship.
At the time I joined the sorority, the chapter had only 150 initiates. For a variety of reasons, in the following semester we chose to begin the process of being “adopted” by a National Panhellenic Conference organization. We reviewed marketing materials from a dozen national organizations, attended four expansion presentations, and ultimately chose Alpha Chi Omega. Our community of 150 women expanded to over 200,000.
Current National Vice President Jennifer Daurora was the chapter advisor for Kappa Nu when I was a collegian, and she set an excellent example of what the alumnae experience could be like. While I’m sure that she could tell many stories of my collegiate days when I was one of those “difficult” collegians, strong-willed and stubborn over details as inconsequential as T-shirt colors, Jen stuck with me and continued to be my model for alumnae life in Alpha Chi Omega. In fact, when I moved to Dallas after graduation, it was Jen who encouraged me to reach out and try volunteering with the local alumnae chapter.
Moving over a thousand miles away from home wasn’t easy, but my experience volunteering for Alpha Chi Omega gave me a way to become involved locally and helped me to feel more at home in a strange city where I initially knew no one. Plus, through my work as a volunteer, I met so many amazing women! When I returned to Pittsburgh a year later, Jen immediately called me with the opportunity to become the alumnae chapter president. After having such a good experience volunteering in Dallas, I couldn’t say no. I was honored that Jen had asked me to step up, and I was excited to be able to connect with other volunteers–sorority sisters I had never met!–in my hometown. At the same time as I was broadening my network locally, I was also beginning to volunteer at a national level as a technology specialist, helping alumnae chapters across the country integrate more technology into their operations. Volunteering nationally allowed me to connect virtually with even more sisters outside of Pittsburgh.
When I look back over the years since graduating from Carnegie Mellon, my memories of time spent with sisters are some that I remember most fondly. When I was struggling to adjust to life in Dallas, I vividly remember how Suzy, the alumnae chapter president, took me out to dinner for my birthday. Another favorite memory was when I got the chance to travel to California and assist a professional filmmaker and Alpha Chi Omega sister who was filming the Southern California Career Day. As a data analyst and software developer, my job is typically very technical and exact, so having the chance to be a part of a creative process was new and exciting.
I anticipate making many more memories like this… starting in just a few weeks! On Sunday, May 7th, I will be running my first half marathon with Myrka, my former VP finance advisee from Carnegie Mellon, to raise money for the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. It’s hard for me to explain just how excited I am. This opportunity combines so many of the things that I value: philanthropy, friendship, striving for physical well-being and setting an example for other Alpha Chi Omega sisters. I started volunteering for Alpha Chi Omega because I had such a great role model in Jen, and because the community gave me strength and camaraderie when I was setting out on my own. I continue to volunteer because I want to give back–and to inspire others to do the same.
By Kathryn O’Hagan; Zeta Sigma, Missouri State University
As a fraternity and sorority advisor, my days, and often my evenings and weekends, are filled with meetings, programs, events and managing crises. Frequently, I get home from work and want to sit in front of my television, binge watch something on Netflix and not think about the stress that was my day. Needless to say, there are times when volunteering more of my time and energy for others does not sound appealing.
But when my life is at its most stressful, there is nothing more fulfilling and gratifying than volunteering my time and energy to serve others. When I feel overstimulated, I try to take the time to serve those who have fewer opportunities than I do. When I’m lacking motivation, I work with students who crave a mentor to motivate them. And when I need to remind myself why I work in higher education, I give myself over to Alpha Chi Omega and remember that I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have the opportunity every day to follow the Panhellenic Creed and “stand for service through the development of character.”
As collegiate members of Alpha Chi Omega, we are charged with participating in all walks of university life. Whether it be in a leadership role in student government or as a general member of the chess club, our involvement should extend beyond our sisterhood. After graduation, that concept should remain steadfast. “To see and appreciate all that is noble in another,” one must put themselves in another person’s shoes. Take the time to continually commit yourself to your sisters, your community and your passions. “Appreciate every little service rendered” by volunteering and providing services to others. Give yourself over to the experience of being a servant leader, and not only will you help others, but it will also put your busy, stressful life into perspective.
What may seem like a small contribution of my time is often more than what is needed. To let your “lyre send forth the chords of love, unselfishness, sincerity,” one must be willing to put the needs of others first. I chose my career in part because it enables me to give back on a regular basis. Working to further the fraternal movement is a passion that extends beyond my 9-to-5 life. And while I may need to de-stress sometimes, my days are filled with laughter, learning and caring. I couldn’t imagine a better use of my time.
By Melissa Ramirez; Beta Omega, University of Toledo
There’s a piece advice grown-ups often like to dole out: If you can turn your passion into a career, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
I didn’t believe this was really possible. After spending 10 years in the television industry, I felt unfulfilled. While I enjoyed the work, I didn’t feel as though I was helping anyone or contributing anything to society. During that time, before my husband and I started our family, we were focused on our careers, each other and enjoying life. Still, I was restless. I decided to donate my time by volunteering for Alpha Chi Omega at my alma mater, the University of Toledo.
I spent four to five years as the chapter advisor for the Beta Omega chapter and truly enjoyed every minute of it. Okay, maybe not EVERY minute. Meetings that ran until 10 p.m. didn’t seem ridiculous as a collegian, but as a person who had to wake up for a full-time job the next morning, it was insane! As a chapter advisor, I was able to work one on one with incredibly smart, sharp and driven young women. Each year, I looked forward to meeting the newest chapter president, unsure and nervous about her upcoming term as the leader of her peers, and watching her grow and become more confident as the months passed. I described these women as people who had all of the tools to be successful but didn’t know how to use them yet. It was my pleasure to help them learn how to use their leadership skills to improve their lives and the lives of others.
After having our second child, I was no longer able to balance home, work and my responsibilities as a chapter advisor. Since running away from home and living in the chapter house was not a viable option, I stepped down from my position. I missed the energy of the chapter and even missed the late night calls from the executive board, wanting to run a thought by me. Volunteering was something I did for me. I know I helped them, but it made me feel good to help.
Fast forward a few years, when we relocated for my husband’s new job and I had an opportunity to start fresh in my career. I put much thought into which direction I should take and decided, because of my volunteer experience with Alpha Chi Omega, I wanted to go the nonprofit route. I currently work as a regional membership director for the Greater Cleveland YMCA. I oversee team leaders for six different branches and, much like I did for Alpha Chi Omega, I help these leaders be the best they can be for the teams around them. Once again, I get to be surrounded by smart and driven emerging leaders who have all of the tools but need help to make it all work.
You win, grown-ups! You were right, and I’m living proof of that. I found my passion for developing leaders and made it a career.
By Brittany S. Rende, Beta Delta, College of William & Mary
When asked why I volunteer my time for Alpha Chi Omega, I can give the standard answers such as, “I love giving back,” “I want to give the same experience I was fortunate to have,” and “It’s not just four years it’s for life.” While all of these answers apply, I discovered my real “why” at a recent conference.
I was sitting with another Alpha Chi when we were asked to define what being a “superwoman” means to us. We both just started listing Alpha Chi Omegas. Among those we listed were Marsha King Grady, Mary Winkler, Jennifer Crotty and the women who serve on executive boards, especially at our colonies. Working with these women and seeing what they do for our collegians is incredibly inspiring.
Every Alpha Chi Omega I have met has embodied my definition of a superwoman—a woman who strives to be better every day, making the world around her more loving and strengthening her relationships with others. None of us are perfect, but that’s what makes our stories beautiful. I love working with Alpha Chi Omega to learn from these women, both collegians and alumnae, how they manage to do it all and inspire Alpha Chi Omega members to be superwomen.
By Laura E. Sanders, Delta Xi, Denison University
Volunteering for something you love, something that has helped to shape you and is in your core, is easy. Not that the volunteer tasks themselves are easy, but the drive and the motivation to give back comes naturally. Alpha Chi Omega helped me become the woman I am today in so many ways that it is only natural for me to want to give back to the organization, our chapters and my sisters.
As an initiated sister of Delta Xi, I miss out on one part of the alumna experience that so many sisters enjoy. I can no longer return to my chapter house and meet new women who have joined our sisterhood, as Delta Xi closed in 2008. While this pulled at my heartstrings, it also reminded me how much bigger Alpha Chi Omega is than our initiating chapters. Yes, that experience shaped my collegiate understanding of sisterhood; yet, I have grown and learned so much more recently as an alumna member.
My “story” as an alumna volunteer is an interesting and varied one. Of course I think it is interesting, because I lived it. In truth, the fact that I have had the opportunity to share my talents with Alpha Chi as a specialist, co-director of collegiate volunteers, convention teller, member of the volunteer management team and now a province collegiate chair has filled me with such pride for all we can do as a sisterhood. There are days when I wish my email would stop filling up or the phone wouldn’t chirp at me, but those days are few and far between. Seeing the strength and wisdom our sisters across the country are able to willingly pour into this thing we call sisterhood is astounding. Impactful work makes a soul and heart happy. I know the impact I can make as a volunteer working with alumnae advisors and collegiate leaders is tremendous. Conversely, I have learned so much from other volunteers and collegiate sisters that I keep growing and learning with each interaction. On days that my passion is waning, I need but a text from a chapter president to remind me that we do amazing things together.
Time and talent are precious commodities, the value of which cannot be simply understood. I give my time, talents and small treasures to Alpha Chi Omega because I think of myself as a bit of a gardener. (I like allegories and metaphors, if you haven’t yet noticed.) I believe as volunteers we are able to plant a seed, fertilize it, water it and then watch with pride as it grows. Sisterhood, leadership, commitment to serve others and knowledge of Alpha Chi Omega grow strongly in others when we help by volunteering. The overflow I have experienced within my heart and mind as I volunteer with sisters keeps me coming back for more. Together we seek the heights, not just as an organization or chapter, but also as real, strong women.
By Lauren Lewandowski
Theta Tau, Rutgers University
The secret to making the most out of your Alpha Chi Omega experience? Just say yes. It’s as simple as that. Whether you are a collegiate or alumna member, Alpha Chi Omega can benefit from your time, talents and treasure. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I could think of no better way to describe my experience as a sorority volunteer.
As a collegiate member, I served as vice president chapter relations and standards, vice president education and historian for the Theta Tau chapter. As an alumna, I have served as a chapter advisor for the Alpha Epsilon chapter at University of Pennsylvania and as president and membership chair of Pi Pi alumnae chapter. I currently serve as the province collegiate chair for Eastern Pennsylvania and the as the lead chapter advisor for the Theta Chi chapter at Lehigh University. I am also a member of the young alumnae board and the Olive Ribbon Club. Outside of Alpha Chi Omega, I am an active member of the Rancocas Valley Panhellenic Association and serve as its membership chair. I have had the privilege of serving in each of these positions because I have said yes.
The key to saying yes is that you cannot sit back and wait for someone to ask you to serve. The majority of the roles I have held within Alpha Chi Omega are not roles someone encouraged me to run for. Instead, they are roles I identified as needing a strong leader, and, because I realized I had the time and dedication to make a difference, I volunteered to serve in the truest sense of the word. Furthermore, I have discovered that the positions I enjoyed the most were ones I never even considered for myself prior to holding them.
I have never felt that my service to Alpha Chi Omega has gone unnoticed. Instead, the recognition and appreciation other Alpha Chi Omegas have paid me have allowed me to recognize not only my own strengths, but also my inherent value. For example, I have always considered myself to be shy and reserved. Since becoming an Alpha Chi Omega, most people who know me would argue that that self-assessment could not be further from the truth. That is because Alpha Chi Omega and semesters of recruitment rounds have made me feel comfortable striking up conversations with strangers and have allowed me to realize that what I have to say is important. The fact that I have gotten to know and work with so many amazing women throughout this journey has just been icing on the cake.
To say that I have found myself through my experience as an Alpha Chi Omega volunteer is an understatement. Not only have I found myself, but I have found friends, role models and a community. It was not hard to do, either. All I needed was dedication, a bit of self-motivation and one three-letter word: yes.