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The Lyre, Summer 2010 / A Lifetime Commitment: How I’ve Chosen to Make a Difference

Lifetime Commitmentby Kirstin Floberg Barbour
(Nu, University of Colorado)

As an alumna, I have met several extraordinary women and created lifelong friendships with Alpha Chi sisters scattered across the country.  My journey has shown what a small, wonderful world we live in. I work at Starz Entertainment on a team of 23 people from various parts of the country. A nameplate went up on a cubicle of a new hire named Stephanie Watson (Nu). Before she started, I asked the hiring manager if she attended the University of Colorado, of which she replied yes. I knew instantly this was one of my Nu sisters. We had lost touch and were excited to be reunited by work. The connections continued as we were getting to know a few women that worked out of our Atlanta office. Sororities came up in the conversation, as they asked how we knew each other so well. When we told them that we were both Alpha Chi Omega sorority sisters, their jaws dropped. It just so happened that two of the women were Alpha Chi Omegas as well, Katharine Collins (Theta Lambda) and Christi Burton (Gamma Chi). Imagine the inconceivable notion of four of a 23 person team being sisters! It has always been obvious to me, the great links and relationships created by my Alpha Chi Omega membership. Why stop my involvement at college graduation?

How I Became Involved

With the exception of the first six months of my life, I grew up living in Colorado, attended the University of Colorado where I am an initiate of the Nu chapter – just about as close to a native as you can get. A couple of years after getting married, my husband’s job took us to Richmond, Virginia. After a few short months, moving back to Colorado was all Jason, my husband, and I could think about. It took us almost two years, but we were finally able to move “home.”

It was one of my best friends, Shelly Peppard Russell (Theta Iota), that reignited my fire within to actively engage as an alumna in our Alpha Chi Omega sisterhood. After moving back to Colorado, Shelly invited me to attend the Nu Nu (representing the Denver area) chapter’s fall kickoff luncheon. All it took was a request for a new historian, combined with my passion for scrapbooking, to rope me in for the journey of a lifetime.

My First “Active” Steps

Over the course of my first year as an “active” alumna, I realized the incredible growth opportunities available to Nu Nu and the entire Alpha Chi Omega organization. The greatest of those opportunities lies in our investment in the future of fellow sisters. At the end of my first year of alumnae activities, I considered myself an “active” alumna; after all, I paid my dues, attended events and gave what I could financially. But a loud voice inside my head was telling me that being “active” was something more than being “present.” I found myself wanting to increase my involvement, as I so enjoyed all of the women that I met. That internal calling was answered when I was nominated for the executive board as treasurer.

As my term drew to a close, I determined that while my presence had increased, I still yearned to do more for the organization that had given me so much. Thus, I followed my dear friend Ali Hahle Barry’s (Delta Upsilon) footsteps, as president of the Nu Nu alumnae chapter, though I had some pretty big shoes to fill. As president, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to attend my first National Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Being More Than “Present”

In the blistering July heat of the desert, convention attendees were called upon to reflect, refresh and reconnect. In taking time to reflect on our sisterhood, I was reminded that the formation of our special bond is to provide a basis of mutual helpfulness and congenial fellowship, whose purpose is to facilitate the advancement of the intellectual, social and moral culture of our members. I thought long and hard about our core values, wisdom, devotion and achievement, and how I would convey my convention experience to the women of Nu Nu.

These three core values are a driving factor in my passion for mentoring others to assist their professional and/or personal development. But for as much reward as I garner from making a positive impact on others, I believe the foundation of the mentor/mentee relationship lies in continuous learning. Mentors not only share their wisdom and guide their mentees, but they learn from the mentorship experience and share the profound effects of touching lives.

So, I embarked on the next phase of my journey, involvement with the Nu chapter at the University of Colorado, my alma mater. This portion of my trek has not been without challenges. I have every excuse as to why it is ridiculous for me to achieve such involvement—I am the full time working mother of a toddler. And, if that isn’t enough, geography enters in, as I live and work a healthy 1½ hours from Nu. Yet, my “superwoman mentality” has prevailed.

I committed to mentoring the leaders of Nu and providing guidance to the chapter advisors, of which has been one of the greatest challenges and rewards I have experienced. I simply cannot express the thrill of witnessing the tremendous growth of some of these women. In turn, these women have pushed me to learn more about myself and our sisterhood in Alpha Chi Omega.

In an effort to bridge the gap between the remarkable women of Nu Nu and Nu, I have challenged the alumnae to refresh. While Nu Nu has always supported Nu chapter from afar, I strongly advocated that they look within themselves to impart the traditions they hold near and dear to their hearts with all of our collegiate sisters—ensuring the sustainability of our sisterhood.

A Lifetime of Transformation

Reflecting on the extraordinary women that have made an impact on my life, I am blessed to name quite a few: Mrs. Lee, my kindergarten teacher; Miss Kerber, a grade school teacher; my mother, who has dedicated her life to ensuring my success. Then there are those who have had a profound effect on shaping who I am today. Those, I proudly call my sisters: Shelly Peppard Russell (Theta Iota), friends for life since second grade; Sherry Bennett Trefz (Delta Upsilon), Recruitment Advisor while I was a collegian; Mary Witte Niemeyer (Nu), my “Big”; Jen Arcese Gelston (Nu), friends since our freshman year of high school; Ali Hahle Barry (Delta Upsilon), my Nu Nu partner in crime; Louverta Britt Brunkow (Nu), Nu Nu member; Courtney Ellis (Xi), bound by our commitment to Nu Chapter; Cherie Copare Mitchell (Nu), chapter sister; Katy Evanco Brown (Theta Omicron), Nu Nu member and former Alpha Chi Omega National Vice President; and countless others. But the most important of these real, strong women that make a difference is you!

We joined Alpha Chi Omega in pursuit of diverse goals, but no matter what our individual reasons for becoming sisters, we sought to better ourselves in some manner of which our sisters played a key role. Based on the values and principles of our founders, we all genuinely desire to transform young ladies into the real, strong women of our future.

This transformation takes place over the course of a lifetime. It begins as a new member, progresses through our college years as lifetime members and reaches new heights as alumnae. I have been honored to serve Alpha Chi Omega in so many ways that have afforded me the opportunity to learn from all of you. I have had the good fortune of working with high school students interested in sororities, collegiate members, recent grads to 75-year members.

It is true that each of our flames burn with varying degrees of colors and intensity. Yet, that is what makes us sisters in Alpha Chi Omega. With all of the pressures of our careers, families, friends, communities and economy, it is challenging to find the time or financial resources to spare. However, each of us has it in us to do something. Whether it’s getting in touch with a sister you haven’t talked to in a while or taking on a leadership role, it is part of our foundation to open doors for those who come after us, as our sisters did before us.

While I await the next path on my journey as an Alpha Chi Omega alumna, I challenge you to reflect on your Alpha Chi alumnae and collegiate experiences thus far. Think of the special moments you would not trade for the world. What afforded you that opportunity? Consider the legacy you are composing, and I believe you will find that you want to be one of those women that touched someone’s life—Alpha Chi Omega gives us the perfect opportunity.

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The Lyre, Summer 2010 / Give a Snap…See a Smile!

Give a Snap See a SmileIn 1964, at the young age of 14, Susan “Sue” Carver Smith was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her parents did not let on to the diagnoses, allowing Sue and her siblings, Chris Carver Barlow and Laura Carver Stachler, to live full childhoods. The family continued their happy life, enjoying and appreciating every day. In her early twenties, Sue’s diagnoses was revealed, but life still did not stop. Amidst chemotherapy, doctors and hospital stays, Sue carried on with exuberance—following her big sister Chris to the University of Southern California, where they both joined the Epsilon chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. The youngest sister, Laura, would in turn follow Sue. At the age of 28, following her college graduation and marriage, Sue passed away—the disease finally taking its toll.

Having come from such a sweet, positive background, the Carver family held the notion that when they picked up the pieces, they would do it with love and a smile. And so they did. Never letting Sue’s passing be the purpose of negativity, but instead Sue’s life being reason for celebration. For Laura, her love and devotion for Sue had always been priority. When Laura and her husband Ken had found that they were expecting their first baby girl, no other name was more appropriate— they named her Susan Carver Stachler.

Unexpected Events

Laura continued Sue’s legacy by living her life with optimism and by saying “yes” to whatever obstacle or luck came her way. She had always enjoyed baking, especially as her children grew, and took pleasure in seeing how her special treats created happiness in others. Although, Laura had never officially trained in the culinary arts or had professional experience outside of growing up around her parents’ burger shop, she began to tinker with recipes. By word of mouth Laura’s treats became locally known and led to catering possibilities. This small-time business seemed to be growing exponentially, but life was not to be so easy. At the age of 41 and amidst their major business expansion, Ken was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Laura and her husband still considered themselves upbeat, cup-half full kind of people. And even with Ken undergoing treatment and Laura “reliving” Sue’s experience all over again, the family continued expanding the business. The following year marked Ken’s treatment a success and was a cause for celebration.

When their daughter Susan came home to visit during her senior year at Auburn University, what would normally be a routine visit was soon turned into an unthinkable chain of events—Susan had an unexplained lump on her throat. Six weeks later, Susan, too, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Laura would once again, go through the treatments, doctor visits and hospital stays. Unlike with her husband though, everything down to Susan’s age was a constant reminder of Sue. Even the paperwork read “Susan Carver.” On June 4, 2004, the anniversary of Sue’s death, Susan started treatment.

Molding to the Circumstances

Laura wanted to do something, keep morale up in some way. The family’s baking business began to take a new shape, molding to the circumstances. Laura created an original gingersnap recipe—ginger is a known stomach soother often eaten by patients undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments—while Susan created the artwork related to the packaging. People across the country began to read of Laura and her family via the internet, and the little baking business took off!

Health, Success and Generosity

Today, Laura is happy to report that at the age of 28, Susan’s cancer has gone beyond remission—she is considered cured. And although her husband’s diagnosis is not of a “curable” nature, Laura and her family persevere with generosity and a sense of humor. The family, noted for their multi-generational and female diagnoses, has even been the cause for research in regards to Hodgkin’s lymphoma’s genetic traits. Laura and her family continue do all that they can—they aren’t saving the world, but they are definitely doing their part.

As for Laura’s little baking business, the Susansnap, the original gingersnap cookie aptly named for her sister, is now a best-seller, honored by Martha Stewart Living in New York, seen as “Snack of the Day” on the Rachael Ray Show, featured as one of “Paula’s Picks” in the Paula Deen Christmas Magazine, used by Chef Bobby Flay in his cooking shows at Metropolitan Cooking and featured among many other publications and radio spots. Beyond the website, Susansnaps has recently opened its first retail location and offers a wide variety of cakes and cookies. Laura and Susan continue to create, bake, package and market all on their own—making Susansnaps truly a family-owned and operated business. With over 8,000 cookies baked per day, the business is thriving.

One entity related to Susansnaps that is held very close to Laura’s heart is The Susan Carver Foundation. Having started with only $100, the foundation is now a great supporter of the Atlanta, Georgia treatment centers and the National Cancer Institute in Washington D.C. In honor of her sister and daughter, the foundation boasts that “cancer is not okay” and aims to support cancer research, specifically looking at the link between genetics and cancer. Ten percent of all purchases through Susansnaps is given to the foundation, along with 100% of all donations and monies raised through fundraising initiatives.

Give a Snap… See a Smile!

“Give a Snap… See a Smile!” These words, Laura’s motto for her Susansnaps, could not have more meaning had another said them. These words, as simple as they are, display the brightness, kindness and might that represent Laura. Coming from what many would consider devastating circumstances, Laura carried on to turn the most discouraging into the most uplifting. Taking a hobby that she always enjoyed and turning it into a small business; then, using that business to help not only her own family cope with their cancer struggles, but families everywhere touched by the disease. Laura, Sue, Susan and their entire family are an inspiration to us all—teaching us that with our heads held high and a loving smile, we can make it through anything.

To learn more about Susansnaps and The Susan Carver Foundation, visit susansnaps.com.

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The Lyre, Summer 2010 / In Memory of Martha Hannegan Hanlon

In Memoryby Ellen Little Vanden Brink, Past National President
(Alpha, DePauw University)

A 1951 initiate of the Omicron chapter at Baker University, Past National President Martha Hannegan Hanlon is remembered as a loyal alumna to both the Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity and the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation and for her wonderful working relationships with collegiate chapters. She understood priorities and was devoted to straightening the Alpha Chi Omega budget. Martha was a businesswoman who demanded a lot from those who worked with her, but she never asked more of anyone than she asked of herself. She was a very good role model and mentored wisely.

During Martha’s two terms as National Collegiate Vice President (1976-80), much collegiate programming was developed. At that time, “middle management” existed within Alpha Chi Omega’s volunteer structure, and Martha supervised volunteer officers in recruitment, collegiate programming and the Assistant VPs who worked with her in management of chapters. Also, regional recruitment workshops were developed and implemented during her terms. She recognized that recruitment skills needed to be developed and reinforced, and that regional meetings were the best way to do it, fiscally and practically.

When it came to Martha’s National Presidency (1980-83), she was fiscally conservative but very progressive when it came to programming. The 1980 National Council inherited a deficit budget because of recent housing commitments. Martha immediately worked on the budget, holding all council members accountable to the best of their abilities. Martha declared that Alpha Chi Omega would live within her means. The National Council managed the finances very closely and looked for economically responsible extension opportunities.

Martha continued the practice of supervising extension and worked closely with the Extension Director. One of the responsibilities of National Council was to review campuses and determine where Alpha Chi Omega needed to be. Both Martha and her predecessor recognized that we were weak in established chapters in the southeast and northeast; therefore, Martha developed deliberate plans to visit some of these campuses to make our presence known. Martha traveled, visiting Vanderbilt University, Colgate University, Villanova University and other campuses, so that administrations could learn more about Alpha Chi Omega—allowing our organization to be more prepared when extension opportunities became available.

Beyond Martha’s efforts in extension, she is remembered as a guardian of the Alpha Chi Omega Constitution and a supporter of the Foundation. Martha constantly referenced the Constitution whenever new programs were being considered, and nothing got by her. While sometimes it seemed that the Constitution occasionally hamstrung actions, it saved many from making what could have been mistakes. Following her presidency, Martha spent a large portion of her time supporting the Foundation in preparation for its efforts for a major campaign to celebrate the centennial of Alpha Chi Omega.

Martha proudly served Alpha Chi Omega with strength and poise. We are thankful for her efforts and commitment, not only as a member of the National Council, but as an alumna of our organization. She will be missed.

Martha Ricks Hannegan Hanlon, born Martha Marie Carolan, passed away in Lewisville, Texas on Tuesday, February 9, 2010. She is survived by her sister, Betty J. Hayes; sons, L. David Hannegan, Tom Hannegan, and John Hannegan; and grandchildren, Michael, Kelly, Ryan, Katie, Cara, and Reilly.

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Sharing the Legacy of Alpha Chi Omega

142by Jennifer Gray Elwell
(Alpha Upsilon, University of Alabama)

When the ultrasound technician told my husband and me that we were having a little girl my mind immediately went to thinking in pink…and then red and green.  I started buying outfits with strawberries on them (our local chapter’s mascot) and started flipping through my old songbooks to remind myself of the words to some of my favorite songs.  My daughter Charlotte was introduced to the Dreamcake song as a newborn and has heard it countless times since then.  But as she has started growing up I’ve realized that I want to pass on more than just my love of Alpha Chi songs and colors. I want to pass along what Alpha Chi taught me.

I want Charlotte to know from the beginning what I learned in my four years on campus: she can be a leader and can make a difference.  As an active Alpha Chi I saw many women transform from shy freshmen trying to make new friends to bold seniors leading the University.  I had the honor of serving Alpha Chi as an officer on our local Panhellenic council.  In that capacity I was able to work with my Alpha Chi friends and my friends in other chapters to greatly impact our campus.  The trust and support that I received from my Alpha Chi sisters helped me achieve something that I could never have achieved by myself. I want Charlotte to grow up knowing women make wonderful leaders and they can impact the world greatly.

I also want Charlotte to know how important it is to have integrity and accept everyone for who they are.  I was part of a large chapter that only grew larger while I was on campus.  The size of our chapter meant that we weren’t close personal friends with every sister, and our chapter was made up from women from varying states and backgrounds.  I loved watching our sisters accept a student from Louisiana who came to Alabama for a brief period after Hurricane Katrina.  By letting her into our chapter for a short time I saw sisters showing love and friendship to someone that they had never met before.  I hope that I model this trait so that Charlotte grows up knowing that each person is worthy of our undivided attention and care.

Scholastic achievement was also a big part of our chapter and is something that I want to pass on to Charlotte.  Reading books to a four month old doesn’t really seem like it’s advancing her academic career, but I know that starting her thirst for knowledge early will only help her later in life.  I am so thankful that our chapter emphasized the need to excel academically so that we could later excel in the real world.  The constant encouragement and support from our alumnae and sisters helped me learn how to focus in the classroom which later helped me focus on the job.  Hopefully by watching me read books and continue to advance my education she will learn like I did that education can come from anywhere and is important to keeping you a healthy woman.

Despite all of those wonderful lessons that I learned from Alpha Chi, the one that I most want Charlotte to learn and embrace is finding close friends.  Alpha Chi blessed me with good friends while I was in college and has allowed me to make new friends now that I’ve graduated and moved on to a new stage in my life.  I want Charlotte to know that having strong women surround you who have your best interests at heart is important not only for your own benefit but for theirs as well.  With a strong group of women surrounding her I know that she can far exceed my highest expectations of her and she can help each of them exceed their dreams also. 

Alpha Chi will always hold a dear place in my heart, and I won’t pretend that I don’t hope to one day share our Lyre with my daughter, but mostly I want Charlotte to take the things that I learned from Alpha Chi and build on them.  I hope that she is loving and kind to others with a thirst for knowledge and a dream of making a difference.  And I hope that she is surrounded by strong women, like I am, who will help her become the woman she aspires to be.

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One Journey, Two Paths

batenchuk

by Melanie Walker Batenchuk
(Epsilon Tau, Virginia Tech and Epsilon Chi, UNC Chapel Hill)

Many young girls set off for college with the hopes of joining a sorority, making life-long friends, and passing along traditions to their daughters.  My mother was not in a sorority, but when I decided to rush, I knew that it would be one of the most memorable decisions I’d ever make.  My AXΩ journey, however, was not your typical four-year experience. 

I am probably one of the few women who had the pleasure of embarking on full Alpha Chi Omega sisterhood at two different universities.  I began my college career at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., but being a North Carolina resident, out-of-state tuition became increasingly and overly expensive.  After my sophomore year at VT, I transferred back in-state to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

I can’t explain in words how painful it was to leave everything and everyone I knew, especially the 85 AXΩ sisters with whom I had bonded so closely in those first two years of college.  I hated to sign the papers, releasing me from the chapter and from my commitment to reside in the on-campus sorority house my junior year.  It ripped me apart that I would no longer have a central role in what my pledge class had worked so hard to achieve. 

In May 2003, my journey continued at UNC Chapel Hill, where I spent the summer in classes familiarizing myself with the campus, hoping to blend in and conceal my “transfer” identity.  I was scared and uncertain, but that August, I joined up with the UNC AXΩ chapter, Epsilon Chi, and uncovered a completely different world of sisterhood. 

I remember the night of our chapter meeting.  It was a Wednesday, and we all crowded in the AXΩ house kitchen.  While I was welcomed by the president and sisters, I wasn’t a “shoe-in.”  They asked me to excuse myself while the sisters cast their vote over whether or not I could join their chapter.  I walked out to the front porch and waited nervously.  Just a few minutes later, I learned that the Epsilon Chi girls had officially welcomed me in with open arms…and they did so unanimously.

There were many struggles that came along with transferring and learning how to blend in with an entirely new crowd, but the AXΩ girls at UNC Chapel Hill did more than their part in making me feel included.  In an atmosphere where it is often challenging to be “yourself,” my sisters enjoyed my individuality and accepted me just as I was.

Epsilon Chi may have been twice the size and four-times as expensive as my prior chapter, but one thing remained the same.  The traits and characteristics of its sisters were consistent.  I quickly began to recognize that my “new” sisters weren’t so different from my “old” ones.  Alpha Chi’s were still smart, funny, personable, and unique. 

While my quest for a picture-perfect college experience was the journey I set upon when joining AXΩ in the spring of 2002, my path wasn’t exactly as I had envisioned.  But despite the differences in size, location, and individuals, I felt completely satisfied in how that journey ended.  I realized that Epsilon Tau and Epsilon Chi were not so different after all.  Each chapter welcomed me as a member of this great institution, and I cherish the memories and friendships created with my dear sisters at both Virginia Tech and UNC Chapel Hill. 

These characteristics cannot be embodied solely by girls in a sorority, but they are representative of an overarching theme that the Alpha Chi Omega founders must have instilled on that autumn day in 1885.

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Location, location, location

victoriaby Victoria Cardamon Gigoux
(Alpha Psi, UCLA)

I live in a pretty remote part of our fine country.  While I am not living on a farm, in the middle of nowhere, I sometimes feel I am.  I live in a small-ish town, in Western Colorado.  About my town, Wikipedia states, “The City of Grand Junction is the largest city in western Colorado,” which is all relative when you consider it is the only “city” for over 240 miles east to Denver, or 240 miles west to Salt Lake City, and I don’t even know what is 240 miles in either the north or south directions!  This is a LONG way from where I started as an Alpha Chi, in 1994, as an initiate of Alpha Psi Chapter at UCLA. 

I followed my husband here, from MUCH larger communities, and had always been involved with the Fraternity every where I went.  I was active as a collegian and have always made it a point to contact the local alumnae chapter as soon as I moved into a new town.  I have always tried to give back to Alpha Chi Omega.  I have held several collegiate and alumnae chapter board positions and have been a chapter advisor.  I have met my very best friends through Alpha Chi Omega.  I have always cherished the Fraternity for what it has given me–sisterhood that is almost equal to that of my own biological sisters. Imagine my surprise when I move to this one community where I had none of these opportunities of which I had grown accustomed!

Does location really matter when you are an Alpha Chi Omega?  I used to think so.  I used to think there was no way I could get, and stay, involved because of my remote location.  Thankfully, I was wrong!

About two years ago, I was randomly approached by a Delta Gamma who was in my same situation.  Here we are, in a community where there are bound to be others like us, even if they aren’t from our own sororities.  So, we put our “great minds” together, and along with an Alpha Delta Pi, we formed the Western Colorado Alumnae Panhellenic.  We chartered this group in order to give others like us an opportunity to feel the tangible connections to sisterhood they had all left behind when they moved to our community.  Our membership steadily increases and the diversity continues to amaze me.  Through this group of fantastically accomplished women I have learned that sisterhood goes beyond biology, affiliation and generation.  Through this group, I was fortunate to meet and (through VERY proud tears) present a 75-year member pin to a fellow Alpha Chi Omega.  Through this group I learned that I needed to think outside the box, disregard my location and take opportunity when it comes knocking! 

So, when word on the street was that Alpha Chi Omega was looking to expand its volunteer structure, I jumped at the opportunity within seconds.  In my head I was still certain no one was going to want to offer a nationally encompassing opportunity to someone who can’t even get out of town for less than a $400 plane ticket and only on a 50 passenger turbo-prop!  Imagine my surprise when I was offered the position of Lead Finance Specialist on the Volunteer Engagement-Collegians team.  To you it might not seem glamorous or exciting to be a glorified “bean counter,” but I can tell you, in all honesty, it is.  It is exciting to have the opportunity to work with and meet so many wonderfully diverse Alpha Chi sisters.  It is a treat and a true honor to be able to assist collegiate members and to work with so many alumnae who truly have Alpha Chi Omega in their soul.

Still, it amazes me.  Once again, my location didn’t hinder my abilities to be on the forefront of a new endeavor.  My location didn’t hinder my ability to use my skills and background to give back to the fraternity.  My location didn’t deter my desire to always be active in Alpha Chi Omega.  For all of my sorority experiences, especially those as a result of my remote location, I will always be grateful.

I am sure you have heard, it’s all about location, location, location.  But, fear not fellow sisters, location is only relative when you carry Alpha Chi Omega in your heart.

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Notes from Your National Council

We’re introducing a new regular column today, “Notes from Your National Council.”  This first installment is from our National President regarding a recent very special event she was privileged to attend.

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

During my 25 years as an Alpha Chi Omega, I have experienced countless proud moments… “Squeal Day” in August 1983, when I received my bid from Alpha Upsilon Chapter and raced down sorority row to the Alpha Chi Omega house… My initiation in February 1984, when my big sister Kim Kitchens first pinned me with my lyre badge… June 1987, when my three best Alpha Chi Omega friends stood by my side at my wedding… July 1990 at Alpha Chi Omega Convention, when I accepted the Advisory Board Award with my fellow Alpha Phi advisory board members… When I was first installed as a National Vice President in July 2000… When I stood with my adopted Sigma sisters for the dedication of their new chapter house in September 2008… When I was installed as National President of Alpha Chi Omega in July 2008… I have been blessed to have these special Alpha Chi Omega memories, and many more than I can list here.

Last week ranks right up there as one of my proudest Alpha Chi Omega moments. On Friday, May 7, 2010, Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity was honored by the Genesis Women’s Shelter of Dallas as its 2010 Jane Doe Award winner. Each year, Genesis presents the Jane Doe Award to recognize an individual or group’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of the battered women and children who must remain nameless and faceless as they escape the violence they have known. The list of previous award winners is impressive – including Mary Kay, Inc.; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former first lady Laura Bush; former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice; Academy Award winner Sarah Buel; and the Junior League of Dallas. We stand with a host of luminaries who have made it their passion to protect women from violence.

I was honored to accept the award (a beautiful Tiffany crystal statuette) on your behalf at Genesis’ 17th annual Mother’s Day lunch, before a crowd of over 2000 of Dallas’ most influential women (and men.)  The annual event is a major fundraiser for Genesis, which receives no government funding, and generated a record $1 million to support shelter, counseling and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence in the Dallas area.

This recognition from Genesis Women’s Shelter is rooted in the work of our Dallas-area alumnae and collegians, who have donated over $100,000 and countless volunteer hours to supporting Genesis, and owes no small debt to our partnership with Wells Fargo (and Bob Chereck) through their sponsorship of numerous Genesis programs. However, the award recognizes even more than that – it recognizes all of the women of Alpha Chi Omega who have accepted the challenge to fight domestic violence within our own communities across the country.

The 2010 Mother’s Day lunch program included the following tribute to Alpha Chi Omega: “In 1992, Alpha Chi Omega adopted domestic violence awareness as its national philanthropic cause. Since then, they have promoted education and prevention programs that help people understand and prevent the problem of violence against women… On behalf of Dr. Rice, we recognize her Alpha Chi Omega Sisters and their efforts…”

Oh, did I forget to mention that the luncheon was a star-studded event? This year’s honorary event chair was former First Lady Laura Bush, who unfortunately was unable to attend. However, she sent her husband in her place. Yes, former President George W. Bush made a surprise appearance, just to introduce the guest speaker, former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice.  Dr. Rice talked about atrocities committed against women around the world and her experiences fighting for women’s rights, as well as the importance of organizations such as Genesis in helping combat violence against women. “You and I can know there’s something the government can’t deliver: compassion,” she said.  “That’s where organizations like Genesis come in.”

Regardless of your politics, I hope that you can admit that having Alpha Chi Omega featured at an event attended by a former President and Secretary of State is a big deal! And the fact that Dr. Rice is one of our own Alpha Chi Omega sisters (and past Alpha Chi Omega Award of Achievement winners) made the day even more special for me.

I try to keep my politics separate from my Alpha Chi Omega work, but I will admit to being a big fan of Dr. Rice’s and the Bushes – so I was personally thrilled to sit on stage with Dr. Rice and President Bush.  I thoroughly enjoyed my 30 minutes of one-on-one conversation with Dr. Rice. “Please call me Condi,” she said – and I did. And I took advantage of our time together to share all the wonderful things that Alpha Chi Omega is doing today.

However, the biggest thrill was the great honor to Alpha Chi Omega – my heart swelled with pride (and my eyes were filled with happy tears) as our accomplishments and work in supporting victims of domestic violence were recognized in such a prestigious forum. What pride to hear Dr. Rice acknowledge us as her “Alpha Chi sisters” and speak of her pride in the work we have done (and continue to do). And even a little thrill to get a shoulder poke and “good work” from President Bush.

In 1992, a committee of Alpha Chi Omegas recommended that we select domestic violence awareness as our national philanthropy, and that recommendation was accepted by the Convention body in St. Louis. One of the members of that committee recently wrote me and talked about the committee’s concern that the cause wouldn’t be considered “glamorous” or appealing enough to really catch on – and how proud she is to see that we have really made a difference. And boy have we made a difference!
Our work with domestic violence awareness is meaningful, relevant and consistent with who Alpha Chi Omega is – real, strong women. We work to support victims and hopefully someday to end violence against women – because many of those victims are our own sisters, and because we want to inspire and empower all women to be real and strong, whether they are Alpha Chi Omega sisters or not. As Dr. Rice said, “If I could do one thing to change the world, I would empower women.” And that’s what Alpha Chi Omega does.

I have never been more proud to be an Alpha Chi Omega than I am today.

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The Consultant Chronicles: Part 3

Courtneyby Courtney Schmidt
(Alpha, DePauw University)

Embarking upon my sorority experience I judged it at the same time I pretended not to enjoy it; in fact, I was on the fence until the day of Initiation.  I’m certain chapter leaders explained the greater Alpha Chi Omega fraternal network, the importance of Ritual, and what exactly new member dues paid for, but I was too busy rolling my eyes at the icebreaker activities and picking our chapter bylaws apart to pay attention.  (Looking back, I have no doubt I was one of “those” new members.)  I didn’t “get it” until the VP Education escorted me and the rest of my new member classmates to the founding place of our Fraternity, Meharry Hall in East College.  She explained that we would be participating in our first candle pass.  Listening to my almost-sisters open up, sharing with the rest of us secrets, apprehensions, doubts, ambitions, and excitement, I saw my sassy attitude for what it was—insecurity, and I started to understand that I was about to enter into something both greater and stronger than my nineteen year old self. 

I strolled along the DePauw University sidewalks daily, watched the oft imitated but never replicated olive green maple leaves turn scarlet red every autumn, and attended class in East College, but I had no idea what Alpha Chapter signified.  Certainly, I knew which letter began the Greek alphabet and that Alpha was my chapter’s designation, but it didn’t fully compute that had our seven founders not attended DePauw, had they not been excluded from the other women’s fraternities on campus, had they not befriended one another, Alpha Chi Omega as we know it simply would not exist.  Understanding dawned at Convention 2008 when I walked into the main meeting room and saw more than 180 silk flags—each bearing a chapter name and Greek letter, date, and college or university name—hanging from the ceiling.  Alpha Chapter’s flag started that colorful procession…and it clicked: I felt so proud of our then 123 year-old sisterhood and grateful my sisters’ words had inspired me to stick with it.    

Two years later, the curtain is falling on yet another academic school year and I’m rapidly approaching the end of my run as a chapter consultant.  Intriguing, frustrating, exciting, challenging, and fun as it has been, I’m certain of only a few more things than when I started…and though I know them front-to-back now too, I’m not referring to Ritual or policy manuals. 

Experience has taught me the following:  

  • Change is tough, but without it our organization faces stagnation.  With stagnation comes complacency and ultimately, irrelevance.  In just two years I’ve seen the advent of a new brand, a new The Lyre magazine, a new financial provider, and a new Collegiate Experience Department.  I’ve met members and advisors who admire and critique each with equal intensity.  Regardless of into which camp each of us ultimately falls, it is imperative we give change—the good, productive kind, not just change for change sake—a chance, because it sure beats the alternative.  
  • Our members are our lifeblood.  For each member that has frustrated me (and there have been a couple) ten more have given me hope and have inspired me to work harder at my job.
  • Headquarters and the Collegiate Experience Department absolutely could not do it without the support of our alumnae volunteers.  Dedicated as the Headquarters’ employees are, their support comes from Indiana; thus, they must count on chapters’ ability to self-govern and trust alumnae advisors to prop-up, reward, chastise, and encourage.  
  • Local chapter “traditions” are a heck of a lot younger than collegians think they are.  Just because an activity, an event, or a symbol is called a “tradition,” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be re-examined from time to time. 
  • Membership lasts longer than does the collegiate experience.  Regardless of when—formal recruitment, Initiation, senior year, Convention, twenty-five year pinning, or how you come to appreciate membership, lifetime membership is only fulfilling for those who are willing to commit to lifetime engagement.
  • Amongst other places, I’ve visited Pennsylvania, Texas, Southern California, Washington state, Nebraska, and even Boise, Idaho; I’ve heard my fair share of y’alls at formal recruitment events and seen swimming suits peeking out of formal pin attire (it was, after all, an exceptionally nice day for laying out on the beach with sisters!)  Alpha Chi Omega reflects a great deal of regional diversity and a variety of experiences.  Of our 134 collegiate chapters, no two look the same on paper or in person.  I’ve visited red brick and white columned mansions and out-of-the-way meeting rooms in campus buildings; worked with chapters of varying size, strength, and popularity; and I’ve conversed with women who’ve experienced domestic violence, whose husbands have been deployed, who have trust funds, who aspire to medical school, and who dream of becoming opera stars…we’re individuals whose greatest strength lies in our ability to come together.  From coast to coast, north to south, I’ve spoken with brand new members, executive members, members who’ve received newly minted fifty-year pins, and they’ve all expressed to me pride in the Alpha Chi Omega way. 

Call it what you will—I’ve heard down-to-earth, genuine, low-key, natural, comfortable, home—we’re real.

2 comments

The Lyre, Spring 2010 / The Past. The Present. The Future.

Marshaby Marsha King Grady, National President
(Αlpha Upsilon, University of Alabama)

Alpha Chi Omega celebrates 125 years of sisterhood in 2010! I hope you are ready for a huge party at Convention 2010. The world is a different place than in 1885, when most Americans traveled by horse and buggy rather than by car. The Washington Monument had just been dedicated. The first appendectomy was performed and a vaccination for rabies tested. Less than 2% of women attended college, and it would be another 35 years before women won the right to vote.

That’s what makes Alpha Chi Omega’s founding in 1885 so remarkable. While our founders were “of” their times, they were also “ahead of” their times in understanding the benefits a lifetime sisterhood experience could provide for real, strong women.

To kick off this 125th anniversary, we welcome you to the new The Lyre. We hope you enjoy our newly-expanded format made possible by Life Loyal Alpha Chi Omega.

To the handful who have expressed concern about the changes to the magazine distribution taking place over the next few years, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope I can simply but adequately explain why these changes are necessary. Last year, less than 4,530 alumnae paid $7 national dues through their alumnae chapters, yet we have been mailing The Lyre to over 105,000 alumnae members four times a year for decades. The Lyre is our primary communication tool—and research shows our alumnae value it more than do our collegiate members. The reality is more alumnae need to step up and financially support the Fraternity. Collegiate dues cannot continue to rise in order to carry the load for our growing alumnae base.

For years, national councils have recognized the increasing burden on our budget the “lifetime subscription” the Fraternity used to promise was becoming. The Fraternity has made many adjustments to the format of the magazine, selected vendor partners, and our budgets, in our efforts to stay the course—and our alumnae have continued to benefit. What many alumnae may not realize (or may have forgotten) is that for most of us, the “national dues” we paid as collegians amounted to only $110 per year, with the funds being allocated for multiple agendas such as educational programming and chapter support. Given the rapidly escalating costs of publishing and mailing a full-color magazine to our ballooning alumnae base, we used those dollars within a few years of our graduation! As one of my dearest “slightly older sisters” once said, “I guess they didn’t think we would live very long!” As a 50+ year member, she graciously acknowledged it was more than fair that we change our policy.

We are committed to communicating with our members more than ever, and we affirm The Lyre as a major part of our communication strategy, along with our new web site. We are committed to publishing the best magazine we can afford. We believe members who truly appreciate The Lyre and want to receive it will find a way to do so, just as we all do for other small luxuries we enjoy. Joining Alpha Chi Omega Life Loyal is only one option.

We believe the phased implementation of our distribution change is respectful, honest and fair. Money raised through the Life Loyal program will help us endow funds for The Lyre so that we don’t leave a financial burden on future generations of Alpha Chi Omegas. As real, strong women, your Fraternity leaders have made this decision to help ensure long-term financial well-being of the organization and the future of The Lyre—a decision very much “of” our time, but also “ahead of” our time.

1 comments

The Lyre, Spring 2010 / Studying Abroad

study abroadAn International Outlook for Your Future

by Kristina Wegscheider
(Pi, University of California-Berkeley)

Studying abroad in college is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The experiences, the camaraderie and the academics are just some of the unforgettable aspects. While the notion of studying abroad is exciting, the process of choosing the right program based on cost and academics, amongst other reasons, may be intimidating. Rest assured, taking the time to thoroughly plan and prepare for a trip will be rewarding—studying abroad will change your life.

Hesitations
Many people have hesitations about traveling, usually with regards to the financial and time notions. While most college students do not have deep pockets, not all study abroad programs will leave you counting every last penny. There are programs that may cost as much as, if not less than, your university’s per term tuition. Even if you do spend more studying abroad, the unique and exciting experiences are truly priceless. After all, authentic cultural experiences cannot be bought—they are felt first-hand. To help offset costs, consider applying for scholarships or securing a student loan. By planning your journey early, the income from a part-time or summer job can help with the day-to-day expenses you will incur while abroad.

With regards to time, think of all the options you can pursue that can fit to your schedule: year-long, one semester/quarter, summer break, winter break and even spring break. Besides the traditional school year programs, some schools offer summer programs or travel study opportunities which tend to be lower cost and of a shorter duration. Travel study programs are unique in the sense that they focus on a certain academic theme and the professors travel alongside the students within the country or particular region. The shortest travel study session is usually one to two weeks and can be a great introduction to the world of both traveling and studying abroad.

When to Go?
Once you have embraced the idea of studying abroad, your trip’s timing is the next order of business. Students typically study abroad their junior year of college, but you can easily do this during your sophomore and senior years if you plan accordingly. This is why it is so important to embrace the idea of studying abroad early in your college career. By doing this, you will allow yourself to create a plan to balance your home university’s workload with the classes you will take abroad. Keep in mind that certain classes for your major may only be offered during certain terms. Taking this into consideration will help keep your graduation date on schedule.

Choosing a Program
Now that a timeframe and class schedule have been established, the fun part can start— selecting a program! Your first inquiry should be with your university’s study abroad office, as they will offer programs that are either affiliated with or are pre-screened by the school. This will make transferring units back to your home university guaranteed and hassle-free. When looking at various programs, consider the following:

  1. Cost
  2. Language requirements
  3. Available courses

With regards to cost, you may be surprised to learn that many study abroad programs are actually cheaper than the regular tuition and fees from your home university. Be sure to closely examine what is included and also factor in other costs, if applicable (like housing, transportation, meals, social activities and weekend excursions). For many countries, you will need to obtain a student visa, which will incur additional fees.

While most schools offer classes in English in non-English speaking countries, you may find that some programs require a certain level of language proficiency. Again, this is why planning ahead is so helpful. You can take a foreign language class during your first year or two and be ready to put newly-acquired foreign language skills to good use while abroad. Alpha Chi collegian Amy Qin (Pi, University of California-Berkeley) did this when she studied abroad with the Inter-University Program (IUP) at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. When Amy selected her program, she specifically wanted a full immersion program that would allow her to improve her Mandarin language skills and also experience the culture first-hand.

Before choosing classes in the preceding term(s), be sure to thoroughly look at what courses are available and if they will transfer back to your home university. If you find a program that is not affiliated with your school, make an appointment with your academic advisor and bring as much info about the program (course description, school information, etc.) so a judgment can be made as to whether or not the units will transfer in the long run.

During Your Program
Once you have selected a program, you can begin to prepare for one of the most amazing experiences of your life. This may be the first time you are away from friends and family, and you may even be in a country where you do not know anyone. It is all a part of the adventure!

Depending on your geographical location, you may suddenly find that other countries are just a stone’s throw away and are much different than most places in the United States. If you opt for Europe, you can hop on the easy-to-use EuroRail railway network to experience another country for the weekend with your new friends. If you are mostly isolated, like in Australia or Japan, try exploring the lesser-known regions of the country or budget for one journey during your study abroad program that will require a short flight. In most countries, domestic airfare can be quite inexpensive, especially in Europe.

For those in organized programs, you may find that there are activities and excursions arranged for you! Alpha Chi Gillian Clow (Pi, University of California-Berkeley) studied at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain with International Studies Abroad (ISA). She opted for a homestay with a local family during her time abroad but still was able to take advantage of the built-in events that ISA offered, like roller-blading around the city for Carnaval and heading out to the coastal town of Sitges for a long weekend.

Impact on Future
When you return from your time abroad, you will come home with lots of souvenirs, new friends and amazing memories. But you will also bring back the experience of living abroad, which can help in a variety of ways as you assimilate back into your regular schedule. In the short-term, you may find yourself looking at the world with a new perspective and may suddenly discover local restaurants and shops you never knew existed before, as they remind you of your time abroad.

In the long-term, studying abroad is an insightful experience to put on your résumé. As you approach your senior year in college and begin applying for jobs, the experience from spending time abroad can assist you with catching an employer’s attention. If you apply to a multi-national corporation, you will be all the more appealing with your knowledge of concepts outside of your hometown. Additional travel can also appear as you become a seasoned professional. After establishing yourself with a local firm, there are occasionally opportunities to do an “ex-pat” assignment where you work from your company’s office in another country for a set duration.  Some students fall in love with the concept of living abroad and decide to continue the adventure post-graduation by pursuing graduate school or working abroad. By continuing your studies abroad, you can begin to build a foundation for years ahead. Take Alpha Chi Omega alumna Anna Heimbichner (Pi, University of California-Berkeley), who spent a year abroad studying history at Oxford University in England, as an example. Anna fell in love with the city and upon graduation, completed a Master’s degree in International Relations from Oxford. She then continued her studies to obtain a law degree. Her law firm employment begins next year, but in the interim, Anna has been doing nonprofit legal work in Johannesburg, South Africa, escaping to neighboring African nations for short jaunts to take advantage of the proximity. Anna noted that “one experience has led to another” starting with her time at Oxford and continuing on with the adventures that are in her future.

Others opt to find employment abroad immediately following school which is a great chance to see the world while earning income. Whether it is teaching English in Japan or joining the Peace Corps and venturing to a remote nation, the chance to immerse yourself in another culture can be invaluable and having funding to subsidize the cost can make it a more feasible opportunity for many. This experience can help open new doors for networking and can add incredible experience to your employment history.

Another benefit of being abroad is the opportunity to either pick-up a new language or to perfect your skills. By challenging yourself to some introductory courses at your home campus, you can use your newfound knowledge in a practical setting and, hopefully, become fluent. This fluency translates to an invaluable asset to your professional career and future traveling. Employers value, and often pay extra, for employees who possess foreign language skills relevant to their occupation as it eliminates the need for the employer to use outside consultants or vendors. Even if foreign language skills are not a part of the job requirements, it is still important to highlight as it can help differentiate you from other candidates.

Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity that will help you now and in your long-term future. Exposure to other cultures, languages and places early in life creates a lifetime of interest and intrigue in travel. So, get started planning your trip abroad today!

Research Tips
Your decision to study abroad can be a bit confusing and overwhelming, so do not make it lightly. Research and planning are keys to your success. The following are just a few places to start your search:

  • Consult the study abroad office, career center or your academic advisor at your school for initial leads on program recommendations.
  • What did your Alpha Chi sisters like or dislike about studying abroad? Ask your sisters about their experiences abroad and factor in that information.
  • Search the web for programs, and always be sure to thoroughly research a program before applying or sending a deposit. Programs should be affiliated with an accredited university. Ask to speak with previous program participants for first-hand information.