Alpha Chi Omega - Starting Conversations

The official blog of Alpha Chi Omega
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Sisterhood & Great Stories

malenaby Malena Lott
(Psi, University of Oklahoma)

Those were the days.

Lasso an Angel. Red Carnation Ball. Rowdy rushes and sacred candle-lit ceremonies. Yes, there were boys, too, but when I think back about my life as an Alpha Chi in the Psi Chapter at the University of Oklahoma, what I remember most are my sisters and the feelings of being part of a sisterhood.

Bed head, bad day, big tests – your sisters were there for all of it. With a quick talk in the upstairs lounge or raiding the kitchen late at night – voila – better already.  Sorority life isn’t a utopia, isn’t a bubble; it’s a group of women with high ideals trying to make the most of the college experience and help others in the process.

I got married right out of college, going from living with a hundred girls to one man. Talk about a switch. Yet I was ready for the “grown-up world” and boy, did I get it. Fifteen years after graduating, I’ve got oodles: three kids, big mortgage, laundry (the bane of my existence) and a thousand other to-dos. (Remind me again what I was in such a hurry for?)

Which is why in the summer of 2009, I decided it was time I made my friends a priority again. Enough with the e-mails and texts and hurried phone calls on the way to this or that activity.

I needed a regular Girls Night Out that girlfriends wouldn’t feel guilty about. (And, yes, hubbies can make us feel guilty, too. Not you, Mr. Lott.) I decided to blend two of my favorite things – great reads and girlfriends.

Now, unfortunately, reading for pleasure is one of those things that can go by the wayside for moms, too, which is why my goal with Book End Babes is to bring reluctant readers back into the fold. Reading reduces stress in less than ten minutes! How fabulous is that?! And we know that girlfriends who make us laugh and give us love do the same.

Book End Babes is a sorority of lit sisters with chapters all over the country. Our hosts are called queenBs (queen Babes) – you know those types who LOVED being social chair and rush chair – and invite their girlfriends to come to their book parties to talk about books they’ve read in the last month, or at least every other month.

Book End Babes support the book industry (like book ends) and celebrate the gift of art and stories – taking the solitary act of reading to the social aspect of sharing. On our web site we share great drink and food recipes and host contests with fun prizes. Our HoLITday season includes fondue parties in December and donating children’s books to local organizations. Once you get the charity bug in your sorority, it really does stick with you the whole lifetime through.

I hope more Alpha Chis around the country will join me in Book End Babes. Just one question, ladies – do you like your martinis shaken or stirred?

Malena Lott is a married mother of three living in Oklahoma. She is a brand strategist and is the author of The Stork Reality and Dating da Vinci. Her web sites are www.BookEndBabes.com and www.malenalott.com.

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The Motherload

lexiby Lexi Swinimer
(Iota Psi, Elon University)

Remember when your Mom used to tell you to “keep your hair out of your eyes, always wear clean underwear, and be careful, or you’re face will freeze like that”? And then of course there was the famous, “You’ll miss me someday.”

Well the truth is, that “someday” usually hits you square in the face in late August of your 18th year, when you aren’t willing to admit everything you don’t know but are still really afraid of doing it all on your own… and figuring out how to wash delicates to boot! So when your daughter comes home, knowing how to keep cookies from burning, which cycle to wash her jeans on versus her towels, and is chastising her little brother to keep the toothpaste goop off the bathroom counter “because it requires a blade to scrape it off,” and you are left wondering what alien has invaded her body think back to that quick text about a “House Mom” that left you thinking, “Do those still exist?”

In an age where we are quick to pass on the duties of adults to our children, the Fraternal world has held onto the belief that those who ‘have been there, done that’ still have something to offer; enter your daughter’s “House Mom” or if we are being politically correct, House Director. But to be honest, I prefer House Mom and it’s how I refer to myself, because the job requires a lot of mentoring that is very reflective of a Mother. (Okay, in my case it’s more like the big sister, but hey – it works.) 

As a House Mom, I have famous sayings too, “Have fun, keep it classy,” “Remember, you’re always wearing your letters” and of course “Would you treat your mother’s furniture like that?” Because when your daughter becomes a member, and even more so if she is offered the opportunity to live in an Alpha Chi Omega facility, it’s her House Mom (and Chapter Advisor, too) who step in and help tap her on the shoulder when she’s about to make a mistake she’s going to regret, but let her make those mistakes she needs to learn from.

Finishing school isn’t very popular anymore, but manners and class still are. Fraternal life offers young women the opportunity to learn these values, which all Alpha Chi Omegas share, in a caring, supportive, and fun environment. I’ve taught women how to clean a banister, why you should chew with your mouth closed, that napkins belong in your lap, and what it means to be a good hostess. I’ve also taught them how to paint a room, why metal doesn’t go in the microwave, the meaning of ‘rinse your dishes’ and how to install a doorknob. (We’re not helpless creatures!) But most importantly, I’m present. Which means I hear lots of stories (you’d be surprised how many are about home and their parents), give advice, help mend rips, and raise an eyebrow (it’s called the “Lexi look”) when I notice they’re wearing the same outfit from the night before. And I feel blessed to also call Alpha Chi Omega home. It is an honor and privilege to be a part of your daughters lives.

P.S.- Mom’s also say, “I’ll always love you, no matter what.” Same rings true here.

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The Lyre, Fall 2009 / Be Her Badge What It May

be her badgeKristen L. Soltis
(Gamma Iota, University of Florida)

It was the last week of August, and at that very moment, young women in sundresses were streaming out of classrooms, holding in their hands the list of houses to which they had been invited for Round 2 of recruitment. Six years ago, I was one of those girls. Nervous, overly analytical, emotional, panicked— recruitment week as a potential new member was certainly no tranquil picnic, but that turmoil and anxiety then was nothing compared to what I was feeling now as an alumna. For at that moment, one of those girls with her Round 2 invitation was my youngest sister.

From my very first semester as an Alpha Chi Omega, I had looked forward to the day when my younger sisters would come to college and share in my bond of sorority sisterhood. My sister Heather arrived on campus shortly after my graduation, but made the decision that Greek life was not for her—despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise. And then there was Jen, my youngest sister. To my excitement and with much support, Jen signed up for recruitment.

When Jen insisted she wanted to have an open mind, when it came to the sororities on campus, I had to first and foremost serve as her big sister instead of her “Alpha Chi recruiter.” This was definitely not an easy task, but leading up to recruitment I dutifully sought out letters of recommendation from friends affiliated with other organizations. I even put together a few dresses, just in case she needed something to wear for Preferentials (the final day of recruitment). And all the while, I pulled box after box of clothes out of my closet—boxes of my Alpha Chi Omega embroidered polos, tank tops and jackets. Maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to send them all to Jen and let someone else get some more use out of them. Although I wanted her to be happy, deep down I wanted nothing more than to share my letters with my sister.

That recruitment weekend lasted for what seemed like weeks. In the eyes of my friends, I’m sure it was official: I had completely lost my mind! I checked my phone every ten seconds, waiting for a text message with news. To anyone who had never been through Panhellenic recruitment, my anxiety must have seemed frivolous and completely crazy! Jen would update me during her breaks about which houses she’d been to and what her experiences were like. But in truth, what I was most hoping to hear was how her experience had been at Alpha Chi Omega. Had they treated her well? Did she “click” with the members she spoke with? Did she get the special legacy treatment?

Throughout the process, I did my best to put my Alpha Chi Omega cheerleading on the back burner. On the outside, I consoled Jen over houses that did not extend an invitation to the next round, and I celebrated when her favorite houses invited her back. But on the inside, I needed to know— Had Alpha Chi treated her well? Were they doing everything they could to make her feel at home? I turned to my Alpha Chi Omega big sis, Mary Harding, for support. She was always quick to remind me that everything happens for a reason and that if she was meant to be an Alpha Chi, it would happen. The support was wonderful and very helpful, but I couldn’t help but think, “Why would Jen go somewhere else? Just look at how great Alpha Chi Omega has been to me!”

When all was said and done, it just wasn’t meant to be. Jen joyfully accepted a bid with one of the other groups and has absolutely loved every moment since. She was thrilled, and while a part of me was crushed, I really was thrilled for her too—she was happy and that was what I really wanted after all, right?

As the year went on, I continued to support her decision. I bought her the usual Greek logo trinkets— notepads, key chains, stickers— but I can’t say it didn’t feel a little weird to check out at the register with not a lyre in sight. I got to hear all sorts of fun stories about Jen’s new sorority big sis, game day barbecues with fraternities and stories of how she met all of her new sisters. That’s when it finally hit me— Jen really did have all the things I’d loved about my time at Alpha Chi Omega. She found a home that loved her and was giving her memories that she’ll look back on one day fondly, just like I look back fondly at my time as a collegian.

I was doing laundry the other day, and one of my old Alpha Chi Omega embroidered shirts somehow made its way into my load of darks. Folding it back up and putting it back in its box in the closet was bittersweet. The shirt was well worn; its many washings had faded it and stretched the fabric a bit. As much as I wanted to share Alpha Chi with my youngest sister, chapters change and people change. 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. And I’m happy to say she was able to find just that, “be her badge what it may…”

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The Lyre, Fall 2009 / Would You Invest in the Alpha Chi Experience?

Anneby Anne E. Helliwell, Chair, Foundation Board of Trustees
(Gamma Iota, University of Florida)

We all would like to be able to give monetary support to those organizations we believe in and that are making a difference. However, most of us have a limited number of dollars with which we can give; and therefore, need to be careful with our contributions. We want to be as generous as we can; we want our gifts to be used wisely and to have the most impact on those we are trying to help. Perhaps we should look at our charitable gifts as if we were buying stock in a company and ask ourselves, “Is the organization something I would invest in?”
 
Would you invest in an organization that is stable and has a proven track record?
Philanthropy and helping others has always been a part of the ritual and values of Alpha Chi Omega. Our organization was established in 1885 and over the past 125 years has enabled women to achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams.  Would you invest in an organization that is meeting its purpose? When you make a donation to the Foundation, you are investing in Alpha Chi Omega and the transformative experience that is available to every woman. You are helping provide programming and other services that meet our members’ needs. The Foundation gives you the vehicle to invest in the future of Alpha Chi Omega through effective fundraising and stewardship of financial resources. In addition, the Foundation provides much needed financial assistance in the form of scholarships and grants.

Would you invest in an organization that is governed by people you respect?
The leaders of Alpha Chi Omega are your sisters. These are women who not only understand and are committed to their fiduciary responsibilities, but who also want Alpha Chi Omega to continue having a positive impact by using each dollar received wisely and effectively. Each woman is a Foundation donor; they are real women working to making a real difference.

Would you invest in an organization that has a vision for the future?
Alpha Chi Omega honors our heritage, celebrates our past and looks toward our future. We have achieved great heights, but are always seeking new ones. Donations to the Foundation enable the Fraternity to stay relevant with programs and services which enhance the Alpha Chi Omega experience. The Foundation is an integral part of the Fraternity’s strategic plan.

Would you invest in an organization that others believe in?
Women like you believe in the Alpha Chi Omega experience and show it by supporting the Foundation. These are women who have a commitment to philanthropy. Women who believe that, regardless of the amount, their dollars can and do make a difference in the lives and futures of others.  These are Real.Strong.Women.

Would you invest in the Alpha Chi Omega Experience?
I hope the answer is yes!

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The Lyre, Fall 2009 / Mission: Africa

real strong womenWhen Mollie Elkman, a 2001 initiate of the Beta Eta chapter at Florida State University, was given the opportunity to volunteer in Ghana—a small and economically struggling country in West Africa—she did not hesitate. She received a cocktail of vaccines to help fight against such illnesses as typhoid, yellow fever and malaria, and jumped on a 20 hour flight across seas. Her mission to Africa had begun.

Mollie had joined the volunteer program thinking that she would be on her own; instead, she realized that she had an entire sisterhood behind her. When she had to raise $2,500 for the trip, her closest chapter sisters helped with fundraising efforts and showed a never ending outpour of support. And to Mollie’s surprise when she arrived in Ghana, she met Kelly Davidson, a 2006 initiate of the Alpha Mu chapter at Indiana University and a fellow volunteer who would be serving two months in Ghana. The two women had an immediate bond, an immediate comfort and an immediate common thread.

The women were stationed in the small village of Senchi Ferry, where dirt, heat, dirt, large foreign insects, and more dirt were all that surrounded them. They quickly befriended other volunteers that were on site: those there to administer vaccines to the local men, women and children; those there to help in the local clinic; those who were helping to build a library; and others, like them, who were there to help teach in the schools. Even though their accommodations and work ahead were slim compared to the standards of living in the United States, Mollie and Kelly realized that they were still given special treatment. Those who were local to the village did not have running water or electricity, and most had to walk for miles to the Volta river—a large river that runs through the middle of the village—just to fill a bucket of water for lavatory, bathing and drinking purposes. Most families had a one room clay hut with a room divider to separate the sleeping area, and many of the children slept on mats on the floor. They soon realized though, that the people of the village were not upset with their living conditions. Instead, they were happy, fulfilled and content—truly valuing what possessions they did have. The village could not imagine life any other way.

Mollie and Kelly were immediately put to work as kindergarten teaching assistants at the government run B Akoto Primary School and the village Catholic school. They were shocked at the educational standards of the area. As one teacher was going over the numbers from one to ten, she forgot the number three; teachers are raised and taught in the same school system. As Mollie was working on a reading assignment, she realized that the children were merely reciting rather than reading; schools had not received new books in years. At recess, one child brought to Mollie a razor blade; it was his pencil sharpener. Every day items to the two women, such as vacuum cleaners and snow, were nowhere in the children’s vocabularies.

When a local teacher contracted malaria, Mollie was promoted to the primary third grade teacher. Her students ranged in ages 10 to 24 years, and although they had been in the structured learning a few years longer than her previous class of young children, the curriculum was still a struggle. Teaching about items and concepts that no one in the village had ever seen or touched, such as computers, proved to be very challenging.

Over the weeks that Mollie and Kelly shared their time and commitments with the village, the mutual admiration between the women and the community grew and grew. They brought chocolate to the small children and befriended the local teachers. They tried the local food, kinke and fufu—a boiled ball of corn-meal placed in a thick sauce and then swallowed, not chewed—and kayaked along the Volta. They attended the village’s church, visited with their students’ families, and learned a bit of the village language, Twi. Mollie and Kelly were even invited back to the country to meet with the President of Ghana, where they have been asked to discuss the low educational standards that they had witnessed. When it was finally time for them to leave, they packed their things and said their goodbyes; already planning their returns. The two Alpha Chi Omegas had just gone through the most humbling, amazing and lasting experience of their lives.

Whether you have been out of school for years, like Mollie, or you have just graduated, like Kelly, it is never too late to make a difference by volunteering. Mollie reminds us that “a huge part of being in a sorority is philanthropy; it just becomes a part of your life.” And for those still wondering if it is worth your time, Kelly’s advice: “Just do it! I recommend it to anyone; you feel like your life has a purpose.”

For more information on the Global Volunteers program and to read more on Mollie and Kelly’s group accomplishments, visit www.globalvolunteers.org.

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Combating Media Stereotypes

Janine

by Janine Grover
(Gamma Mu, Ball State University)

I was eleven years old when Animal House hit the theatres in 1978. I was seventeen when Revenge of the Nerds made the big screen in 1984. Later, there were movies like Legally Blonde, Old School and House Bunny. And, when Sorority Row recently opened in theatres across the country, I was…well, you do the math!

Throughout the years, fraternities and sororities have been featured by mainstream media, often in a not-so-flattering light.  Is it damaging to the image of the Greek community? I’m not sure. Is it just entertainment? Maybe.

As Julie Cain Burkhard, Alpha Chi Omega Past National President and current NPC Chair, stated in a recent interview with Newsweek, “I don’t know that anybody would run and pay $8 to see a movie about a sorority experience that talks about the leadership aspect, the academic aspect, the community service aspect, the friendship aspect, the health aspect.”

I know I wouldn’t have when I was seventeen.

But, I don’t remember ever thinking that the movies or television shows I watched were based on reality. And, I would like to think that young people today, and their parents, realize that the media must exaggerate circumstances, adding a lot of drama, comedy or terror, in order to generate the revenue they seek.

I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy. But, when I recently delivered a baby via c-section, I didn’t think for one second that my anesthesiologist and doctor were thinking about the lovers’ spat they just had in the hallway five minutes before. They weren’t. They didn’t.

I’ve watched Glee, but I don’t think that all cheerleaders want to see the choir fail.

Remember Spin City starring Michael J. Fox?  Does anyone think it displayed an accurate portrayal of the office of the Mayor of New York? Somehow, I doubt it. The list could go on and on.

Stereotypes exist all around us, and as long as there is media those stereotypes equal entertainment. So, what can we do as an industry to get the media to stop portraying Greeks as binge-drinking, sex-crazed party animals? Probably not much.

So instead, I think we should focus our energies on living the truth. Being real. When we talk to one person or a hundred about how Alpha Chi Omega has shaped our lives, our beliefs, or maybe just our reaction to one situation, we are changing the conversation. If we act with purpose and courage, and are not afraid of being transparent, then what we show the world is that Alpha Chi Omega is a collective group of confident women who face real issues. A group of women who will not only lend a hand, but sometimes need a hand.

The National Panhellenic Conference has made great strides to promote the positive aspects of sorority life. As Alpha Chi Omegas, we owe it to the other 25 member groups of NPC, to do our part in promoting that experience within our organization. We all know that Alpha Chi Omega is made up of real, strong women. We need to share it with the world. And, as one voice that is consistent with our values, we can and will change the conversation.

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The Consultant Chronicles: Part 1

Brittany

 by Brittany Werts
(Iota Psi, Elon University)

Prepare for Takeoff

You may not know what it takes to be a chapter consultant, but let me tell you, the women who are serving our collegiate chapters this year have what it takes to survive a year on the road.  And after two months on the road myself, I am slowly discovering that yes, I too can make it on the road for a year; living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time, balancing a tight budget, jumping time zones, mastering the art of creative packing and learning to sleep sitting upright on an airplane.

I guess I should really start by telling you a bit about myself… I am a chapter consultant working in Region 4 (West) this year.  I have experience in public relations, marketing and customer service,  and I am a professional shopaholic.  My dream job is to be a sommelier, so some day I’d like to go to the Culinary Institute of America for formal culinary training. 

Until then, however,  I’m known as “that Nationals lady” (by the way, it’s “headquarters”), and I get to work with Alpha Chis all over the U.S.  I wanted this job for many reasons.  I love to travel and this job involves A LOT of traveling.  I’m racking up the frequent flier miles as we speak!  I wanted to give back to the organization that has given so much to me.  My four-year experience was so rewarding and I want to ensure that positive experience for other women, too.  Most importantly though, I wanted our members to understand what the value-added benefits are of being a lifelong Alpha Chi Omega.  Sometimes that is forgotten in the day to day activities and responsibilities (otherwise known as the chaos) of college.

And so my journey on the road has begun.  I’m two months in and loving every moment of it.  My home base of Los Angeles seems so far away at times, but it will actually be really convenient since I will be part of the re-colonization efforts at UCLA this fall.  I no longer wake up in the middle of the night wondering where I am because I undoubtedly assume that I must be in a sorority house somewhere.  I’ve gotten used to the 11pm phone calls from chapters who have questions about preference lists and look forward to hearing recruitment songs and chants being sung over and over (and over) again.  I consistently hum Alpha Chi songs in my head and look forward to wearing my badge every day.  More than anything though, I’m learning a lot about myself and how I can balance my Alpha Chi-ness with my career and my life in general.

Now if you will, fasten your seat belts, be sure your tray table is locked in place and check back on the Alpha Chi Omega blog for occasional updates, pictures and lessons learned from the road: a year in the life of a chapter consultant!

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The Gift of Women Friendship

Melissa d'Arabian - TDD 1

by Melissa Donovan d’Arabian
(Alpha Iota, University of Vermont)

I always had a best friend growing up – my implied buddy on school field trips, my confidant over hours of after-dinner phone calls, the perfect partner in my innocent crank-calling boys crimes. But my sorority sisters were my first real adult girlfriends. They got me through my mom dying suddenly, and taught me that women have relationships like no other. We are teammates on this journey of life, not competitors. We cheer when our sisters succeed, seeing their victories as evidence of an abundant world where there is enough success to go around. A sister’s success means I can succeed too. We cry not just in our eyes, but in our hearts when our sisters face disappointment. Alpha Chi was a safe place for this kind of support. And without a mom anymore, I needed that unconditional shoulder both to cry on, and to give me a boost to get a good view of the parade.

Being on and winning The Next Food Network Star and now hosting Ten Dollar Dinners is an extension of my love of connecting with others. I wish I could sit down and have coffee with people all across America, swap war stories, and learn from each others’ experiences. Ten Dollar Dinners gives me the chance to do just that on a large scale. Always in the back of my mind, I am imagining sharing ideas with my girlfriends. What tips would I give my best friends when they go grocery shopping? What amazing deals have I found that I’ve rushed home to jot off in an e-mail to send to fellow moms or ex-colleagues? That’s my sincere wish: connecting with America in the same way my Alpha Chi sisters connected with me twenty years ago. What a gift the bonds of Alpha Chi has given me. Far beyond the boyfriends, dinners out, and formals, Alpha Chi gave me the gift of women friendship. I would have been a lesser colleague, mother, wife and person without it.

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What Does “Real” Mean To You?

cheri

by Cherí O’Neill, Executive Director
(Gamma Mu, Ball State University)

Last year, we introduced a new brand. You’ve seen the words: Real. Strong. Women. You’ve probably seen the video, too—the one that asks: “What is real? What is strong?” The one that says: “We’re changing the conversation.”

Well, we’re serious about those questions. And we’re serious about changing the conversation. I, for one, would simply like to see our organization have more conversations—rather than merely sending messages at people.

So as we launch a new blog designed to trigger conversation, I’d like to ask you the first question on that video. What is real?

To get you started, I’ll give you my take. To me, “real” means genuine. Not phony. Not feigned. Not façade. But rather, “what you see is what you get.”

Part of my reality is spontaneity.

Two years ago, I was working on a graduate degree in social work. I wanted to be a therapist, helping women realize their full potential.

One day, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity to supplement my classroom learning. I went to the Alpha Chi Omega website. The executive directorship was posted. And I figured as a therapist, I could help one woman at a time. Or as CEO, I could help lots of women at a time. I applied, and got the job.

So here I am, asking “What does ‘real’ mean to you?” And how do we, as an organization, recruit “real” women, and help develop “real” women?

There, the conversation’s started. Now it’s your turn. Tell me: What is real?