By Grace Gardner (Theta Upsilon, University of South Carolina), assistant director of education and leadership initiatives
When asked why they joined Alpha Chi Omega, many women share that they were drawn to our national philanthropy, domestic violence awareness. As issues that primarily affect women, domestic violence awareness and, by extension, sexual assault awareness and prevention resonate with college-aged women seeking sorority membership. We hope as their bond with Alpha Chi Omega deepens, so does their commitment to this cause. The impact our members have through their philanthropic endeavors reverberates on campuses and in communities for years to come as they support local care providers and break down barriers to safety for survivors.
As a staff member and alumna supporting Alpha Chi Omega’s national efforts related to domestic violence awareness, I feel most inspired when I get to hear directly from our members about the direct impact they’re making at a local level. In anticipation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2022, I sat down to chat with a few collegiate officers as they prepared for a month of philanthropy events, fundraising and awareness campaigns. Here’s what I learned:
Rising to the Occasion – Kappa Sigma (The University of Southern Mississippi)
Lizzie Atwood fell in love with Alpha Chi Omega on philanthropy day of recruitment. In her first year as a member, she served as service chair on the philanthropy committee before being elected to vice president philanthropy the following year. After leaving an unhealthy relationship, she says her eyes were opened to the freedom she had and what she wanted to give to others. Lizzie transformed an existing gala-style event into a completely virtual fundraising event, adding in social media challenges and partnerships with local businesses to raise over $12,300 for Domestic Abuse Family Shelter, Inc.
Lizzie has high hopes for the future of philanthropy in her chapter. “I feel like I kind of broke the glass ceiling for philanthropy,” she says, pointing to increased interest in leadership and involvement with philanthropic causes. Even after she completed her term as an officer, she has remained on the philanthropy committee as Kappa Sigma’s shelter liaison and is looking forward to seeing what the next generation of chapter leaders will accomplish.
Including Everyone – Nu (University of Colorado Boulder)
Inclusivity in philanthropy was a priority for Katie Vizyak during her term as vice president philanthropy. As she prepared for Nu’s first Donut Let Love Hurt event in April 2021, the local Boulder community was shaken by a mass shooting at a grocery store. Katie chose to expand the reach of Nu chapter’s event to add an opportunity to buy a ticket for donuts to be donated to first responders in Boulder, with the proceeds benefitting SafeHouse Denver, the local domestic violence care provider. The event ultimately raised almost $13,000 through donations and donut sales.
When asked how she sees the role of philanthropy changing in her chapter, Katie shared, “Throughout my time in Alpha Chi Omega, the passion for our philanthropy has remained consistent, despite the always changing makeup of our members. I think we have done a better job of broadening our conversations and education to include people of all identities.…People of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community experience domestic violence at disproportionately high rates. If we don’t include all identities in our conversations and efforts to help others, we are only contributing to the isolation that survivors experience.”
Honoring Tradition (with a Twist) – Iota Psi (Elon University)
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven challenging for all chapters, especially when it comes to pivoting long-standing traditions to virtual or socially distanced events. When university restrictions prevented Iota Psi from utilizing a third-party vendor to host its traditional event, Cakes & Pies with Alpha Chis, Julia Edwards and her philanthropy committee switched to Stack ‘Em High with Alpha Chi, an outdoor, grab-and-go pancake bar that honored previous philanthropy events and used campus catering services to meet safety guidelines. Because Iota Psi was able to open up donations to friends and family across the country, Stack ‘Em High more than doubled previous fundraising amounts, for a total of nearly $10,500 raised for Family Abuse Services of Alamance County, Inc.
Julia’s takeaway? “There are always ways to respectfully honor tradition while continuing to maintain growth and success, and when you tap into your creativity and are innovative, you will find those ways!…When you can find new ways to engage the members that are already interested and passionate about our philanthropy, all while capturing the interest and attention of those members who may not be as active or interested in the philanthropy as well, you will start creating new philanthropy-centric member classes who will continue to carry, grow and spread that passion for years to come.”
Getting Creative – Theta Psi (Columbia University)
Gizelle Winter knew she wanted a leadership position that could help with her career aspirations of working in museums with art-focused nonprofit work when she ran for vice president philanthropy of her chapter. Theta Psi hosts Runway Warriors, a philanthropic fashion show, each spring, which initially drew her to the position. As she prepares for this year’s event to return to an in-person format, she has a daunting task: balancing the schedules of busy chapter members to host an event that will serve as the template for events for years to come, all following in the footsteps of last year’s highly successful virtual event that raised over $10,200 for Womankind.
Gizelle is taking a creative approach. The theme for this year’s show is “Butterfly Effect,” a reference to the concept in chaos theory that a butterfly’s movements on one side of the globe can produce an unforeseeable chain reaction. She connects this concept to philanthropy itself: the funds raised have invaluable positive effects on survivors that may never be visible to those who raised the funds. As Gizelle shared, “The best way to secure involvement in philanthropy is to make philanthropy fun. Every single Alpha Chi cares deeply about [domestic violence awareness], but every Alpha Chi is likewise independent and busy. Philanthropic events can’t only be charitable — they also have to act as a conduit for bonding, if charity is to remain a core tenet of any sisterhood.”