Get Out and Give Back: Go Big or Go Home!

by WL Author

When a business fraternity from an Ohio university wanted to give back, they went big.
By Jane Hess Collins

Taylor Conley, McKenya Klemz, Sarah Hess and James Adams, Alpha Kappa Psi students from the University of Toledo, flank Tom Raffa (center), CEO of RAFFA and founder of Companies for Causes.

Most college students go home during their short fall break, but not the Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi) business fraternity members from the University of Toledo. Thirty-nine of them, nearly two thirds of the entire fraternity, had signed up for a “weekend of service” in the Washington, DC area. The logistics of travel, hotels, meals, service sites and the dozens of other details were overwhelming. Could they find an affordable hotel for 39? Were there enough seats on Amtrak? What nonprofits need nearly 40 students over a weekend?

On October 14 they headed toward Toledo’s Central Union Plaza and piled into an Amtrak train with their backpacks and pillows for a 13-hour ride to DC.

The adventure had begun.

Meanwhile, the area’s fantastic nonprofits stepped up to help out. Computer CORE, Empowered Women International (EWI) and Jubilee Jobs all set up weekend programs for their clients, while the AKPsi members developed lesson plans to help with interview skills, professional dress and LinkedIn navigation. Others canvassed local businesses to find employment possibilities. Carpenter’s Shelter happily took seven volunteers to help with outside yard maintenance. The Law Enforcement Ride & Run to Remember, a fundraiser to support the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, scooped up 25 volunteers a few days before they arrived, just as a previously scheduled nonprofit cancelled.

Companies for Causes, the nonprofit that encourages partnerships between socially-minded CEOs and nonprofits, hosted the students to bring the corporate philanthropy perspective to their service weekend. Founder Tom Raffa emphasized his vision of corporate social philanthropy as the DNA of a business, the power of collective impact and the value of shortened feedback loops between effect and result.

Neil Shah, executive director of Compass Partners, spoke of his nonprofit’s work to encourage social entrepreneurship on college campuses. Christopher Brown , regional executive director of Build DC and Michael Caggiano, a RAFFA executive and AKPsi alumni also spoke to the students about integrating philanthropy into corporate careers. Each of the students created memory books for the ninth grade students at Eastern High School, Companies for Causes’ public high school partner, writing “if I knew then what I know now” essays, advice and encouragement.

Smile! The Univerity of Toledo's Alpha Kappa Psi students strike a pose during their last day of their weekend of service in the Washington, DC area.

There were perks, too. Several organizations plied them with pizza while they worked. Those sent to the Ride & Run came back with event T-shirts. Everyone had enough time to sight-see and some tried the nighttime bike tour of the National Mall.

And what did the AKPsi members think, as they readied for another 13-hour Amtrak ride back to Toledo?
It was eye-opening. While some of them had been here before, this time around it was much different than their eighth grade class trip.

“I couldn’t believe someone as young as me could teach something to someone older,” one of the students assigned to help EWI clients exclaimed. James Adams was deeply moved by his visit to the Holocaust Museum. He had visited it years ago, but this time the visit stayed with him.

Many hope to return next year.

What inspired Sarah Hess, an international business major and the service chair for AKPsi, to initiate this? Surely there was plenty of need in Toledo, and helping out closer to home carried significantly less stress. “I wanted to be the change that I wanted to see,” she said, referencing Gandhi. “I wanted to see more community service. I knew AKPsi had the resources to do something big.”

The weekend of service was a huge success, with endless possibilities and seeds planted in all directions. Maybe they will come back next year. Maybe other AKPsi chapters will follow suit and “adopt” another community for a weekend of service. Maybe other college fraternities and service organizations will follow AKPsi’s lead and start projects of their own.

Count on the University of Toledo AKPsi to be the change.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

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