If there’s one thing MIT students aren’t known for having, it’s spare time. But if a challenge is laid down for the MIT community, odds are you’ll find students making time to rise up to that challenge.
That’s what Amanda David, a sophomore at MIT majoring in management, had in mind when she collaborated with Sally Susnowitz, Assistant Dean and Director at MIT’s Public Service Center, and Kristi Kebinger, the PSC’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator. Together, they founded the FSILG&D challenge, a call for dormitories, independent living groups, and Greek societies at MIT to serve the community at large.
“Kristi, Sally and I decided that we wanted to associate service with arguably the most memorable factor of MIT: living groups and affiliations,” said Amanda.
Amanda has long been engaged in philanthropy, having served as the student council president at her high school. In her position, she coordinated a canned food drive that raised $15,000 and collected more than 12,000 pounds of food.
On coming to MIT, she participated in CityDays, an annual orientation event that encourages the student body to give back. It was then that she found that community service doesn’t need to just be about one person serving the community – entire communities can pitch in, too. “I grasped the power that community service contains to bring a community together in an enjoyable and meaningful way,” said Amanda.
Over the span of five weeks, that message resonated with the 14 living groups that ultimately participated in the challenge. Among the competing groups, many different causes came to light, ranging from fighting cancer, to community development, to promoting child advocacy, and even relief efforts for the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.
Theta Delta Chi
Prior to the challenge, acting philanthropy chair Eric Hernandez of Theta Delta Chi said that community service participation had been, in his words, “Less than desirable.”
But over the five weeks of the challenge, Eric had a harder time narrowing down volunteers than trying to recruit them. When TDC visited Camp Sunshine, where families of children with life-threatening diseases find mutual support and hope, they were unable to take 7 other brothers who were interested, due to a lack of space or preexisting commitments.
Eric believes that trying out more engaging initiatives brought the best out of their fraternity. “I wanted to change our cause to one that is closer to the hearts of the brothers, which would help increase participation,” said Eric, who acted as TDC’s team leader for the challenge.
In addition to supporting Camp Sunshine, TDC also raised an impressive $6646 for Relay for Life, including $950 that came from a benefit dance party. Their fundraising efforts were largely a show of support for their former resident advisor, who has been battling brain cancer, as well as other cancer patients related to the brothers.
Kappa Alpha Theta
According to Daniela Yuschenkoff, the service chair at Kappa Alpha Theta, philanthropy is as good for the community as it is for Theta sisters themselves.
“For Thetas, service is not only a fantastic way to hang out with your sisters – it is also a great way to learn more about our community and help those in need,” she said, “Taking a few hours off from work each month allows MIT students to step away from their hectic lives and help improve others’ lives.”
Even so, she knew that maintaining support for the challenge would take effort. To help out, she designed a kite that measured the number of hours that the sorority dedicated to service. “As sisters saw the kite filling up, they became inspired to get involved in service events,” said Daniela.
The majority of Kappa Alpha Theta’s community service projects centered on child advocacy, including a visit by three sorority sisters to the Boston Children’s Advocacy Center. This, combined with their support of their national philanthropy organization (CASA), saw the house contribute well over 450 hours to community service.
In the Future
The challenge has set the bar of service high for living groups and dorms, and already, a few promising signs of greater participation are developing. Next Service, a currently defunct program at Next House, has received renewed interest after the house took part in the challenge.
In addition, the living groups that took part this year hope to redouble their efforts and steal the service cup away from Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the winners of this year’s challenge.
Amanda also has her mind set on running the program again next year. “I am thrilled by the team participation this year,” she said, “I am hopeful that next year will be even more successful.”