Service fraternity talks community work, pledging process
As a transfer from Rutgers-Newark, Nicole Yap arrived in New Brunswick looking to make a niche for herself. The organization she found was one that three former U.S. presidents and current First Lady Michelle Obama also joined to give back to their communities.
Yap, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, knew she wanted to get involved in something that utilized her love of community service. She discovered Rutgers’ chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, an international greek fraternity centered exclusively around service.
Educator Frank Reed Horton at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania started the fraternity in 1926. APO came to Rutgers on April 21, 1947, and has grown to include more than 100 members.
APO has gone on to produce notable figures such as Michelle Obama, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Presidents Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
Yap started the pledging process in mid-September, and is scheduled for initiation as a full brother of APO on Nov. 16.
Rachel Brunette, a brother of APO, similarly stumbled upon the fraternity.
Brunette, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she and Alissa Bang, the current president of APO, were “bored freshmen” and looking to make their mark somewhere at Rutgers.
Both Brunette and Bang began the pledging process in the spring semester of 2013. Since then, Bang has risen to the masthead of the organization, and Brunette has been appointed the position of sunshine chair, where she is responsible for keeping up morale at the meetings.
Brunette, who has now been a member for three semesters, said most of her friends are from APO. She also has two “littles,” or mentees, whom she calls her best friends.
Because APO is co-ed, she said the atmosphere is a little different from exclusively male or female social fraternities. APO’s events are a little more gender-neutral and the “big/little” system allows for a big brother to have both female and male little brothers.
Bang, a Rutgers Business School junior, said the motto of APO is “to be a leader, to be a friend and to be of service.”
From Rutgers University Dance Marathon to Monster Mash to International Hands in Service, each brother of APO makes their impact on the community.
Every pledge and brother is required to complete at least 25 hours of community service a semester, Bang said, with Junior Achievement Day being one of the most popular yearly events.
Brothers of APO visit elementary and middle schools in New Brunswick and take the place of the teachers to teach the students for the day, she said.
Instead of math and science, the brothers teach “practical” knowledge, such as financial concepts.
The college students get the experience of teaching and working with children, she said, and the elementary and middle school students get to look up to the people they share their city with.
JAD also tries to encourage their students to continue their education past 12th grade.
For a slightly younger demographic, APO also holds Monster Mash, an event that coordinates safe areas for children from neighboring communities to trick-or-treat on Halloween on the Cook/Douglass campus.
Beyond service in New Jersey, two members of APO have participated in an annual trip to Guatemala as a part of International Hands in Service, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing “health, healing and education to the people of Guatemala.”
Bang said APO receives no funding from the school. They raise their own money through fundraisers and receive donations from alumni.
One of their biggest fundraising events was last semester, Bang said, where they held an auction to raise money for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. They sent half of the proceeds to typhoon relief and kept half for themselves.
“Knowing our service helped someone [and] made a difference is all worth it,” she said.
As a pledge, Yap, like the brothers, is working toward her goal of doing 25 hours of service for the fall semester.
She also participates in regular “bonding events” with the brothers of APO.
“The pledging process is actually pretty great, although the number of pledges is smaller than usual,” she said.
Pledging requires doing one-on-one interviews with brothers and other pledges, she said. The pledge interviews depend on how many students are trying to join APO, she said, but all the pledges have to complete 40 interviews with 40 different brothers.
She advised interested students to join APO only if they are truly dedicated to service.
“Just be a genuine person about the events you’ll be doing,” she said. “Don’t do it because it looks good on your resume. Do it because it makes you feel good.”
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