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Theta Delta Chi Bros UniteD program redefines brotherhood, philanthropy

In the midst of media sensationalism concerning fraternities across college campuses this year, it appears that the true meaning of brotherhood may have been buried under a barrage of condemning stereotypes that fail to acknowledge the benefits of Greek organizations.

Alternatively, one such fraternity strives to distinguish itself prominently through its philanthropic work: Theta Delta Chi.

This past Sunday, the brothers of Theta Delta Chi drew their "Bros UniteD" program to a close, wrapping up the eight-week effort with a trip to the Hillsborough Johnson & Johnson Warehouse.

The program was established at Rutgers University in the spring of 2010 by brothers of Theta Delta Chi, with assistance from Autism Speaks, the fraternity’s flagship philanthropy. The program was designed to give adolescent boys with autism the opportunity to connect with the brothers of Theta Delta Chi, and to experience the fraternal bond that it's members share with one another. 

Participants, dubbed “little bros,” would be paired with a maximum of three brothers, or “buds,” a sort of nickname reminiscent of the program’s abbreviation, “B.U.D.” These brothers would accompany their "little bro" to a variety of events over eight consecutive Sundays.

Since its founding, the program has continued to thrive, and has just recently filed for non-profit recognition. Theta Delta Chi presently hosts 15 "little bros", and 55 participating “big bros.” Brothers who choose to take part in the program must also attend a 45-minute training session with a representative from Autism Speaks.

While the program currently enjoys success and continues to expand, its launch did not originally garner much publicity. Meho Burns, the residing Bros UniteD chair, recalled his initial exposure to the program, when he served as a "big bro" during his sophomore year.

“I had a camera that I would take to every event,” Burns stated, “I would take pictures, started making short videos, and eventually made a montage to get the word out.” 

Given his demonstrated interest in the program, Burns was eventually asked to succeed the former Bros UniteD chair when the time came. 

Burns, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, is responsible for the program’s overall direction, a task that’s rewards far exceed its challenges. 

“It keeps you very humble. It’s great to know that what you’re doing has such a big impact on these kids," he said.  "I feel like a lot of things we do at college are for ourselves, it’s cool to have that day a week where you come back from that and make someone else’s life a little bit easier.”

The value of Bros UniteD as a program that extends beyond just that of philanthropy, was also highlighted by Theta Delta Chi’s philanthropy chair, Joe Chen. 

“Any time spent with them is not time wasted,” declared Chen, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. 

The eight Sunday events hosted by Theta Delta Chi often take place in the New Brunswick area, and vary in terms of focus, with some events that are more educational, and others that are simply for enjoyment. This year, the activities included a trip to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, mini golfing, a hip-hop dance class and a visit to the TurtleBack Zoo in West Orange, among other Bros UniteD functions. 

Although funding for the trips and the overall program is mostly reliant upon parental donations to Bros UniteD, brothers of Theta Delta Chi began tabling more frequently this semester in an effort to increase the program’s budget, therefore allowing more program event options to be created. 

Of the many events overseen by Bros UniteD, Burns cited the trip to the Johnson & Johnson Warehouse as one of the most hands-on for all participants, “big” or “little.” 

At the warehouse, Bros UniteD members were entertained by members of the Hillsborough High School “RoboRaiders,” a team of robotics students who demonstrated the various tricks and abilities of their robots.

In addition to the robotic show, Theta Delta Chi brothers and their "little bros" also proved to be adept when it came smooth sailing. Once provided with materials of aluminum foil, water, and an abundance of pennies, the teams of big and little bros constructed aluminum foil “boats” into which they placed pennies, testing the buoyancy and capacity of their handmade boats.

“(The Johnson & Johnson Warehouse) is very interactive with the kids, and they actually get to do these activities, whereas at the Liberty Science Center, they mainly spend their time looking at things. At the warehouse, we actually get to participate,” Burns said.

Autism proved to be a cause deeply rooted in the culture of Theta Delta Chi. Earlier in the year, brothers were photographed before their 66 College Avenue residence as blue lights twinkled from every window of the house. 

The mansion’s donning of the shade was in tribute to the Autism Speaks’ “Light It Up Blue” campaign. The bright, optimistic color is the signature color of the organization Autism Speaks. Those who display it show their acknowledgement as well as their support. 

These roots plunged even further, reaching not only the Rutgers University Lambda Triton chapter of Theta Delta Chi as a whole, but its individual members. 

Theta Delta Chi President Ryan Walker stressed the relevance and importance of autism as a cause, even outside of his fraternity.

“I’ve never personally known anyone (outside of Bros UniteD) with autism, but I do all of my class projects on autism when I have the opportunity,” Walker, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences said.

Walker, who also participated as a "big bro" in Bros UniteD, noted that he still stays in contact with the father of one of his past "little bros," exhibiting an interest in the program that stemmed from sincerity, in place of sheer responsibility.

The Rutgers University Theta Delta Chi chapter remains the primary Bros UniteD location, but expects to see the program expand across universities and chapters, as the frequency with which schools contacting the fraternity in efforts to establish their own program increase,

Ryan Sheehan, A School of Arts and Sciences junior, and Risk Manager of Theta Delta Chi voiced the significance of the Bros UniteD program to the fraternity, solidifying it as a beneficial opportunity for anyone fortunate enough to be involved. 

“You impact the kids’ lives in a way that donating money can’t," he said. "Everyone who participates says that it’s the greatest experience they have: everyone just loves it, there’s no other way to describe it, it’s something we’re so passionate about.”

The color of brotherhood it seems, is blue.

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