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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Philanthropic Greek Life

Published: October 4, 2013
Section: Opinions

Throughout my life, I’ve been heavily involved in community service and philanthropy, having performed outreach to the elderly, distributed food to low-income families and walked against cancer. When I initially toured Brandeis at the beginning of my college application process, I was struck by what I described at the time as “the overall vibe of the campus,” unable to place exactly what caused such a positive and unique atmosphere. Subconsciously, I was reminded of my childhood thanks to the social justice mindset found around campus. However, I never found myself volunteering by my own volition, merely accompanying my parents on their philanthropic endeavors. To a young Eli and presumably to many other children and young adults, simply sitting down and deciding, “Today I’m going to make this change in the world,” was a somewhat daunting task. That being said, people tend to overstate how much effort it actually requires to initiate change. One does not need an administrator, a community service club or even a chaperone—making a difference simply requires initiative.

During the first semester of my first year of college, I joined Phi Kappa Psi, a fraternity whose creed and agenda is deeply rooted in its philanthropic classification. During my recruitment period, I distinctly recall current president Colin Gibbons informing me that, “While some fraternities are Jewish fraternities and some fraternities are literary fraternities, we’re a philanthropy fraternity. It’s what we do.” At first, I brushed the idea off as a mere gimmick to convince me to join. Just a few weeks after I began the pledge process, I found myself in a string of cars filled with brothers on our way to volunteer at the Rodman Ride for Kids in Foxboro, Mass.

The Rodman Ride for Kids, an organization in its twenty-second year of life, hosts an annual non-competitive bicycle tour and donates the proceeds to aid underprivileged children. Five years ago, Phi Psi brother Justin Meltzer ’11, reached out to the coordinators of the ride, offering the fraternity’s services for the day. We shipped out to Foxboro and helped feed the tired riders, grilling many hamburgers, hot dogs, spare ribs and steaks. The event was so successful that Phi Psi has returned every year since.

I was surprised that the fraternity actually took philanthropy so seriously, having been accustomed to the stereotypical depiction of Greek life. Although, I was far more impressed that a group of college guys could get together and make such an impact at this special event. Simon Romano ’16, one of the fraternity’s current philanthropy chairs, worked at the 2013 installment of the Rodman Ride. “We cooked for about 2,500 people, helping to raise 10.9 million dollars,” he said. No one asked Meltzer to call up the coordinators five years ago, yet almost the entire fraternity has returned every year since.

Although it might sound rather overdramatized, the Rodman Ride is somewhat sacred to the Massachusetts Beta chapter of Phi Psi. This event has consistently had the best brother and alumni turnout. When asked to summarize the significance of the Rodman, alumnus Ben Sargent ’13, former president and philanthropy chair, responded, “It isn’t just about camaraderie or earning the gratitude of the organizations that we help; it is about contributing to the greater community in which we live.”

It does not surprise me that a Brandeis fraternity would jump at the first chance to get involved in an event like this. The university was founded to provide higher education to those who otherwise would not have access. Every student is attracted to the university for a unique reason, though on that first day of orientation, every student also realizes he or she is actually pretty similar to the person sitting to the right of him or her on those Gosman bleachers. Our student body is filled with true go-getters. Every year, our peers can organize a musical in one day, bring an incredible array of performers to campus, rally against sexual violence and coordinate a complex system of intramural sports. Why not take such initiative outside the gates of Brandeis? You don’t need to run a food pantry or start an elderly outreach organization to make a difference. Any student is capable when it comes to finding a way to make a difference. All that is necessary is the drive. In the words of the 2005 film, Robots, “See a need, fill a need.”