Participate Outside of a “Day of Service”

Ashley Whitlatch

It is a frigid spring day, so cold that the sharp wind cuts through to my marrow. I am standing in the middle of a field, bubblegum blue jeans, five layers of various shirts and coats, dirt-encrusted lace-up boots and those great gardening gloves your mom always wears—the ones with the blue rubber smeared on the palm, so it looks like you’ve been trying a new finger-painting technique.

One lonely raindrop hits the only place on my body with skin exposed—my nose. I look up, willing myself to see through the darkening puffy clouds to reach the sun’s warmth.

Giving up on attracting heat, I refocus my efforts on my job—digging a hole. This is probably the 40 or 50th hole I’ve dug today. I lost specific count after 24 or so.

All around me, throughout the large field, others are also digging. Deciding the hole is deep enough; I drop the rusty shovel and take hold of the 12-inch evergreen held out to me by one of the guys in my three-person team.

As I hold the baby tree upright, my two partners start filling in the freshly dug earth around the roots. After three days of this, we finally have a routine down: first, water from the bucket (not too much or the little tree might drown), large shredded black tarp with a hole ripped in the middle, pushed over the top and staked down, then we move forward 10 feet and starting digging again.

There are 20 of us and this is our Spring Break trip, or rather, this is what we decided to do instead of having a Spring Break trip. Volunteering for the week at Wildhorse Canyon, a Young Life Camp in eastern Oregon, with a bunch of fraternity and sorority members, was not something I had planned on doing three years ago. I found out that planting 3,100 baby trees in five days is not easy—the hot cocoa breaks were lifesavers. However, after having gone on this trip, I felt like I had accomplished something and it allowed me to create lasting bonds with fellow members of my Greek Community.

This feeling is shared by many members of Greek Communities who volunteer their time for a cause or philanthropy project. Talia Tupling, a junior Economics major at the University of Washington and member of Delta Zeta is one of these volunteers. For the past quarter, Tupling has given a portion of her free time to volunteering at Cinderella’s Trunk.

The entirely volunteer, non-profit organization was created, according to its Web site, out of a church closet filled with 14 dresses in 2000. Today, the organization provides formal apparel and accessories to high school students who could not otherwise afford it.

The group’s Web site states that their “mission is to improve the self-esteem of our community.” Tupling explained that her ‘big sis’ in her sorority is currently their marketing director, so that was how she learned about the organization and she immediately wanted to get involved.

The group has a small store where all of the merchandise is displayed and students are able to make an appointment to come in to pick out what they need with the help of a volunteer.

“You are their fairy Godmother and so you help them pick out stuff and treat them like they’re shopping at Nordstroms…and make them look gorgeous,” said Tupling.

She also said that the students, “just feel good about themselves,” when trying on the dresses. “Although”, she said, “these high school students are not the only beneficiaries of this organization.”

“It’s really fulfilling that you made someone else’s life better,” Tupling stated.
Throughout her volunteering, Tupling said she realized how gratifying helping others is and recommended, “Get[ing] involved in whatever interests you.”

She said, “Whatever cause you believe in, go for that because everything needs help.” Other Greeks may be reminded of this by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., when he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

This year, we should all, as Greeks who often spout off about the many volunteering efforts of our communities, ask ourselves this question—and have an answer. Planting trees, playing fairy Godmother or collecting donations is not the only way of volunteering. Maybe it will start this year with a chapter’s philanthropy, but maybe students should take the initiative and get involved in a new service project. Get a taste of how giving time and energy can help those in need and participate beyond a “Day of Service.”

Ashley Whitlatch is a senior Editorial Journalism major at the University of Washington and is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha. She has also served as Vice President of Public Relations for University of Washington’s Panhellenic Association. She is addicted to Starbucks, stilettos and Lord of the Rings.

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