By Heather Soltis
There’s a new frat in town. No, not Kappa Sigma, Alpha Phi Omega. And while they call themselves a fraternity, they are actually a co-ed group of students that participate in service projects in the Greenville community.
APO was approved as an official student-led group on campus at the SGA meeting Monday, February 4. SGA voted 16-0 in favor of APO, with 4 abstentions. While the motion was discussed, members of APO were asked to leave the room.
APO President, Alec Surrett, said that, prior to being asked to leave the room, they had been discussing how the role of APO is different from Heller Service Corps and other service organizations on campus. He said that APO wants to work on long-term projects and be a consistent presence for those projects. Heller also draws from a large group of students, and Surrett said that part of their mission is to have a consistent, core group of students that are a familiar face to the people they help.
“[We] were hesitant to approve this group because of the overlap in service activities with Heller, and the potential to become more of a social fraternity down the road if the emphasis on service begins to fade,” said SGA President David Hathaway in an email interview. “The primary argument Alpha Phi Omega gave for being distinct in purpose from Heller is that they want to be a group with a defined membership who all share the bond of all working together on specific service projects. These students want to build bonds of friendship within a tight knit and highly committed group.”
APO was approved by SGA as a future chapter. They are in the process of obtaining a charter from the national organization to become an official chapter. They have been working in full capacity as a service group prior to their official approval, but can now look forward to a stipend. He said that they were not sure how much funding they would be given by SGA and that it would be decided for the fall term.
They are also currently accepting members because, as Surrett explained, they are waiting for approval from the national headquarters before they can start officially inducting members. Current members of APO will be inducted as full members in the fall by members of their brother chapter at Wofford College. The role of “brother chapter” is established to help students at a different school start their own chapter.
“Clemson and Wofford were fighting over who would be our brother chapter, but Wofford is a strong chapter,” said Surrett.
A friend at Wofford who is a member of their chapter of APO was part of the reason Surrett wanted to help start a chapter at Furman. He saw examples of the service projects they had had success with and saw firsthand what the role of APO can be on campus and in the surrounding community.
One of their first service projects works with John Calvin Presbyterian Church to help senior parishioners start a community garden. Surrett said that the senior members of the church expressed a desire to be involved with a community garden, but needed outside help to get the project going.
Surrett said his involvement was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his idea of servant leadership – being both a servant and a leader at the same time.
“There is a big difference between a leader who will work with a group rather than a leader who guides a group.”
Surrett said that APO is open to cosponsoring service projects with any group on campus. Anyone can be a member, he said, even if they are already in another Greek or service organization.
“Our main goal is best said by our mission statement: Be a friend, be a leader, be of service.”