APO: Lending a hand, making a difference

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Photo by: Allison Smith

With Make a Difference Day Approaching on Oct. 29, the members of Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity are driven to be service leaders not only at Saint Louis University, but also the St. Louis community.


APO has an active membership of 500 students, not including its largest pledge class in recent memory of 273.


The ranks of this year’s MADD swelled as a record 3,118 people from SLU signed up to do service, an increase from 2,778 last year, consisting of more than 160 student organizations.


Due to the efforts of the Center for Service and Community Engagement and the 21-year-old co-educational Delta Chapter of APO at the University, who co-sponsor the event, MADD will be at its height this year. MADD is an annual nationwide service initiative, and thousands of SLU students will come together to provide community service and goodwill toward those in need in St. Louis.


“Make A Difference Day made a difference to me my freshman year, that is what made me join APO,” Brendan Waldoch, junior and vice-president of membership, said. “It’s usually the biggest day of the year for APO and we are excited to gather interested students and show what service can be about.”


According to APO President Perry Cole, the group is based on three tenets: Leadership, friendship and service.


The main tenet of service requires every student to complete 25 hours of service a semester. Cole said the tenants of leadership and friendship are essential and APO has more than 30 executive board positions and hosts various leadership classes called “leads.” Every member is required to captain at least one “lead” as an active member.


The organization also holds approximately 20 fellowship opportunities every semester, including dances and dinners, a trip to Six Flags, and other small events, Cole said.


“It’s a really great way to get to know people of all age groups,” Cole said.


Cole said she believes that the main reason that students join APO is because they want to get involved. She said that students are attracted to the organization because it routinely provides opportunities for community service, as well as transportation, along with social events.


“There’s just a lot of ways that people can get involved and find their niche in APO,” Cole said.


Students are free to enter the fraternity for the purpose of doing service to put on their resume, but there are plenty of opportunities for interaction with other students or growth in leadership, Cole said.


“APO has helped me meet people at SLU and across the St. Louis area that I wouldn’t have otherwise met,” Allie Kramer, sophomore and active member of APO, said.  “Beyond that, I have had the opportunity to listen to heartfelt, emotionally-charged stories that have changed my outlook on life in a positive way.”


Since APO is a co-sponsor of MADD, members are required to participate as part of their required service hours, Cole said. It is a way for all of the members of APO to work together at the same time, besides the fact that it is an important day for the community, she said.


Unlike most Greek life, APO does not have initiation requirements. All applicants are free to join APO. Interested students are encouraged to attend pledge week, where barbecues and other small events are held. Then students are welcomed into the group through an initiation ceremony and payment of dues. Students then are required to do 15 hours of service and attend two fellowship events during a pledge period.


“If you do all of that then you’re activated and you become a member,” Cole said.


However, students who fail to complete their required 25 hours per semester as a member could find themselves in a probationary period. Students who do not finish the 25 hours in Fall are required to complete the remaining hours in Spring along with the twenty five hours for that spring, Cole said. In the case that a student still does not finish their hours, they will be dropped as a member of APO.


Cole said she feels that students leave the organization feeling that the experiences influence their lives. Besides growing as a leader and recording service hours, students gain friendships with people who share the same passions as they do, and experience a world outside of their shell, she said.


“APO has been an organization through which I have been able to not only meet people who have my same interests, but also emulate the Jesuit Mission by servicing others,” Shannon Russell, junior and vice-president of pledge education for APO, said. “There are a lot of leadership opportunities, which I feel have well-prepared me for graduate school and the real world.”


Cole gave an example of two experiences that touched her while participating in service iniatives with APO. The first, as a freshman, Cole met two juniors who she said proceeded to become her best friends throughout her four years at SLU. The second experience occurred when Cole was a sophomore at a service site.


“I was at a nursing home when the old women came into the room for their line dancing class. They made us stop cleaning so we could participate in their class with them,” she said.


Cole said that doing service in the community “isn’t about the product you produce, but rather the relationships you build and the experiences you share together with those you are working with.”