Too often, what we hear of our orgs is about hazing, beef, stepping or the superficial. The light is seldom shone on the purpose of our orgs, why they exist, and why they are important. The fourth Cardinal Principle of Omega is UPLIFT and we live it despite well publicized anomolies. The real work of Omega Psi Phi........
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
Students helping students - in class and in life
Most of the eight members of Omega Psi Phi volunteer at the alternative school one or two days a week. They're also raising money to buy computers.
By JILL HOFFMAN
THE ROANOKE TIMES
BLACKSBURG - Ernest Wilford is a big, burly Virginia Tech football player who grins widely and wears baggy clothes.
Kevin Eldridge is a much smaller ninth-grader who has a serious demeanor and also prefers baggy styles.
Complementing one another perfectly, the two sat together in their sea of clothing on Tuesday and worked quietly at Eldridge's alternative school for troubled children, Wilson Avenue School in Blacksburg.
Wilford's fraternity at Tech - Omega Psi Phi - "adopted" the school as part of its mission to help the community.
The idea to adopt the school came after Wilford completed a service-learning project last year for a sociology course on juvenile delinquency that included volunteering at the Montgomery County public school.
On Tuesday, Wilford stooped over Eldridge's reading assignment on paraplegics who had different reactions toward the people who had caused their disabilities.
"In some cases, people don't know how to forgive," Wilford said. "In this case
he's trying to forgive."
Wilford spends several hours twice a week in the homey school nestled in a residential neighborhood.
Eldridge likes working with Wilford, who is "more closer than a regular teacher." Christiansburg High School is Eldridge's home school, but he started attending Wilson Avenue because of disciplinary problems. He has gotten into less trouble there, with fewer students and distractions.
Wilford remembers his own troubles growing up in Richmond. He felt lost in a Mennonite family of six children. School wasn't important to him then. He spent his nights in the streets, hanging out with a bad crowd. He was saved by a high school coach who led him into sports - first track and then basketball and football - which gave him a purpose. This year he was a wide receiver on Tech's football team.
Wilford's gentle personality is softening some of the harder students. One angry female student refused to do her homework.
"I just want to get out of here," program manager Paul Little recalled her saying. "I hate this school."
Wilford asked to talk to the girl. School officials agreed. Fifteen minutes later, the student returned to do her work.
"I think she was mad at something non-school-related," Wilford said. "We talked about that."
Not everything is serious business. Fraternity members sing along with students and sprint with them in physical education classes.
"A fresh perspective, I think, is very beneficial for them," teacher Jennifer Biedler said. "They see us every day, and I think they get very comfortable."
Nearly all of the fraternity's eight members - who include engineering and business majors and one native of Nigeria - volunteer one or two days a week. They tutor, talk, chill and play basketball.
"I feel the more we're around them, the more they'll open up to us," Wilford said.
The fraternity has a goal of raising $3,000 to upgrade computers and software at the school. Fraternity-sponsored penny drives and social events have helped the effort. Wilford is looking into making donations tax-deductible to encourage more giving.
Omega Psi Phi is the first fraternity to adopt the school.
"We feel so fortunate," Little said. "We were really just shocked."
During Wilford's service-learning project, the students would ask, "Is Ernest coming today?" and when he finished, it was, "Do you think Ernest is gonna come back this year?"
When he graduates, the young people won't have to worry about being abandoned. Other fraternity members will carry on Wilford's vision.
"As long as as the fraternity is surviving, Wilson Avenue will be part of our goals," he said.
Anyone interested in making a donation to Omega Psi Phi's fund-raising efforts for the school should e-mail Wilford at firstname.lastname@example.org
or the fraternity at email@example.com