Sigma Phi Epsilon constructs meals instead of yard display


Homecoming week activities traditionally include elaborate lawn displays and floats, especially those constructed by greek students at local chapter houses. The time and expense of a display, which is destroyed by the following Monday if it makes it through the weekend, can be burdensome.

One UNL fraternity has decided this year to dial back its participation in the on-campus decoration activities and instead devote most of its Homecoming budget and manpower to helping feed the hungry worldwide.

About 50 men from Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity will spend two evenings (Oct. 4 and 5) at Kids Against Hunger, making up portions of a specially formulated rice-soy meal distributed by Kids Against Hunger to starving children and their families in more than 60 countries through orphanages, schools, hospitals and churches. The Lincoln Kids Against Hunger is a local affiliate of the Minnesota-based charity incorporated in 1999. The Lincoln affiliate launched in 2006 and has packaged more than 5 million meals. Through its national packaging operations, Kids Against Hunger can provide more than 50 million meals each year.

Sig Ep Drew Hines, a junior business major from North Bend, is spearheading the chapter effort. Hines said he and others in the fraternity starting thinking last year that the float tradition — although fun — also took a lot of time and diverted students’ attention from more worthwhile activities.

“It seemed like we could do something more,” he said.

Hines and others had conversations with Deb Mullen, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, who is the Sig Ep chapter’s faculty fellow. As a faculty fellow, Mullen advises the chapter’s unique learning community, teaching a university personal development class that all new members of Nebraska’s Sig Ep chapter must take.

Last March the fraternity started thinking about turning their homecoming week into a service activity week. But because the greek system had already matched fraternity and sororities for the 2011 fall Homecoming competition, Sig Ep decided to not completely bail out. Instead, they contributed a portion of their homecoming budget to the group with which they are matched and will contribute manpower if necessary. But the bulk of their attention will go toward the Kids Against Hunger effort, including a significant fund-raising activity undertaken by the new-member class, Hines said.

The group plans to raise $4,000, which would make 200,000 Kids Against Hunger meals. Hines said Kids Against Hunger was chosen because of the need and the ability to quantify an impact.

Sig Ep has adopted the theme “Big Change, New Conference, New Ideas” for the philanthropic effort. The Nebraska chapter has about 133 members. Hines would love to see the entire greek system adopt the idea of a service week at Homecoming. The effort helps fraternity members live their cardinal principals of virtue, diligence and brotherly love, Hines said.

“It’s about helping others. It’s not about you but about others. If you are put into a position to help others, then you should take the initiative,” he said.

Mullen loves her volunteer role with the fraternity. She sees her self as a disciplinarian who not so much lowers the boom, but honestly states her observations and then steers the men into a better direction.

“My goal is that they succeed as individuals. We are slowly changing the culture. It’s still a lot fun, but the chapter is much more devoted to academics now. They have seven Regents’ scholarship winners in this year’s freshmen class. They are honest about letting potential new members know that Nebraska Sig Ep takes grades seriously,” she said.

The learning community involves the chapter house having a dedicated study space, a four-year personal development plan for each member, grade point average targets above the all-university Greek average and other requirements. Nebraska Sig Ep’s learning community is unique at UNL, and probably in the nation, she said. “No one has anything like this on the national scale,” she said.

Mullen and Hines would like to see other greek houses join the effort to make homecoming more philanthropic in future years.

“It could be stunning. The impact we would have on the community, on the world, would be tremendous,” Mullen said.

— Kim Hachiya, University Communications