San Diego State University Greek system makes global impact
By Kristiana Erthner, Staff Writer
Throughout the past school year, fraternity and sorority members at San Diego State joined together in fundraising events, community outreach and personal contributions to raise money for a charity that touches the lives of many across the world.
The result of these efforts culminated last spring, during Greek Week 2008, when the Greek community raised $30,000 that was matched by the Conejo Valley Rotary Club for a total of $60,000 to be donated to the Wheelchair Foundation.
According to a statistic from the Wheelchair Foundation - a non-profit organization that delivers wheelchairs to disabled people in more than 150 countries - an estimated 100 to 150 million people worldwide are in need of a wheelchair, while less than 1 percent are able to afford or have access to one.
In the past, the Greek Community has selected a local beneficiary to support; however, former Interfraternity Council President Tim Velasquez became inspired by the ambition of the Wheelchair Foundation and wanted to affect a wider range of people.
"I realized there was more of a need to make an impact somewhere else," Velasquez said. "We wanted to do something significant on a global level."
Thanks to the Greek community's collaborative effort, 560 disabled people across the world unable to afford a wheelchair now have one. For four SDSU students in particular, the opportunity to witness the impact of their work firsthand was made possible, as they were able to visit Colombia this past summer and deliver more than 50 of the wheelchairs in person.
Fraternity and sorority members Tim Velasquez, Josh Shiel, Jenn Bjorklund and Chloe Marx, along with other Rotarians, embarked on a 10-day journey to meet past wheelchair recipients, make personal deliveries to the homes, hospitals and schools of new recipients and speak at a Rotary International Convention about their philanthropic endeavors.
Bjorklund, the Panhellenic Activities director, recounted her experiences with the Colombian locals as life-changing and inspirational. After meeting a host of different people, from a 10-year-old boy who endured a land mine injury, to a 21-year-old college student who suffered a substantial fall, Bjorklund said things were really put into perspective for her.
"We were able to see how receiving these wheelchairs has affected their lives," Bjorklund said. "Everyone had different stories, and although I couldn't always understand, I could see the emotion in their eyes. It was extremely moving."
Velasquez said the wheelchair recipients were grateful and comfortable around the students as they described their lives and cultures in Colombia."It was a really eye-opening experience," Velasquez said. "It's amazing how giving something like a wheelchair to someone can change their life to such a beneficial degree."
Because of last spring's success - Velasquez said they increased funding more than 300 percent from the previous year - the Greek community plans on carrying on the theme of "Global Health" by working with Operation Global Vision, a partnership between the Global Health & Education Foundation and the Lions Clubs International.
In connection with the results from the Greek's involvement with the Wheelchair Foundation, the GHEF has recently created a new program aimed at developing student-based fundraising.
"They are using our efforts as an exemplary way of getting youths involved with philanthropy," Velasquez said. "The Greeks should take credit for this, we really made a difference."
This year's fundraising will be geared toward combating cataract blindness by raising money to provide surgeries worldwide for those suffering from the illness.
Bjorklund said that because of their dedication to Operation Global Vision, the organization will match the money raised by the Greek system 100 percent.
"Every $40 that SDSU raises for cataracts, we provide one surgery to people in need," Bjorklund said. "Our goal this year is to raise $50,000."
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