Friday, February 20, 2009

Richmond SigEps Clean Up Civil War Battlefield

U. Richmond's Sig Ep chapter switches to hands-on philanthropy

Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity is taking a more hands-on approach to philanthropy this year by getting involved in the community rather than simply raising money.

"We decided to go a different direction and take a more community service-oriented route," said Dan Colosimo, Sigma Phi Epsilon philanthropy chairman, adding that the change was initially sparked because the fraternity's nationals changed the philanthropy.

The fraternity's first community service event was cleaning up the Malvern Hill Battlefield on Saturday, Jan. 31. Fought July 1, 1862, Malvern Hill was the last of the Seven Days Battles when the Union army approached Richmond during the Civil War.

"There was a dump, literally an old trash dump, next to the battlefield," brother Chris Mihok said, "and the national park is in the process of building a trail throughout the National Park for runners and walkers.

"Our brothers worked with two national park workers and one park ranger to help pick up trash. There were beer bottles close to 30 to 40 years old, old refrigerators, a bunch of metal scrap and a bunch of other trash."

On the following Saturday, Feb. 7, Sigma Phi Epsilon volunteered with the Bandit's Adoption and Rescue of K-9's program. BARK rescues orphaned or abandoned pets from animal shelters in the Richmond area, spays or neuters the pets, vaccinates the pets, then finds loving homes for the pets. In 2007, BARK placed more than 700 dogs in permanent homes.

Sigma Phi Epsilon's future service efforts include hosting a party for patients at the Medical College of Virginia's children's pavilion at its lodge and working with inner-city youth through a program called Street Law, which "provides children the necessary education to stand up for their civil rights and stand firm in their civic responsibilities," according to the university's Web site.

Street Law is a partner of the University of Richmond Downtown, a satellite campus of Richmond that is meant to serve as a community hub for the city of Richmond.

The UR Downtown campus was opened in the fall of 2008 as a joint project between the T.C. Williams School of Law and the Center for Civic Engagement and employs four full-time staff members. It has a walk-in clinic, a playroom, an art gallery and a community meeting room.
The Richmond Families Initiative, the Center for Pro Bono Service and the Family Law Clinic are UR Downtown's programs that focus on serving Richmond families. Colosimo works at the RFI twice a week and was motivated to get his fraternity involved.

The RFI serves as a collaborative resource that connects Richmond families to social and legal services through partnerships with community agencies and professional organizations. Virginia Commonwealth University students help in this aspect. The center's partners include St. Joseph's Villa for children with special needs, the Voices for Virginia's Children child advocacy organization and the William Byrd Community House.

"The ideal vision of RFI is to engage students in direct service, detailed research and community-based service," RFI Program Manager Judy Mejia said.

The RFI also works with the University of Richmond to create community-based learning courses. The Spring 2009 course offerings are: SOC 279 - Work, Family, Home, Community with Carol Wharton, WGSS 201 - WILL Colloquium with Melissa Ooten and WGSS 301 - WILL Senior Seminar with Holly Blake.

These programs exist to promote awareness about broken families and provide them with the information and resources they need to move toward self-sufficiency, Mejia said. The most beneficial aspect of these programs is the opportunity to get off campus and examine how to make a difference in the community in which students live, work and study, she said.
"Sigma Phi Epsilon shows that students are interested in these issues and want to help," she said.
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