April 27, 2009

Greeks Unite to Serve Ithaca-Area Community

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The University Greek community came together this past weekend to participate in the Days of Demeter, a weekend-long charitable event that assists organizations across campus and in Ithaca. The fourth annual event of its kind, the Days of Demeter has grown exponentially in size over the past several years to become the largest coordinated Greek service event of the year, with an estimated 400 students participating.
“This event is just focused on giving back and the unquestionable need in Ithaca,” said Jason Shapiro ’10, vice president for university and community relations of the interfraternity council. “The showing of the event was a testament to the fact that everyone was more than willing to help out.”
The weekend of charity originally began as Collegetown Cleanup, giving the Greek system much needed positive publicity as they contributed to the campus community. Later renamed the Days of Demeter after the Greek goddess of harvest, the event began to expand into venues on campus and in Ithaca. This year, over 80 charities were contacted, with 13 eventually participating. Among the participating groups were the Sciencenter, the Cayuga Nature Center, and the Salvation Army of Ithaca. Lambda Upsilon Lambda, a fraternity in the Multicultural Greek Letter Council, created its own work station, Sabado Gigante, on the Commons for the children of Ithaca. The event includes face painting and board games for young attendees, and has become a yearly tradition for the fraternity.
“This kind of thing creates a positive image for Greek life, because Greek life gets a very bad rep,” said Stephanie Lai ’11, vice president for university and community relations of MGLC. “We were able to expand on what Days of Demeter is. We knew a lot of organizations around Ithaca needed a lot of help.”
The Days were primarily organized by Shapiro, Lai and Patricia Eliasinski ’10, vice president for university and community relations of the panhellenic council. The event is the hallmark of their service as VPs, and the trio began planning for the Days as soon as they were elected, according to Shapiro.
“Although students in the Greek system do a lot of community service, philanthropy and advocacy, they do so individually and many times it is difficult to publicize exactly how much they are contributing,” Eliasinski stated in an e-mail. “However, having one day where all fraternities and sororities are united and help together, not only gives them a chance to have fun but also shows Ithaca and Tompkins County how much the Greeks care.”
The work began early Saturday, as the Greeks met in Duffield Hall to register and listen to an introduction by Shapiro and Lai, as well as a keynote speech by Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th ward), an Ithaca City Councilman and member of the Greek community. Shapiro cited that Myrick was chosen because he represented the ideal of what Greek life can achieve on campus — a student who was sympathetic to the needs of the community as well as fulfilling his own goals and obligations as a Cornellian.
Although participation was not mandatory, each Greek group was encouraged to send at least 10 volunteers. Eliasinski noted that one fraternity sent 43 members. A member of each council was also presented the Outstanding Service and Commitment to the Community award, with $100 attached for the recipient to give to the charity of his or her choice.
“I thought it was a good time,” said Geoff Squire ’11, who spent the day to help beautify the Sciencenter’s grounds. “I wanted to represent my fraternity in a philanthropy and give back to the community. I could visibly see there was a difference in the Sciencenter.”
Some Greeks believed that the Days were fruitful and showcased the advantages Greek life offers to students and the campus.
“It expands your horizons,” said Shapiro of joining the Greek system. “It gives you experiences you would have never had otherwise. It just helps you grow as a person.”
Lai, ironically, says she had a distinct anti-Greek bent when arriving on campus. After participating in rush and pledging her sorority, she took a Greek leadership position with celerity.
“There are a lot of other advantages to Greek life a lot of people don’t see,” Lai said. “One of my responsibilities as being Greek was to combat those stereotypes.”