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Seven Tips for Meaningful Community Service Projects

At Zeta Phi Beta’s honorary member reception, ever-ebullient International Grand Basileus Dr. Mary Breaux Wright challenged her sorors to complete 20 million service hours by 2020, the sorority’s centennial. Zeta, like other Divine Nine organizations, has nationally mandated community service programs which fill up quite a few hours. And like their fellow Black Greeks, Zeta chapters must determine how to fill the remaining community service hours.

Filling those remaining hours presents an opportunity for Black Greek chapters to conduct meaningful community service. During a recent Black Greek Success Program leadership workshop, I asked a group of National Pan-Hellenic Council members about the greatest needs of their campus community. A social work major passionately talked about a much-needed campus food pantry that had been closed most of the academic year, so we started to map out how NPHC could fill that valuable gap. What makes the project meaningful is how passionately that student discussed the food pantry’s importance.

We Black Greeks proudly declare that we are committed to community service. That commitment must translate into real impact. So, let’s look at seven ways Black Greeks can ensure their community service truly reaches those whom they seek to serve.

Members of Zeta Phi Beta volunteer at a Harlem school to celebrate MLK Day 2017. Photo via @DowntownNYCZeta.

1. Get to know whom you are serving.

In the race to fill community service hours and win awards, don’t forget the importance of those you serve. Mentoring, for example, is powerful because you can see your impact on the mentees. By becoming familiar with your beneficiaries’ stories, your commitment means much more.

2. Be enthusiastic about outcomes, not photo ops.
Have you ever felt some kind of way about a politician because you think he’s showing up in the ‘hood just for photo opportunities? That’s the way people feel when you use community service as photo ops, and such thoughtlessness can hurt them. A group home, for example, is where you have the vulnerable population of children. When they see you posing for pics all lettered up more enthusiastically than spending quality time, the kids may think you were never there for them in the first place. Make the people you serve the primary reason for your enthusiasm.
3. Prioritize projects that align with your organization’s goals.

There are hardly “bad” community service projects but be careful of committing to efforts that may not align with your fraternity’s or sorority’s goals. When you get approached about projects that fall outside of your organization’s service objectives, either encourage individual members to participate as representatives of the chapter, connect the requesting organization with another student group, or consider the next tip.

4. Invite the campus to be part of your community service projects.

Most student organizations are filled with members who are busy with other organizations on and off campus, so everyone’s plate is full. If you feel strongly about a service project that puts a strain on your chapter members’ schedules, invite other campus peers to join you. By doing so, you can fulfill the request, educate your peers about the issue, and even help your institution’s brand.

5. Understand the overall issue.

Educate yourself on the issue to understand why the community service is needed.Communicating this could get idle chapter members more engaged. Remember that not every issue touches everyone the same way it touches you.

6. Let quality drive quantity.

Would you work harder if you knew your community service would help more people? I have volunteered at the North Texas Food Bank several times. After our shifts are done, the food bank staff lets the volunteers know how many people will get fed as a result of our efforts. I love hearing that. With that in mind, invest quality time and the numbers—including award-winning service hours—will come.

7. Use your expertise to serve.

There are valuable opportunities for members to serve individually and make an impact in the name of your fraternity or sorority. Let’s say a small non-profit could use a social media manager. That is an excellent opportunity for a marketing, public relations or journalism major to volunteer. Your service could build a pipeline of chapter members or other Black Greeks to volunteer while gaining practical experience. The non-profit would get much-needed assistance while you also add a great résumé item.

When you commit to community service, take your role as a leader seriously. Educate folks about the issue, organize your team, execute with excellence, and determine the effectiveness of your service. People who do community service just to do it never gain the satisfaction of knowing how much honor they bring to their fraternity or sorority.


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