Service society gives helping hand to low-income elementary school

Marisa Charpentier

When strangers Tiffany Chan and Carolyn Ellis roomed together their freshman year, they learned three things the first night: They both wore the same shoes to prom, they both bruise easily, and they both share a love for volunteering. According to Ellis, an advertising junior, the pairing was practically a storybook romance.

Now two years later, the friends continue to experience the result of their shared love for volunteering. In spring 2013, during the second semester of their freshman year, they created Chi Kappa Phi Service Society to make connections with people through service.

“We were looking to fill a niche that had a vacancy on campus,” Ellis said. “We saw a lot of spirit groups. We saw a lot of service groups. We saw a lot of groups that claimed to do both, but we weren’t sure if there was the passion and the drive to want to do the service.”

Co-presidents Chan and Ellis held their first round of recruitment in fall 2013, and the group doubled to 45 students after fall recruitment this year. The leaders sought members who are passionate about service. 

“Volunteering with people who want to volunteer makes such a difference,” Chan said. “We don’t do mandatory service hours because people in KPhi are there because they want to do service.”    

According to the co-presidents, what makes the service society unique is its emphasis on philanthropy. Even the society’s social events, or “mixers,” are based on philanthropy. To interact with other student organizations on campus, KPhi members accompany them on service projects. This past month, for example, the society partnered with the Texas Wranglers to build a haunted house for Scare for the Cure.    

In addition, each new pledge class selects the organization of their choice to support over their years in the society. Last year’s pledge class partnered with Posada Esperanza, a housing program for immigrant women and children escaping domestic violence.  

As a whole, the society works with Oak Springs Elementary, a school in which 98 percent of students live at or below the poverty level. Nearly 90 percent of students live with their families in Austin’s largest public housing unit.     

“We try to provide as many different philanthropic opportunities as possible, but we wanted to have a thread that would run through the entire organization,” said Katie Young, biomedical engineering junior and director of philanthropy. “So we decided that working with an elementary school was what we were interested in doing.”    

KPhi supports the elementary school each month by helping with activities like field day, book drives, tutoring and mentoring and holiday events. The group recently sold game-day bows to raise money for school supplies and teacher incentives. KPhi raised more than $400.    

For the second year in a row, KPhi will be assisting with the annual Thanksgiving Meal at the elementary school. The society will bring stuffing, dinner rolls, turkey and other holiday foods to serve to the children and their families.     

“A lot of the students won’t have a normal Thanksgiving, so they can come to the school while volunteers help serve the food,” Young said.

Since the idea to create this society first came to the two students freshman year, KPhi has provided students with opportunities to volunteer in a variety of ways. Whether it’s building gardens or organizing a benefit concert, Chan and Ellis say what they enjoy most is getting people involved.    

“KPhi encompasses what we are passionate about, and that’s helping others find what they are passionate about,” Chan said. “I love helping others volunteer and have the experience of giving back.”