Digging post holes in hard clay, sawing wood and spreading tons of gravel doesn’t sound like a summer vacation. But 19 college fraternity brothers from across the country paid for the privilege of working their way across the country this summer on a mission to help people with disabilities, one summer camp at a time.
The members of Pi Kappa Phi started their six weeks of hard labor and easy friendships at Stepping Stones Center’s resident camp for children and adults with disabilities at Camp Allyn in Batavia, Ohio and will end the summer odyssey this month at a rally in Washington, D.C. In between, they have work projects at camps in Indiana Illinois, Iowa, Georgia, and South Carolina.
"We're the only national fraternity with its own philanthropy," said Alex Mahan, a communications major from the University of South Carolina, who is part of this year's work team. The fraternity's mission is "to make good men better," said Mahan. Pi Kappa Phi founded Push America in 1977 to instill a lifelong commitment to service and interaction with people with disabilities.
"I joined the fraternity because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself," said Mahan, who said he hadn't interacted with people with disabilities before this summer. He helped build a fence around the Camp Allyn lake and reinforced wood benches. Other Pi Kappa Phi brothers built a supply shed for the archery range and laid 60 tons of gravel along camp paths.
"When I came here I thought it was going to be tough - working all day in the heat, sleeping in camp bunks. None of us really knew each other," said Mahan, of Spartanburg, S.C.
"I hadn't spent a lot of time with people with disabilities. I didn't' know what to expect."
The Alex Mahan who returns to school in the fall won't be the same one who jumped into the fraternity van at the beginning of summer.
"I have more maturity, more acceptance," he said.
"I'm learning things about construction and digging holes that I never knew before. But it's the experience working with the kids that's really changing the way I see things. These kids, they don't' judge each other. There's no finger-pointing, no criticizing. Nobody's making fun of somebody. It's just acceptance, just friendship. It's eye-opening to see that," Mahan said. "Imagine what it would be like if everyone would act like that."
Stepping Stones Center for children and adults with disabilities runs day and resident camps, overnight respites, Early Childhood Education programs and year-round adult programs at the Cincinnati Rotary Club's Camp Allyn in Batavia. Stepping Stones also offers year-round Early Childhood Education, adult programs, summer day camps, Saturday Kids Club during the school year and adapted aquatics at its main campus - Stepping Stones Center in Indian Hill.
This is the first year Camp Allyn has been a Build America site. Each fraternity participant had to raise money to participate in the program. The team presented Camp Allyn with $5,000 for the camp programs as a donation.
The fraternity brother volunteers came from 15 universities and 11 states. Mark Huber of Batavia is a Bowling Green State University student who ended up working in his own back yard at Camp Allyn.
"I grew up just down the road," said the criminal justice junior. He spent much of the week spreading 60 tons of gravel and sand on pathways. "We're making it more wheelchair accessible," he said, as he smoothed the new surface with a broom.
"Every day you see something that just amazes you. You get done with a project and see someone smile. They can get somewhere they couldn't get before."
Huber said the summer has changed the way he sees other people.
For information, contact Stepping Stones Center, 513-831-4660 or web site www.steppingstonescenter.org.