APO strengthens ties between campus and community

The Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity recently initiated their 500,000th member at the University of California, San Diego. The January milestone marked the continued growth of one of the largest Greek-letter organizations in the nation, which says that it has accumulated over 400 active chapters in a history that began in 1925. In a small town across the country from the California campus that hosted the initiation of the 500,000th member, a chapter that formed 46 years after the initial founding — the Chi Sigma chapter — is working to enrich the Meadville community.

“We try to make a connection with students on campus and the community,” said APO President Jack Van Meter, ’22. “We don’t want to just volunteer on campus and do different campus activities. We really want to make a connection with the community.”

APO often makes that connection by participating in campus-wide service opportunities like Service Saturday and Make a Difference Day. 

Vice President of Fellowship Bella Petitta, ’21, said she sees the 2019 fall semester’s Make a Difference Day as her favorite memory since joining during her first semester at Allegheny College. Brothers of APO went to the home of a recently-widowed local woman to assist with outdoor work on her home. Petitta said they cleaned the gutters, power washed the house and cleared out an overgrown picnic area that the homeowner had been unable to use. Afterward, the brothers went inside to visit with the woman.

“We were just hanging out in her kitchen and talking to her,” Petitta said. “She was just the kindest woman ever. I think it was really fun because I was with brothers (of APO), and we were all together like a fellowship event, bonding (with each other) and bonding with this woman. It was just really nice to give her company and help her out.”

APO also reaches out to the community by selecting different philanthropies with which the organization can have more sustained relationships. Most recently, APO worked with Common Roots, a local nonprofit organization that works to provide affordable housing in the Meadville area.

“They take these houses, and they renovate them,” Van Meter said. “They try to fight housing discrimination in Crawford County. We supported them for a bit, and they asked for volunteers for early parts of the renovation.”

Petitta was enthusiastic about the skills she was able to gain through those early stages of renovation as APO helped Common Roots turn a house into four apartments.

Van Meter shared her enthusiasm — he enjoyed the hands-on work of removing the insulation from the walls and cleaning.

“(The work) was just very dirty,” Van Meter said. “It was messy. It was fun.”

APO has transitioned away from working with Common Roots, according to Van Meter, as the organization gets into the more advanced stages of renovation, requiring experts to come in.

The transition is part of the cycle of Allegheny’s APO chapter, which typically typically focuses on a new philanthropy each year, according to Petitta, and also receives new leadership in the form of a new board every year.

“That (transition) really changes (APO) because it’s based on, ‘how are those people motivated, what do they want to do?’” Petitta said. “So I think our motivations and passion to service have changed throughout the years. But I think recently with this board, it’s really been picked up. I think there are a lot more service opportunities being offered now.”

Those broader opportunities have included, according to Petitta, working with Lilac Springs, a Meadville Veterans Services support program, and with the French Creek Valley Conservancy, a land trust working to conserve the French Creek watershed in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Vice President of Service Jess Myschisin, ’20, is hoping to use her role to further expand those opportunities and increase campus enthusiasm for them.

“I hope we can recruit a lot of new members and get more people involved in service projects,” Myschisin said. “Rather than just working to complete the minimum number of hours, I want brothers to get involved with as much service as possible.”

Brothers of Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity welcome members of the campus community in their Hot Cocoa and APO event in the Henderson Campus Center on Jan. 29.

Myschisin was not alone in expressing her hope for multiple new members to join APO.

“We’re really excited about getting new members all the time,” Petitta said. “We’re definitely trying to get more brothers in, because right now, it’s mostly juniors … and primarily seniors, so we’re kind of worried.”

APO holds one initiation per semester. Once new members become pledges, they will be required to complete 10 hours of service in their first semester and 15 hours in each semester that follows. They will also be asked to attend chapter weekly at 8 p.m. in Quigley Hall auditorium. Van Meter and Petitta stressed that this weekly commitment is a minimal one, with chapter usually running for less than a half hour.

Chapter often involves fellowship events meant to help members of the organization get to know each other and bond as a group.

“Maybe we’ll just have a study session or watch a movie in Quigley,” Van Meter said. “We made mugs last year. We made pots. We try to get together quite a bit.”

The group also combines fellowship with campus outreach in events like the recent Cocoa and Cornhole event held in the Henderson Campus Center on Wednesday, Jan. 29. APO invited members of the campus community to join them in drinking hot chocolate and playing games to get to know the members of the group.

Ultimately, according to Van Meter, the group does keep most of its time together service-oriented. Petitta said that standing commitment to service in a formal organization has changed her college career for the better — she said this commitment has enriched her time at Allegheny. 

Van Meter said the group has given him leadership opportunities and networking opportunities that he would encourage potential new members to seek out.

“If you’re interested in doing volunteer work after college, after graduation, or just working for a nonprofit (organization), APO has so many connections,” Van Meter said. “It’s a national service opportunity that is recognized.”

Petitta said that being part of APO has already helped her by making her feel more connected to the area. Myschisin agreed.

“APO helps make the Meadville community more like my home,” Myschisin said.

Anyone interested in joining APO or learning more can attend chapter at Quigley Hall on Wednesdays at 8pm or reach out via email at [email protected].