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Greater service, greater progress

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Members of the Nu Alpha Chapter of Omega Psi Phi adopted McDowell Street, named for a former fraternity brother and local coach, as part of Greenville's Adopt a City Street program. It's one of numerous community service projects the organization takes part in every year. (Contributed photo)


Ginger Livingston

Friday, February 27, 2015

Individuals interested in helping their communities are drawn to the graduate chapters of the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

Helping the community takes many forms for the members of local members of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

It can bring youth and law enforcement together to talk about how both groups can better interact with each other. It can give a stage to young performers. It can educate people about voting rights, and it can teach people how to swim.

The individuals who carry out these activities share a love of service.

Sharvon L. Buffaloe, president of Zeta Pi Sigma chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, started her service in college.

“I initially joined the organization as an undergrad at East Carolina University,” Buffaloe said. “Our organization is a lifetime commitment so it was a normal progression to transition to the graduate chapter and continue my service in the community.”

Sharron Barnes, the Zeta Pi Sigma chapter’s past president, wanted to give back to the community while enjoying the bonds of sisterhood.

Jeremiah Simmons, Nu Alpha chapter president of Omega Psi Phi, was inspired by the men who came before him.

“I knew a lot of good Omega men who were in my church,” he said. “They were great men who helped me through my college years at East Carolina University, and I knew I was going to be an Omega man some day. When the opportunity came, I took advantage of it.”

The activities each organization undertakes draw from the interests of local members and initiatives sponsored by their national organizations. The organizations also support the work of their ECU chapters.

Since the Zeta Pi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho reactivated in 1999, the organization has taken on projects such as a debutante cotillion, which helps high school-age women raise money for scholarships while mentoring them; and Pearls and Rubies, an annual luncheon that recognizes outstanding individuals in the community while raising money for scholarships.

Nationally, Sigma Gamma Rho has been sponsoring “Golden Alert,” a series of meetings that feature law enforcement officers discussing their interaction with the community. The meetings were inspired by the protests following the deaths of black men in police custody.

When the local Zeta Pi Sigma chapter holds its annual youth symposium on March 14, the event will feature a presentation by a New Bern police officer whose daughter is a chapter member, Buffaloe said.

The Youth Symposium is an annual event in which issues such as healthy living are discussed.

The local chapter also sponsored a swim class as part of the national organization’s partnership with USA Swimming, an organization that promotes swimming education.

USA Swimming statistics show 70 percent of black youth do not know how to swim.

The result is black children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their white peers.

“We are trying to prevent drownings,” Barnes said.

The organization also supports Backpack Buddies, which gives food over the weekend to youngsters at risk for hunger. It also collects books for donations to local libraries.

“We typically have one community service project every single month,” Barnes said.

The men of the Nu Alpha chapter of Omega Psi Phi, which formed in Greenville in 1936, also devote energy to a gamut of community activities.

The group participates in Relay for Life and fundraising walks for groups researching Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. The group participates in Adopt a City Street, where they periodically clean up McDowell Street. It was named for Wilson McDowell, a former Pitt County Schools’ coach and fraternity member.

The group also sponsors the Nu Alpha Talent Hunt, an event where participants from Craven, Pitt and Beaufort counties compete in the performing arts, Simmons said.

This year’s winner, Rafael Garcia, an opera singer, will receive a scholarship and an all-expenses paid trip to Winston Salem to participate in a regional competition, Simmons said.

“We’re excited because this is the first year we have our own mentoring program, the Omega Lamplighters,” Simmons said. Nu Alpha members work with students ages 13-18 at North Pitt High School, offering mentorship and guidance.

Fraternities and sororities always have played important roles in their communities.

“Sororities and fraternities have allowed for a collective voice to be spoken,” Buffaloe said. “They have given people a means and a direction on how to begin things. Some of our greatest leaders have been members of sororities and fraternities,” she said.

The key component is the people, Simmons said.

“Members make the fraternity, the fraternity doesn’t make the members,” Simmons said.

It was Carter G. Wilson, an Omega member, who created Negro History Week, which was the precursor of Black History Month.

Wilson was an individual who found a way to shine attention on the accomplishments of blacks during a time when the greater population wanted to deny such activities were occurring.

Simmons said by providing scholarships and encouraging youth to attend college, Omega Psi Phi has exposed young people to opportunities they previously did not know existed.

The fraternity also has a long history of promoting voter registration and educating people about voting rights.

Sigma Gamma Rho’s motto “Greater Service, Greater Progress” summarizes why the sorority is such an important part of Buffaloe’s life. Being in the service of others moves the community and nation forward and makes for a better world, she said.

Omega Psi Phi’s motto, “Friendship is essential to the soul” defines what the fraternity gives to its members and what the members give to the community, Simmons said.

“We believe friendship is very important in this life,” he said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.