Kean fraternity changes lives and attitudes

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The brothers of Iota Phi Theta fraternity

By Marco Rodriguez

It’s often times said that in order to accomplish something great, you should “go big or go home.” Rather than going home, one Kean University fraternity is going big and giving a home to a family in need.

Iota Phi Theta, a well-known fraternity at Kean University, is not only preparing to change a family’s life, but also preparing to change people’s perception of Greek life as a whole.

In an effort to reach out into the community and get involved, the brothers decided to think “outside of the box” and take on a large scale project that would bring about lasting change.

The group inquired for hours and studied their options, before discovering the Valentine’s Day land sale that the city of Newark was holding. The sale, which offered couples of any sexual orientation a vacant lot for $1,000, was the opportunity the brothers needed for their project.

Once purchased, the fraternity would work alongside Sierra House, an East Orange nonprofit that helps at risk women, to find a family for the home that they will eventually build. Tosin Oduwole, a member of the fraternity, believes the decision to build the home was just what the fraternity needed to break the mold of common community service projects.

“Rather than just do a bake sale or a coat drive, we wanted to do something that would have a longer lasting charitable effect,” Oduwole said. “We want to change somebody’s life, not just get them from point A to point B.”

Oduwole and his girlfriend stepped forward to be the couple that would purchase the property on 17th street in Newark that Saturday in February. Every member of the fraternity donated money, and eventually the group had enough to purchase the lot and move on with their venture.

The fraternity plans on building a two family home in which one side can be rented and the other will go to the needy family. Currently, the fraternity has collected over $6,000 through their GoFundMe website for the estimated $100,000 home. According to Oduwole, the rent of the one unit will cover all utilities, property taxes and maintenance of the property.

Furthermore, as part of the purchase, the fraternity needed to own the property for five years to be in compliance with the regulations established by Newark’s government. According to Oduwole, the fraternity was able to bypass the policy as they are not transferring the ownership title to anyone when the family eventually moves into the home.

Beyond the good deed that the fraternity is undertaking to help the family, comes the opportunity to change people’s perceptions about Greek life. A 2013 USA Today article explored the common stereotypes associated with Greek life and discovered that, among them, was the notion that fraternities and sororities are self-centered.

Scott Snowden, director of the Center for Leadership and Service at Kean, dismisses this notion as it is not in touch with the reality seen at the university.

“There isn’t a monthly events calendar at Kean that is not filled with Greek programs, fundraisers or service projects,” said Snowden. “This project by Iota Phi Theta is definitely one to be applauded and will undoubtedly encourage and motivate other organizations to be even more creative and determined to give back.”

Keely Freeman, founder and executive director of Sierra House, shares Snowden’s sentiment and believes this initiative can be a sign of things to come.

“This move from Iota Phi Theta is community service at its best,” Freeman said.  “By helping this family, they’re making sure people’s bad reputation of fraternities is gone.  If anything needs to become a trend among college students, it’s activities like this.”

According to Freeman, since the purchase of the property a family has been chosen to live in the home that the fraternity will build. The women at Sierra House, all homeless, held a meeting and unanimously agreed that a 22 year-old single mother should be the one selected to move into the home, due to her work ethic and aspirations.

News of the fraternity’s endeavor has also swept across campus with students supporting the decision to help out the family in need. Thomas Monto is optimistic about the effects the good deed will have on and off campus.

“I think this decision really shows what Greek life is all about,” Monto said. “Sure they have fun and party occasionally, but at the end of the day it’s about coming together to do something good for others.”

Monto’s friend, Christopher Capaldo, also agrees that the fraternity is making a lasting impression.

“Not only does this look good for the fraternity, but also for Kean at large,” said Capaldo. “I’m sure other fraternities and sororities will attempt to do the same going forward.”

Capaldo’s comments resonate with Oduwole, who believes his fraternity’s action is just a glimpse of future Greek activities.

“I feel we have set the bar high, but I hope that other student organizations set an even higher standard in the future,” said Oduwole. “Together we can continue to show that Kean University doesn’t just produce students, but produces great people!”


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