“Oftentimes, the perception is that we're just a frat. That we just want to party, but we want to show that we are good, classy guys who can do service for the community and leave a good impression.”
What started as required volunteer work for their fraternity has turned into something much more for Dayton Strength and Jimmy Fogarty.
The pair belong to Penn State Altoona’s Epsilon Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Delta. Over the last several years, the fraternity has worked with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Altoona for Voluntoona. In this Welcome Week event, first-year students do community service around Blair County.
In fall 2019, Fogarty, then an orientation leader, was assigned to supervise a crew of Voluntoona students at St. Luke’s. “I really resonated with the work they do at the church and how it impacts the local community. I like to focus on very tangible community service efforts like that.”
So, Fogarty introduced himself to Woody Pyeatt, one of the church’s junior wardens, and said fraternity members would be interested in helping St. Luke’s regularly. Pyeatt needed no convincing. “St. Luke’s is a small congregation in a very big building, but we are determined to do what we can for our neighbors.” Any extra hands would be an immense help.
The major event Epsilon Nu assists with is St. Luke’s monthly free food distribution, available to anyone in the community. Church leaders have seen the need for this service grow because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fraternity members unload the truck, lift and carry boxes of food, stock shelves, help neighbors with their selections, and help clean up afterward. “It feels good to know we are really helping, to see with our own eyes that people benefit from our work,” states Strength. “It’s not just canning at Walmart. I can see a real person who I helped through this situation, and it just makes me feel useful.”
“Working at the food bank feels nice for me because I get that personal connection with people,” adds Fogarty. “The people there are just so grateful. I feel wonderful afterward to have helped them in some small way. It also puts things into perspective for me and humbles me.”
The fraternity aids in another project St. Luke’s has undertaken in partnership with a local chapter of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light. IPL is a community of congregations, faith-based organizations, and individuals of faith responding to climate change. The group offers education and advocacy and tackles efforts like habitat restoration, composting, and building food gardens.
St. Luke’s works to remove non-native plants along the Bells Gap Rails to Trails route and then plant native trees in their place. “Jimmy and Dayton jumped at the chance to help with this. In September, they organized three different Sunday afternoon work parties and brought along two other fraternity brothers,” says Greg Williams, another junior warden at St. Luke’s. “This was much more involvement than I expected. These guys were eager. They worked hard, learned quickly, and had great insights on the importance of this work as one way to increase biodiversity and make the trail more attractive. They were cheerful and competent. It was a pleasure to work with them.”
What fraternity and St. Luke’s members seem to appreciate the most is the perhaps unanticipated connection they’ve made by working together. What began as a partnership has become a deeper, more personal relationship that makes the work even more enjoyable on both parts.
“Instead of just feeling like I'm meeting up with some random volunteer organization leader, I'm now meeting up with Woody and Greg—they're friends. Whenever you have that interaction, you keep wanting to come back for more of it,” states Fogarty. “I’m always excited to get to the church and see what the guys have planned for us to do.”
“Yes, we do have community service requirements,” adds Strength, “but we’d get them even without St. Luke’s. It's more like, ‘when can we go and help at the church?’ We want to be there. We want to hang out in a place that's comfortable for us.”
Both Strength and Fogarty encourage other students and student groups to get involved and contribute to the local community. They say to identify organizations and causes they feel passionate about and to reach out to them. “Nobody's ever going to be mad at you for offering your help. There are so many places that are in need and would welcome your services,” says Strength.
“Instead of spending your free time on your phone or something, think about going out and being of service,” says Fogarty. “You’ll work with your hands and do something of consequence that benefits others in need. I pretty much guarantee you’re going to end up feeling better about yourself.”
Pyeatt says it is through the assistance of organizations like Epsilon Nu and volunteers like Strength, Fogarty, and their fraternity brothers that St. Luke’s can carry on many of its programs.
“They have literally been a Godsend. I particularly appreciate that Jimmy and Dayton and their friends let me know when they are available to help and show up as promised. All our other volunteers and the neighbors being served appreciate their work, as does St Luke's. They are great guys and deserve recognition.”