Monday, December 14, 2015

From Jessie's Suitcase: Back Home Again in New Orleans

They say you can always go home.  And so it was the case for me, as I excitedly packed my bags right before Thanksgiving, to join several AOII leaders in New Orleans for the Arthritis Foundation’s annual meeting!  I called New Orleans my home for many years, and this was a wonderful chance to return to my hometown, to represent my favorite organization in supporting a very dear cause, arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis came into my life in 2002, and while any chronic disease comes with unique challenges, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have amazing doctors, effective treatments, and of course, an army of thousands of AOIIs supporting me along every step of this journey.  So, it is indeed my privilege to pay it forward and do everything I can to keep working for the betterment of other arthritis patients’ lives.

Soon after landing in New Orleans, I joined International President Gayle Fitzpatrick, and AOII Foundation Director Andrea Dill, for a late dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel. Dining is always a pleasure in the great city of New Orleans, and the highlight was a delicious bread pudding for dessert!

The next morning we arose bright and early to hit Café Dumond in the French Quarter on a gorgeous, sunny day.  Gayle, Andrea, PIP Allison Allgier, and I met AOII Foundation Secretary Linda Grandolfo, and Schuyler Ruhlman, a New Orleans native, and recent winner of the Adele Hinton award. One thing about those Café Dumond beignets—they are decadent and delicious, but you have to watch that powdered sugar! 

With our tummies content, it was time to get down to business at the conference, and first stop was the wonderful AOII table, manned by our new Director of Communications, Mariellen Sasseen!  She had brought some lovely photos featuring Strike Out events and the many Walks and Jingle Bell Runs supported by our collegiate and alumnae sisters! We got a lot of attendee traffic, with many thanking us for all we do for the Arthritis Foundation, including former AOII HQ staffer and arthritis volunteer Rachel Boison.  Directly across from our table was a fantastic showcase of the child’s and teen “power packs” that are sponsored by a generous grant from the AOII Foundation.  These fabulous backpacks provide newly diagnosed kids with some important resources and tools for comfort, including a teddy bear cool/hot pack, as they begin the treatment journey.

A group photo of all of the AOII's in attendance at the Arthritis Foundation Annual Meeting, 
plus a look at the Power Packs brought to patients by AOII!

Our conference opened with some very inspiring and riveting presentations from Arthritis Foundation leaders, challenging each of us to be a Champion of Yes!  AF President and CEO Ann Palmer shared the 2016 annual plan, the main goal of which is to “create a reputation as the cause leader audaciously attacking arthritis and its effects.”  Powerful words, and a daunting challenge!  Keynote speaker Jason Saul took the room by storm with a presentation on measuring, marketing, and selling impact.  Each of us learned so much about how to change the conversation, make a stronger case for support, and sell tangible outcomes that move the needle.

Next came breakout sessions, the first of which was Telling Your Story.  Wow, get out that Kleenex-I was so inspired! This session, facilitated by my good friend Julie Butscher, with whom I volunteered on a National Walk Committee years ago, drove home the need to tell your arthritis story in a few words and impactfully.  From there, we went to What Makes Great Events Great?  This session told us success stories about Walk teams that have effectively brought their communities together!

Recharged from these learning opportunities, it was time to get fancy for the Evening of Honors!  Emcee Matt Isemann, a television star and comedian, had us in stitches as he rolled off the jokes, but he also shared his poignant story of being diagnosed with RA and living with it while navigating a career in Hollywood.  We also heard the heartwrenching stories of two young arthritis patients who are bedridden and face life-threatening obstacle upon obstacle as they come in and out of hospitals and surgeries.  Matt may have had us rolling, but in reality, arthritis is no laughing matter.  It’s not just a disease of joints—inflammatory arthritis attacks organs and disables people from living their lives vibrantly and meaningfully. These young patients want their stories shared with the world so we can stand up and continue to walk with them, jingle for them, and make that crucial difference in finding a cure.

With the evening over, Gayle and I agreed that it was very exciting and motivating to be part of this special conference.  We were so proud when they announced AOII has given $566,000 in support! Talk about exceeding that expectation! I felt truly blessed to share this weekend with such dear sisters, and to learn how to be a stronger leader in supporting the many initiatives of the Arthritis Foundation. Content, I boarded my plane and said goodbye to this great hometown.  Till next time, New Orleans, and laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, November 23, 2015

From Caroline's Suitcase: Heading Home for the Holidays

Is it really already time for the holidays? It’s hard to believe that 5 months of being an ELC have come and gone so quickly! It feels like yesterday I was anxiously waiting to be reunited with the best team a girl could ask for in Nashville, TN for our extensive training led by our amazing and selfless leader Kaya Miller.

 5 months ago I was ready to hit the road!

During our three weeks of training the thought on the back of all of our minds was where are we going to visit? As the weeks progressed and we were getting closer to our departure date that once thought turned into a daily question. I had imagined myself traveling most of the semester to a multitude of chapters across the US and Canada. I knew that we had three new colonies and some of us would be resident consultants, but to be honest I didn’t think I would be one.

Finally one Thursday after our lessons for the day had concluded our boss walked into the room with a stack of papers. Everyone looked at each other hoping and wishing it was our schedule for the Fall semester.  Kaya stood up and said, “I believe this what you guys have been waiting for??” So she then passed the papers around one end of the table and then the other half on the opposite side so we would get it at the same time. Throughout the room you could hear tiny screams of happiness and excitement.
The best co-workers a girl could ask for!

As I was flipping through my schedule I figured I would be traveling because for the first month I saw I was visiting four different chapters: Delta Tau, Zeta Pi, Sigma Theta, and Phi Upsilon. As I continued to flip I saw that Gettysburg was written for the rest of the semester. That’s when it hit me that I was going to be the resident consultant for Gettysburg, which is one of our colonies this semester.  To be honest, I was completely shocked, extremely nervous, but very excited!  

The day came for us to embark on our first semester of travels. 4 weeks seemed to fly by as I visited Delta Tau, Zeta Pi, Sigma Theta, and Phi Upsilon. The women at those chapters made me feel so incredible welcomed and I genuinely loved meeting all of them! From seeing T-Pain, to learning fun new recruitment chants, trying new food, and celebrating their success at Bid Days; they made me realize that I truly have the most incredible job on the planet.

Zeta Pi chapter was one of my first wonderful visits!

On September 7th I arrived at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA.  I didn’t know what to expect as I drove into this small town full of such rich history. Another consultant, Allie Jivraj, came to help with three weeks of intense PR and Marketing on campus- from tabling in the CUB, to hosting information sessions, meeting with other organizations, and scheduling one-on-one meetings with PNMS those three weeks felt more like three days. On September 27th, we finally got our colony of 77 (now 80) wonderful, beautiful, and excited AOII’s. I couldn’t contain my excitement!

Allie left the week after and nerves shot through my body. I then realized that it was on me to educate, engage, and get this new colony ready to soon be a chapter. My goal for the new AOII colony was that their experience be everything they had hoped it would be and so much more. For the past three months, I have watched the women learn about AOII History and Traditions, make bonds that will last a lifetime, have leaders emerge, have enthusiasm about making this a great AOII colony, and participate in many different other organizations philanthropy events (and might I add place in every single one!!).  As my time to go home for the holidays approaches a lot of the women have said, “What are we going to do without you?!” While they question their ability, I have to utmost confidence that they will grow into an incredible AOII chapter.

The Gettysburg charter members at their twin reveal!

When I first arrived I thought I would be the one teaching them, but in fact they have taught me a thing or two. From getting guest swipes at Servo, having movie nights at my apartment, hanging out the women in the CUB, and dancing in the chapter suite I wouldn’t have traded my time at Gettysburg for anything. These are some of the most caring, kind, determined, and driven women I have ever met. Words can’t express how proud I am of these women and all that they have accomplished in the three months that I have been here. I will truly miss them, but I have left a piece of my heart here at Gettysburg with the Beta Eta women and I cannot wait to call them my sisters in January at Installation. 

Our Gettysburg women have placed in every single philanthropy 
that they participated in for their first semester!

These have been some of the best five months of my life being an ELC. I am truly thankful for this once and a lifetime experience. I will forever cherish the friendships and memories made this semester. I thank Alpha Omicron Pi for the woman I am today and cannot wait to see what next semester holds!


Caroline Listoe

Monday, November 16, 2015

From Emily's Suitcase: Finding Home at every chapter I've visited

“Why did you decide to be an ELC?” – a question I have received many times on the road. I think I give a different answer each time, because there are numerous reasons as to why I applied for this experience of a lifetime (I can’t call it a job because it is SO much more than that). Throughout my four years at Arkansas State University, I grew an undeniable love for AOII. Through the educational programming, service projects, and leadership opportunities, I developed skills and learned more than I ever did sitting in a lecture hall. I made friendships that I know will last a lifetime, and began to network on campus and in the community. The amount of support that I received from my sisters was unbelievable. Where else do you find a group of people who will surprise you with signs, balloons, gifts, and cheering as they send you off to your first “big girl” job interview? A State is an amazing university that has so much to offer its students, but I couldn’t imagine going through college without AOII. The best way to sum up why I decided to be an ELC is that I wanted to give back to the amazing organization that has given me so much.

From the moment I found out that I was part of the 2015-2016 Educational Leadership Consultant team, I was counting down the days until the team would be reunited in Nashville to begin our training. I thoroughly enjoyed living in the Nu Omicron house for three weeks with some of the most intelligent, driven, and caring women I have ever met. Their love for AOII is infectious, and I am blessed beyond measure to go through this journey alongside each one of them. During these three weeks of training, our amazing leader, Kaya, spent countless hours preparing us for the road ahead. From chapter operations, policies, and risk management to recruitment and colonization, AOII Headquarters staff ensured that we had all of the information and training we needed to be successful ELCs. When our time in Nashville came to an end, I was confident that I was prepared to give back to AOII. I hoped that I would be able to educate my sisters, impact the chapters I visit, and share my love for AOII across North America. Little did I know that it would be the chapters I visit and the women I meet who would teach and impact me instead.

The fabulous 2015-2016 ELC team at HQ!

Nerves set in as I stepped on that first plane to Richmond, Virginia. I prayed that my mind wouldn’t go blank as soon as I got to my first chapter visit. Luckily, the first thing I saw at baggage claim was an AOII stitch letter shirt worn by a friendly and welcoming face, and I was completely at ease. Rho Beta’s (Virginia Commonwealth University) Chapter President greeted me with a smile and we immediately began talking like we had known each other for years. She quickly updated me on the Work Week that Rho Beta was having in preparation for formal recruitment, and assured me that as soon as I stepped into their room I would feel right at home. Sure enough, I was greeted with even more warm and welcoming faces. Throughout the week, the women constantly asked me questions about AOII and were eager to learn more. They payed close attention during the workshops, and fully committed to each activity. It was evident that Rho Beta deserved the Excellence in Operations award that they received at AOII’s 2015 International Convention, and no surprise that they had achieved Ruby Level.  It was stunning to see a group of women who were so determined to succeed, but remained humble and genuine at the same time. I can’t wait to see all of the wonderful things they do in the future, and I’ll be cheering them on along the way!

After finishing up a wonderful Work Week with Rho Beta, I made my way down to the sunshine state for Gamma Theta’s (University of South Florida) Spirit Week. In no time at all, I could see their sisterhood shine, and I loved how accepting they were of one another. The chapter is made up of women from all walks of life, with different stories, dreams, and goals. Each woman is truly loved for who she is, and it makes me very proud to see such a strong support system. Gamma Theta made my visit one that I won’t forget. They insisted that we celebrate my birthday (even though it isn’t until April) at four different restaurants. That’s right – four free desserts! At the end of my visit, I was able to spend three days off in Florida. AOII has so many post-graduation benefits, such as alumnae connections everywhere you go! Local alumnae in the Tampa area ensured that my free days would be nothing less than enjoyable. Gamma Theta’s Chapter Adviser opened her beautiful home to me, and allowed me tag along to Busch Gardens with USF’s athletic department. I was also taken to a Buccaneer’s game and spent a relaxing afternoon at Clearwater Beach. I have loved keeping up with Gamma Theta through social media, and I can’t wait to see them continue to strengthen and grow as a chapter.

Celebrating my "Birthday" with Gamma Theta!

By the time I finished up at Gamma Theta, it had been over a month since I had left home and I was certainly experiencing my first case of homesickness. After two weeks of assisting chapters with recruitment preparations, I felt excited and slightly nervous going into my first formal recruitment visit. All is fair in love and sorority recruitment, so I began hoping for the best and preparing for anything that could be thrown our way. As soon as I arrived at Northern Kentucky, there is no better way to describe how Nu Omega made me feel other than simply at home. My homesickness quickly vanished throughout the week, and true friendships began to develop as the women debated over whether to call me an “Arkansan” or an “Arkansawyer.” We took recruitment head on, and I was their biggest encourager as they overcame each obstacle, late night, and stressful moment that came their way. When Bid Day finally arrived, I was overjoyed to see all of their hard work pay off! Not only did they meet quota, but 46 women were welcomed into a sisterhood that would change their lives for the better. Nu Omega was installed in April 2013, so I was able to meet some of the colony members and hear about their experience. I have recently helped colonize a new chapter of AOII, and the words of encouragement from my Nu Omega sisters who understand the colonization process meant the world to me. I know this chapter will continue to strive and impact their university, community, and Fraternity. They truly are a wonderful addition to AOII, and I am thrilled that I was able to be their ELC this year!

Me with the amazing women of Nu Omega!

After three amazing visits, I had high hopes for my next stop. Coming from my initiate chapter of 125 women, I didn’t quite know what to expect from a chapter of 30, but Beta Chi (Kentucky Wesleyan College) blew me away.  They showed true dedication to AOII, as most officers held multiple positions, kept up with their studies, and still managed to stay involved on campus. Recruitment “frills” was another first for me on this visit, and I shed tears of laughter each time I watched their Dr. Seuss skit. By the end of the week, I felt like I was a part of their family. Beta Chi’s chapter size may be small, but their passion and love for AOII is tremendous.

Beta Chi sisters made my stay feel like home!

My stay with Beta Chi ended on a positive note after meeting quota with 14 beautiful new members and a fun Bid Day by the pool. My next flight took me all the way to Texas, but this visit would be much different than the four previous to it. There were no officers to meet with, no recruitments to assist with, and no chapter members to greet me. I was heading to Tarleton State University where I would work alongside Mary Faith as a resident consultant for the rest of the semester. Together we would colonize a brand new chapter of AOII, and I couldn’t have been more excited! The first three weeks of our time in Stephenville, Texas were spent tabling, visiting student organization meetings, meeting with campus faculty and administration, holding informational sessions, and recruiting potential new members. The excitement surrounding AOII at Tarleton was overwhelming in the best way possible. Those three weeks of PR passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Colonization weekend finally arrived along with a team of AOII volunteers, Headquarters staff, and collegiate AOII members from surrounding schools.  The colonization team spent the entire weekend meeting the potential new members and sharing their love for AOII. By the end of the three days, 120 colony members were selected. Each and every woman was eager and determined to lay the foundation for AOII at Tarleton State University, and I am in awe of how enthusiastic the colony members have been to learn all there is to know about AOII. Tarleton State has certainly been a unique experience with its fun and quirky traditions, and it’s exciting to see AOII join the Greek community here. I can already see leaders emerging, bonds forming, and their sisterhood growing each day.  I cannot express how thankful I am to have the opportunity to work with such outstanding women. As Installation approaches and my time with Theta Sigma comes to an end, I often hear the women question how they will survive without the ELC’s here. For the past three months, I have watched as the colony learned about AOII history and traditions, listened as they shared their love for their new sorority, and helped guide them in a positive direction towards an exceptional Greek life experience. Just as their sub motto states – “Tradition through service” – I know that Theta Sigma will uphold AOII’s tradition by continuing to be of service to Tarleton State University, the Stephenville community, and our beloved Fraternity. While they question their ability, I have full confidence that they will blossom into an amazing chapter and continue to exceed my expectations.

Our amazing Tarleton State Colony sisters at their retreat!

Sigma Omicron will always be my home, but I like to think that I have taken a little piece of home from each chapter I have visited this semester.  As I continue to be asked why I am an Educational Leadership Consultant, my answer will continue to change. I now have experiences with six different chapters, six different groups of amazing women, six different stories, and six more reasons why I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. I thought that I could give back to AOII for all it has given me, but I have quickly come to learn that this organization never stops giving. I will always be thankful for the people I have met, places I have been, and the person I have become because of Alpha Omicron Pi.



Friday, November 6, 2015

From Kate N.'s Suitcase: Finding Your Niche

Kate Novinger
Epsilon Omega Chapter/Eastern Kentucky University
2015-16 Educational Leadership Consultant

Finding your niche is when you can make something your own, where you find something you completely excel in, and makes you realize this is something you do not understand how you were ever without. In Fall 2011, I decided to join Alpha Omicron Pi, which in just a few short months I discovered was my niche.

Becoming an Educational Leadership Consultant was filled with a whirlwind of emotions. I was overcome with excitement, anxiousness, and a newly renewed love for this organization. This was an experience that I could not wait to begin, and as soon as I received that phone call I realized part of my dreams were coming true. I was going to be given the opportunity to help collegiate members all over United States and Canada find their niche in AOII. The only thing better than growing in AOII is watching another member grow.

We do not all walk the same journey in AOII, and every member finds their niche differently. Whether that is as a group, holding an office, during the first Recruitment for a colony, or reaching for the next level of exceeding the expectation, the best part of the journey is discovering your place in the foundation of our sisterhood.  

My journey as an ELC has been all I imagined and more. In my travels so far, each chapter has shown and taught me so much. At Upsilon Lambda/University of Texas San Antonio, I was able to help and watch certain members grow drastically in their office. Every little bit of information I had to offer they were ecstatic to learn.  Sigma Omicron/Arkansas State University’s sisterhood during Recruitment was something I never have experience before. The sisterhood that was developed throughout the process of Recruitment was something all chapters should strive for. Chi Theta/Northeastern State University’s newly initiated members realized what AOII meant to them, and how much of an impact each member plays. I was able to speak to two of those members about how important the position of VPMR & VPMR elect is to AOII, and now, those two members are now the newly elected VPMR & VPMR elect! Phi Delta/University of Wisconsin Milwaukee experienced their first Formal Recruitment at their campus, and I watched them fall in the love with the idea of having new members, especially their NME. Mu Lambda/Rollins College realized how much potential they have, and what steps need be taken to continue their growth in AOII. 

Luckily, I am able to be a residential consultant at Upsilon Beta/University of Arkansas Fort Smith this semester. I have watched these members understand how important it is to find their niche in AOII, and set the foundation for their chapter for years to come. Everything about this experience has helped me continuously grow as a woman, and I could not be more blessed with this opportunity to help collegiate members all over find their niche.


Conquering the world at Upsilon Beta's pumpkin patch sisterhood!

Chi Theta/Northeastern State University's fabulous new members.

Chi Theta's awesome new VPMR Audra and me!

Phi Delta/University of Wisconsin Milwaukee members at their first formal recruitment!

Sigma Omicron/Arkansas State University's amazing bid day!

With my fellow ELC Monica at Upsilon Beta/University of Arkansas Fort Smith's beautiful campus fountain.

Having a blast at an Upsilon Beta sisterhood!