Archive for the ‘ Service ’ Category

Make Your Bed

-Topher Endress

There was a running joke at camp concerning me and my bed making prowess – namely, I was compared somewhat unfavorably with some of history’s most oppressive governments when it came to how I felt these bunk beds should look.  I may have gone a tiny bit overboard with going behind people and remaking all of their beds – though it really shouldn’t have irritated them as much as they claimed it did.  Yes, I was probably annoying, but you can’t argue with results:

This was considered by a fellow counselor to be “acceptable.” I disagreed.

Top vs. Bottom – which would you rather sleep in?

Yes, that’s a hospital corner. And yes, there is a matching one on the far side, despite the fact that it is hidden from anyone’s view.

While my beds did look a lot nicer, my colleagues also pointed out that it was pretty unlikely for an eight-year-old to notice whether their bed was particularly nice when they drop their bags on it.  It was a valid point, and when you have to reset 12 cabins to be ready for the next wave of volunteers and kids, you don’t need to be wasting a bunch of time making each bed perfect.  However, while I realize that it may be a tad crazy, I felt I had some solid reasoning.

Here’s the thing about camp – you end up doing plenty of things you really don’t want to do, if only to brighten the day of a kid.  The culture of a SeriousFun camp is that kids come first, absolutely, no questions asked.  Their (and our, as they are our national philanthropy) mission is to create a space for kids with serious illnesses to come and forget that their lives look different than what a kid’s life is supposed to.  To me, a big part of that mission meant showing the campers and volunteers that we expected them, that we were looking forward to them being at camp with us.  If someone is willing to clean and prepare for you, it shows that you must matter.  And these kids do matter.  So I was willing to do anything I could to help them feel at ease with getting to camp – and a nice looking bed can play a big, if subconscious, role in being comfortable in your surroundings.

I’m not advocating that each of you makes beds intensely for yourselves, significant others, or even campers if you spend time at a SeriousFun camp.  I am, however, advocating that you be forward-thinking when it comes to important relationships.  Think about who is on the other side of the relationship, then consider what their needs might be.  As men, society tells us that we need to work hard to provide for those around us.  But until we know what others need, we can never work hard enough.  If you start considering what the people around are in need of, then work on finding a way to use your gifts/talents/resources to help, your relationships will assuredly strengthen.  Whether it is big or little, it is still a call to action.



Memorial Day

– Topher Endress

As today is Memorial Day, I thought it would be pertinent to write a post about the Armed Service members of our country.  Naturally, this is a bit of a dicey issue, as so many of the men I am writing to are on track to be highly involved with the military throughout the rest of their lives.  Add in the fact that half of my friends think I’m a bleeding-heart liberal (while ironically, the other half think I’m a conservative nut-job), and this post suddenly becomes a potential firestorm of misunderstood words and angry backlash.  Luckily, I think my point in this post will be accepted by both bleeding-hearts and nut-jobs alike.

So, typically on Memorial Day, I’m told by a variety of pundits through my t.v. that I should be honoring our current and former military.  And I do know several people currently serving overseas (including the ‘hot zones,’ if you will), and several who did see combat (including family members), so at first it seems like a no brainer.  But this weekend, I got to thinking, “Is honoring our military valid if you do not support military efforts?  Should you in good conscious honor someone who is dedicated to doing work that you do not necessarily affirm?”  Not to say that I personally stand against our military, but many in the country question much, if not all, of our policies.   Are they truly participating in Memorial Day?  Should they be participating?  Would honoring current soldiers violate their personal beliefs and make them liars?

As I’ve thought about how to approach the holiday, I’ve come to a conclusion – the characteristics held as ideals by our armed services are by-in-large worthy of anyone’s honor, regardless of political beliefs, personal beliefs or affiliation.  These characteristics are being made manifest by those who are serving and are still present in those who have served in the past.  Ideals like bravery and self-sacrifice are incredibly powerful and should  not be lightly discarded.  However, one could not simply say that the military itself deserves the laudations of every citizen, regardless of the necessary role it plays in fostering these positive characteristics.  The military is a collection of individuals, and I do not believe that I could possibly honor a mere system, especially considering that I do not believe most people (myself included) can give a blanket affirmation of any given system that is so large and plays so many roles.  It is infeasible to assume that most Americans support every single action taken by the Armed Services, but it is my personal belief that Memorial Day should be recognized to honor every single person with the Armed Services.

Memorial Day reminds us not to honor a system or a series of numbers.  Don’t spend today paying homage to the 416,800 servicemen who died in WW2, or the 1.3 million on active duty.  Spend today instead recognizing that each of our branches and each of those giant numbers are filled with people.  Regardless of your personal thoughts on our military strategy, if we can affirm the inherent worth of each person then we can also recognize the incredible sacrifice and hardship placed on each of those 1.3 million.  I don’t need to support every war to support every soldier.  I don’t need to love the system to love the sacrifice.  And don’t assume that supporting the military equates to honoring the people within it.  Today, put aside any political cares.  Drop the liberalism, drop the conservatism.  Forget party lines.  These are men and women.  Remember that each of them is a person and that they have worth.  They are working actively within their belief that what they do makes the world a better place.  I don’t care who you vote for, that’s worth honoring.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone.  And thank you to all of you willing to sacrifice so much for what you believe in.

Hearing versus Experiencing

– Topher Endress

So as I wrote in my first photo gallery on this thing, I spent the week after Finals at a camp in Michigan.  Technically, I was working by running the rides (like the 80 foot giant swing), but I spent most of my time either hanging out with some of the people I knew up there or reflecting by myself.  It was a great time, and I’m really glad I got the chance to unwind for the week.  No matter what my experience was like, though, I won’t be able to bring you fully into it.

I have spent several weeks throughout the last eight years at this camp, and as I walked across the main field or into the dining hall, my memories of time spent as a camper, as a first-time leader/authority figure, as a college student taking a road trip and as a worker all combined to give me an emotional connection to each place at camp.  I remember freaking out in midair during my first blob experience, I remember learning how to kayak in the lake, I remember sitting with a seventh-grader as he cried about his family life outside of the snack shop, I remember trying to encourage someone stuck with fear on the ropes course.  I can’t separate the experiences from the place, and that made this last trip much more meaningful.

However, this isn’t limited to camps.  We’ve all spent years on campus and with our brothers, creating our own memories and experiences.  And while we can explain what has happened to someone else, we can never relive that moment in a way that includes them.  I remember my first experience with Phi Tau – helping a local baseball park open for the spring.  No matter how vividly I might paint that picture, even with the smell of the grass and the feeling of dirt in my hands included, the new brothers who were not there will never be a part of that moment’s brotherhood and service.

I love that camp in Michigan.  But if I want someone else to love my camp, I can’t just tell them about what I did while I was there.  I can’t just show them a picture or two of what the area looks like.  To love it, to know it, they need to be there and participate.  And just like my camp, Phi Tau is something that must be experienced.  The simple act of inviting recruits into something that we truly believe in – be it leadership, service or learning – will allow them to know what Phi Kappa Tau is and will weed out those looking only to party.

Having that service experience as my first Phi Tau event changed many of my opinions on fraternity life.  I feel that I grew quite a bit over the course of that day, not because the work was so incredible but because it was an invitation into the service of this group.  I didn’t care that our colony said they wanted to have a focus on service and philanthropy.  I cared that I actually served.  Resting on the fruit of our past work will attract no one but those who merely want to talk the talk without doing the work.  As we look forward to Fall Rush, let’s remember that actions speak louder than words.  And the invitation to action, to experience, is what will draw in the Men of Character we are searching for.