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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 19, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Sorority combines service and sisterhood

A group of women charged into Walmart on a mission: raid the tampons, pads and chocolate aisles. As they completed the ordinarily dull task of shopping, the sound of laughter and comfortable chatter followed the group. When they returned to campus, it was time for the women — sisters of Gamma Delta Pi — to prepare for the 2018 recruitment night event: a period party. For the members of GDPi, this period party meant creating little goody bags out of the newly bought supplies to give to the women’s rescue mission downtown.

For the 30 women of Gamma Delta Pi, a social service sorority unaffiliated with any larger branch of GDPi or Ithaca College, this is nothing new. The chapter of the sorority, which has been around since 1965, has been committed to service since its founding. GDPi President senior Kayla Beckvermit said that while she champions all the typical aspects of sorority life, like connection through sisterhood, the sorority’s number one priority has always been service. This commitment was something that Service Chair sophomore Alexa Bastardi said she was ecstatic to find her freshman year.

“I’ve always loved doing service,” Bastardi said. “I thought it was a good opportunity to make friends but also continue to do community service and volunteer work because that was really something I was looking for in a school.”

The sorority participates in different volunteering opportunities and holds a variety of events throughout the year. The group has volunteered with the Ithaca Children’s Garden’s Festival of Fire & Ice, Longview Assisted and Independent Living’s Holiday Bazaar and Tompkin’s County Public Library’s 24-hour readathon. However, GDPi’s highlight event of the year is the annual Relay for Life, an event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Junior Natalie Yesner, rush and fundraising chair, said that on top of participating in the relay every year, GDPi often holds fundraisers to donate to the organization and always has a booth saved for them at the relay.

Yesner said the event is her favorite and extremely personal because her mother is a breast cancer survivor. Relay for Life is a way for her to bring a part of her community back home to Ithaca while raising money for a good cause, she said.

“I walk for my mother, who is a 20-year breast cancer survivor,” Yesner said. “I’m lucky enough to have a mother who is a survivor and is passionate about breast cancer research. … Hopefully, in the spring semester, she will walk with my sorority and represent Gamma Delta Pi.”

The volunteer work the sisters take on can have unforeseen obstacles, Beckvermit said, like trying to find an organization that needs an entire sorority’s help. GDPi member senior Kelly Baffoni said that because the 24-hour readathon stretches through the night, sisters take random shifts at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. so no one is forced to stay up longer than anyone else. When volunteering at the Festival of Fire & Ice, it gets very cold. Bastardi said that luckily there was a large bonfire in the parking lot for most of the event that the sisters would flock to for warmth. Bastardi said these minor inconveniences do not matter to her or the women of GDPi.

“I love working with kids, and that’s what I want to do in the future,” Bastardi said. “Even though it was negative 20 degrees, … all of them were so happy and having so much fun. Being able to help out with that and be a part of that event specifically, it’s really cool. … You know you’re doing something right.”

Beckvermit said that between service events, she does her best to make GDPi feel like a sisterhood, and not just another impersonal, weekly or biweekly service club. Yesner said that while on campus, sisters are always saying hi, grabbing lunch together and, for some, living together.

This sense of community makes everyday volunteering more fun, Bastardi said, because she can work with friends rather than strangers. She also said the community makes it easier for her to plan activities and events that are more personal and meaningful to the sisters. She said this is why before the semester starts, she asks the women where they want to volunteer and tailors their service events accordingly.

“Every girl here is from a diverse, different place,” Yesner said. “They bring a little bit of their home to GDPi and what they want to do for service.”

Beckvermit said she benefited from this care and attention to community in the past. When her best friend was stationed in Iraq, she asked GDPi if the rush event could send him a huge care package that he and his unit could enjoy. Beckvermit said the sisters loved the idea and proceeded to fill boxes with Oreos, sudoku and funny sayings of positivity.

Beckvermit said it did not just make the sisters happy but also her best friend and his unit. Her best friend sent back a picture with his unit holding the gifts they had sent. Beckvermit said it was nice to bring two of her communities together and to see the joy it gave her best friend.

Bastardi said that in the future, she hopes to continue helping and expanding the network of organizations it helps, like the SPCA and food kitchens. She said she wants to continue reaching out and connecting with the greater Ithaca community. 

“You get to be a part of the community and help your community, which is really a special part of this experience and the college experience generally,” Bastardi said. “It’s made such an impact. It’s helped me connect with the community and the school itself so much more.”