Most college students choose to work during their summers off or take countless vacations to recharge for the next school year. That is not the case for 21 men of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. Members from schools all across the nation band together every summer to do something meaningful. As a part of Build America, the fraternity brothers spend six weeks traveling from camp to camp serving people with disabilities.
The third week of their travels, the men made their way to Wonderland Camp in Rocky Mount.
"The guys did amazing work. They are gifted and passionate about our campers. A group of Fraternity men who give up their summer to raise money to work, then work all day and then go 'play' with the campers all night," Wonderland Camp Executive Camp Director Jason Hynson, said.
"Just wonderful, mature, professional and hardworking," he added about the men.
Pi Kappa Phi alumni founded PUSH America in 1977 and the non-profit organization remains to this day as the exclusive philanthropy of the fraternity. The purpose of PUSH is to instill lifelong service into Pi Kappa Phi members and to serve people with disabilities. One of the programs within PUSH is Build America which began in 2003. Since then, members have been embarking on summer adventures that allow them to build accessible amenities at the camps and interact with campers.
The Build America Team has been at Wonderland camp all week. They have completed several projects including replacing edging along the miniature golf course, repaired and improved the horseshoe pit area, built a bird blind for a nature activity, rebuilt a ramp on the back of the office building and rebuilt steps on the camp house.
"By the end of the week we will have a safer hayride wagon, a new BB gun range and a brand new nature activity, the bird blind. It is great to have groups support new program areas for campers. Our campers come year after year, and having a new activity is exactly what they want," Hynson said. "However, it is hard to budget for new activities with the increase cost of supplies, food and staffing. Without this group many of these projects would not have happened for many years."
Even though construction plays a huge role in the mens' time at each camp, it is about far more than building a new ramp or a bird blind. It's about building new friendships.
"It's a lot of fun and at the same time it is meaningful because of the work that we are doing," University of Oklahoma sophomore Daniel Cartwright, said. "I like to get this experience, figure out how things go on a job site and become more comfortable with campers, too."
At least ten different universities from across the nation are represented in the Build America team. Many of the fraternity brothers had not met one another before their six-week journey began.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's good just getting to know everyone," Cartwright said. "I've been surprised by all the similarities because we are all from chapters all across the country and different schools. It seems like everyone from Pi Kappa Phi have a lot of things in common. These are all really good guys, obviously — doing this with their summer."
The Pi Kappa Phi brothers not only built special projects for the camp but during their downtime, they had a chance to bond with the staff and campers.
"The guys bring energy and an excitement that helps our staff and campers. This is our week eight of camp and the Build America guys are on week three. Their energy will help us make each week the best for every camper who comes to Wonderland Camp," Hynson said.
The team of men could choose to do anything with six weeks of their summer, but they chose to spend it serving others.
"A lot of guys share the reasons why we want to do this. For me personally, I believe in people and I believe everyone deserves a great life. Some people just need a little bit of help along the way and that's why we are here." University of Texas-Dallas Junior Noshua Vincent, said.
Groups like Push America have a huge impact on campers attending camp.
According to Hynson, "Each camper pays a fee, $575, to come to Wonderland Camp. However, the actual cost is over $795 for a week at Wonderland Camp. It is these groups, Pi Kappa Phi's Build America and other groups, friends and volunteers who help 'bridge the gap' for the additional $220 necessary for each camper to come to camp. We thank and appreciate this support and all the community members and friends who continue the support for the lake's Wonderland Camp."
Build America will pack up and leave Wonderland Camp on Friday, July 19 but not before leaving lasting memories and impressions behind.