Greek life turns passion into philanthropy

Alpha Xi Delta works with Autism Speaks to bring a better understanding and acceptance of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to UW-Eau Claire

Macey VanDenMeerendonk

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Alpha Xi Delta promotes conversations on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at events like the Teeter Totter-A-Thon.

The beginning of April signals the start of Autism Awareness Month, and on the UW-Eau Claire campus, one sorority works to bring understanding and acceptance of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) through philanthropic work for the community.

Alpha Xi Delta’s national philanthropy works closely with Autism Speaks in providing information about ASD while being advocates for those who are impacted by it.

Last year, Autism Speaks changed the way they promote and inform people about ASD. Instead of raising awareness, the organization works to increase understanding and acceptance.

Kaley Capocasa, a second-year psychology student and philanthropy vice president, said the change was because the organization felt awareness has been raised and understanding is the next step.

Members of the sorority who are impacted by ASD felt the importance of being an advocate for something they believe should be talked about, Capocasa said.

“Advocacy and inclusion has always been important to me,” Capocasa said. “I was on the philanthropy team last year and I really enjoyed that. It has kind of helped shape me into who I am.”

According to Alpha Xi Delta’s website, one in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD. Autism Speaks and Alpha Xi Delta work to promote the understanding and acceptance of those impacted by autism through works on-campus and through communities.

Jennifer Breese, a junior communication sciences and disorders student and chapter president, said Alpha Xi Delta works to raise funds to help Autism Speaks along with sharing the importance of understanding and accepting people with or impacted by ASD.

Through fundraising events, the sorority provides ways in which they can raise funds, spread information and involve students on the Eau Claire campus.

Breese said a lot of the sorority’s members are communication sciences and disorders, special education and general education students who took interest in Alpha Xi Delta.

“This organization touches home for a lot of people because this is what they want to do: Helping with individuals they are going to work with in the future,” Breese said. “Supporting an organization that is supporting individuals they will work with is really exciting and educational.”

Capocasa said that members become interested because of the experiences they can gain through the sorority’s philanthropic work. Members gain experience working and interacting with impacted families through volunteer opportunities, events held by Autism Speaks and events they hold on campus.

The sorority participates in the Minnesota Autism Speaks Walk by helping in any way they are needed. From helping with setup and take down, directing families and engaging with children affected by ASD and their families, Capocasa said this event is where they really get to see their work in action.

“I think that our philanthropy is something that definitely draws girls in even before they’re in the sorority,” Capocasa said. “Because of some of their majors it kind of has this impact on them beyond just the four years in the sorority.”

They are exposed to opportunities that create involvement with volunteering for Wisconsin Early Autism Project, inc. (WEAP), where members are able to spend time with children affected by ASD.

The sorority’s main campus event is the Teeter Totter-A-Thon — this year April 17 and 18 — which lasts for 24 hours. The members take shifts and teeter totter from 10 a.m. one morning until 10 a.m. the following morning.

Breese said the event has bake sales leading up to the day of the event, raffles, night games and music. Students can pay $5 and sign a waiver to participate on the teeter totter, Breese said.

With these events, Alpha Xi Delta is able to reach out to students in a way they can be a part of the mission to inform, Capocasa said. Advocacy and inclusion is a major focus of the sorority, and is what Capocasa said interested her in becoming involved with the philanthropy committee.

“I have a cousin who has autism, so that is really important to me, and I’ve always been involved with individuals who have disabilities, so our philanthropy is what drew me in,” Capocasa said.

With all events hosted by Alpha Xi Delta, Breese said their goals are to get the word out and promote positive thoughts toward understanding a subject that may be unfamiliar.

The Teeter Totter-A-Thon will be held in front of Davies Center. Students will be able to participate in the event and get information from members.

“Being in front of the student center is a great location because people really see it and they can ask us about what it is and why we are here,” Breese said.

Breese said having events about a topic that not every class gets to talk about is something that “opens eyes” and is important for everyone to realize.

Capocasa said the sorority informs others by showing how ASD impacts their lives and their future careers.

“I hope that our events that we put on show the campus how passionate that we are for Autism Speaks,” Capocasa said, “and why it’s important to us and just brings that understanding to the campus.”