UT fraternity builds a bridge to adventure

Courtesy of Sunshine Communities

Courtesy of Sunshine Communities

Areeba Shah and Anna Glore, Associate Community Editor and Staff Reporter

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Founded in 1977 and known as Pi Kappa Phi’s exclusive philanthropy today, The Ability Experience is intended to instill lifelong service within the fraternity members to serve people with disabilities.

As part of their Ability weekend, University of Toledo Pi Kappa Phi members and alumni joined their brothers from Illinois, Ohio and Michigan April 22 to rebuild a boardwalk for Sunshine Communities.

The fraternity brothers visited the facility on Friday to interact with the members of Sunshine Communities and spent the rest of their Saturday building the boardwalk, Keil said. They continued working on the project on Sunday morning until 2 p.m.

Every semester, Pi Kappa Phi visits the special needs home to spend time with Sunshine Communities members and offer any help.

Philanthropy chair and third-year geography major John Stewart said it’s important for him to form relationships with people of disabilities, as he has grown up doing service for them.

“We make places more accessible to people with disabilities,” Stewart said.

In the past, they have done a variety of fundraising events and have assisted in building ramps for community members.

They have monthly events like movie nights, Halloween dances, 5K runs and dinners. The Pi Kappa Phi brothers enjoy interacting with Sunshine members.

“It’s kind of cool,” said third-year nursing major and vice president Paul Glaza. “It helps us build a relationship.”

Since Sunshine Communities is very close to their philanthropy, The Ability Experience, some Pi Kappa Pi members volunteer and even work there.

In the past, the fraternity has helped them with repainting tables, mulching their ground and setting up stones around the house.

However, the boardwalk is an especially important project, as it lets them have access to the beautiful ground, Glaza said. They are also able to enjoy the river that goes through their backyard.

“The boardwalk allows these members to go out and explore nature,” said third-year mechanical engineering major and Pi Kappa Phi treasurer Jeremy Keil.

Robin Erb, vice president of Sunshine Communities, said that members of the fraternity have helped maintain the boardwalk for years.

“Last year, they spent several weekends at Sunshine dismantling the 1993 boardwalk their predecessors built more than 20 years earlier,” Erb said. “Years of flooding and freezing had rendered the boardwalk unsafe.”

Keil said that, while they spent last semester destructing the boardwalk, this semester the members spent their time reconstructing it.

“They haven’t had a boardwalk for a year and a half now,” Glaza said.

Glaza said it’s been rewarding seeing the people’s reactions to the rebuilding of the boardwalk. He said he likes giving back to these people and allowing them to have the experience again.

“The boardwalk builds wheelchair access to a beautiful, peaceful outdoors,” Erb said. “Those who use mobility devices are often limited to smooth surfaces such as sidewalks and parking lots.”

Erb also said that the 1,140-foot boardwalk stretches through Sunshine’s backyard and allows users access to Swan Creek. The boardwalk will feature gazebos, benches and platforms to give users open spaces to relax.

To make this project a reality, Sunshine had an engineering team that volunteered to lay down the foundation. Then, the members of the fraternity worked to build the boardwalk and railing, Keil said.

He added that, throughout the process, the ADA came for standard regulation to oversee all the work.

“They’re so happy to have us here. I got hugs from at least three of them today,” Keil said.

The project will be finished within the next few weeks. In addition, the fraternity donated about $5,000 to Sunshine.

Some of the national programs Pi Kappa Phi members have participated in include Journey of Hope and Gear Up Florida, Stewart said. These programs involve riding a bike through communities to raise funds and awareness for people with disabilities.

To continue its efforts, the fraternity will be hosting Boundaries Week to raise money for The Ability Experience. One hundred percent of proceeds from its philanthropy dinner on April 27 will go toward supporting people with disabilities.

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UT fraternity builds a bridge to adventure