As Aaron Willis danced with his fraternity brothers late into the night at Valparaiso University’s first annual Dance Marathon, he did so knowing his dancing would make a big difference in the lives of Indiana kids — kids just like his nephew.
“My nephew wasn’t supposed to live past the age of five months,” Willis explained. “I remember visiting him in the hospital — I walked in and instantly cried.”
Willis’ nephew was a patient at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, one of the country’s top pediatric hospitals. He was born prematurely and suffered a number of complications after his early birth. “He was born one pound one ounce,” Willis said. “He’s had multiple heart failures, including one that lasted more than 30 minutes. He cannot breathe on his own. He had to get a tracheotomy.”
So when Willis’ fraternity, Sigma Chi, joined with the Valpo’s 13 other fraternities and sororities to host a Dance Marathon in 2012 to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, Willis was excited to be involved. “[Riley Hospital for Children] gives you a sense of like, ‘Wow, there’s humanity in the world. There are good people in the world who are trying to help.”
When Willis first came to Valparaiso University, he had no intention of joining a fraternity. “The only thing I thought about fraternity and sorority life was what I saw in movies,” he said.
But then one of his friends encouraged him to join Sigma Chi. “I went out to Sigma Chi recruitment events, and I just felt at home. Hearing everything they talked about really meshed with my values — the values I’ve been raised with, the values Christ has instilled in me,” he said.
Through his fraternity, Willis found a number of ways to give back to the community — from packing bags for the Chicago Marathon and volunteering at a homeless shelter to tutoring at an afterschool program and helping with Popcorn Panic, a five-mile run that is part of the City of Valparaiso’s annual Popcorn Fest.
But the 2012 Dance Marathon — an event that has a more than 20-year history at many colleges — was special to Willis. And it meant a lot to him that his fraternity brothers were so involved.
“Our fraternity was the most represented. We showed that we really cared,” he said.
Now Willis hopes others will look to Valpo’s fraternities and sororities as organizations on campus that really make a difference. In 2012, fraternity and sorority members dedicated more than 10,000 hours of their time to community service and donated more than $36,000 to area and national nonprofits. More than 95 percent of fraternity and sorority members participate in some form of community service or philanthropic activity.
“I would say if you are on campus and looking for a community service opportunity, think about fraternity and sorority life,” he said. “We rack up the community service hours.”