For the 20th annual Beta Theta Pi Sleepout, which began Friday, Feb. 15, at the fraternity’s house, the Beta brothers set a lofty goal: raise $10,000 for Rape Response Services, their philanthropy based in Bangor.
The Sleepout consisted of an all-night party, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., that featured a bonfire, food and drinks, a performance by the University of Maine vocal group Renaissance and speeches by a representative of Rape Response Services and Dean of Students Dr. Robert Dana.
“Last year, we raised over $7,000,” said Sergio Afonso, a third-year animal science student and public relations chairman for Beta Theta Pi. “We’re trying to reach [$10,000], which is a little steep on our part, but the way we stand right now, we could make it.
“If we could do that, we’d be one of the few [Greek organizations] on this campus that would have been able to do that, raise $10,000 on a single event for a cause,” he added.
“I haven’t had time to do an official count yet but by the end of the night, we definitely reached more than [$6,000]! We still have more donations coming and [are] hoping to get another [$2,000] in the upcoming weeks,” Alfonso wrote in an email after the event.
‘That makes us very, very proud’
At around 9:30 p.m., Dana stood on the house’s front porch and spoke about the Sleepout, emphasizing its importance to the community and the fact that it has given “over $125,000” to various charities over 20 years.
“Nonprofits that are out there taking care of the common person, the people on the street, the people who need help every single day, they can’t do it by the money they get from the state or from the federal government,” Dana said. “Every single nonprofit, every one of these important groups, depends on donations, and for University of Maine students, year after year after year, to stand up and say, ‘We stand against rape and every form of violence against women and other human beings,’ that makes us very, very proud.”
Brianna Bryant, community outreach educator for Rape Response Services, described several ways they work and highlighted how important the Sleepout is to the organization.
“This is our largest fundraiser,” Bryant said. “We have an annual auction that the guys here support tremendously and have a lot of fun at and we really enjoy. But again, this is our biggest fundraiser. And the work that [Beta] does benefits so many people.”
Aside from donations from local businesses, a raffle — featuring gift cards headphones and more — is another way the event raises money.
“More than 75 businesses in the area […] give us business cards and other prizes for us to give out in our raffle,” Afonso said. “We have a canoe we’re raffling off, which is our biggest prize. We have headphones to raffle off. There’s a whole bunch of stuff. Between gift cards and our item things, we have about 40 or 45 prizes.”
‘You hear too often about sexual assault’
According to their website, the objective of Rape Response Services is “to offer hope, support, and advocacy to victims and people affected by sexual assault and stalking, to provide education about sexual violence and to promote prevention.”
Serving Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties, the organization offers a variety of services, including a confidential support line, an online helpline, support groups and school-based education.
The brothers of Beta Theta Pi realize the importance of the money they raise to help fund these services.
“I think it’s important because you hear too often about sexual assault in different areas, not only in the state, but elsewhere,” said Holden Parker, a second-year mathematics student and Beta Theta Pi brother. “I think that what we’re doing is really great for the cause, just to reach out and raise awareness for sexual assault.”
‘We’re Greeks, all together’
Part of what has made the event successful enough to run for 20 years is the enthusiasm it receives from the UMaine community, especially other Greek organizations.
“In the beginning, when we were setting up for this and picking dates and stuff, we invited all the […] Greek organizations on campus, and we’ve gotten a whole bunch of donations from them,” Afonso said. “The back of our shirts have donors and stuff, and I think there’s seven of them that are Greek organizations, which I think is fantastic — that we can come together, donate to each other and help each other out.
“If you look around, I can tell you there’s a Delta Zeta here, a Pi Phi over there and a Delta Phi over here, [and] I saw some INK guys earlier,” he added.
Afonso believes that cooperation between Greek organizations is “vital” to their existence on campus.
“I think, in my opinion, that Greeks have a good chunk of people on campus and we make our presence known,” he said. “We have our spats on the court or some other things, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same values and we all are here to better ourselves and to better our community. [When we are] showing up at other people’s events and supporting them and showing them that we’re Greeks, all together, it’s superb.”
The event also saw participation from non-Greeks, like from people leaving the UMaine Men’s Hockey game against Boston University that night.
“When the game is over, people walk by and they see our [fire], and they stop by and ask, ‘What’s happening?’” Afonso said.
“There’s a huge influx of people, usually when the game is over, then basically, people stay until about midnight,” he continued, adding that, by around 2:30 a.m., most of the remaining attendees are either Beta Theta Pi brothers or their girlfriends.
Although Beta Theta Pi ended the night a few thousand dollars short of their $10,000 goal, fundraising didn’t end when the bonfire went out.
“Businesses are still talking and sending in money. We don’t officially give our check out to Bangor Rape Response Services until the spring, when we have our formal banquet, and that’s when we’ll have our final total,” Afonso said.
“We’re hopeful that we can [reach our goal], but even if we get over $7,000 and do better than we did last year, we’re happy,” he concluded.