Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Success of SIFE

by Shannon O'Neill

SIFE is one of UMass Boston’s newest groups, but they’ve accomplished quite a bit in their first semester. SIFE, or Students in Free Enterprise, was put together at light-speed by founder and Chief Executive Officer Jared Ward. While most groups spend their entire first semester fundraising and recruiting members, SIFE did that in their first two months together. By the third month, they were already prepared to participate in a competition in New York City against other colleges’ chapters of SIFE that had been established for years.

SIFE is an international organization that works on local, national, and global levels to empower people in need. Unlike many service groups, SIFE’s number one goal is sustainability rather than immediate but short-term efforts. They help by teaching others how to help themselves and believe in the motto “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” The motto is something that Ward long believed in and is a belief that is now being shared with all SIFE members and, on a larger scale, with the entire UMB community.

Since their start in January, SIFE has had many successes, but there have been setbacks too. I spoke with Linda, the Global Opportunities Director for SIFE, and she expressed how difficult it was to get a service project off the ground. Initially, Ward and Janine Brown (the Chief Operating Officer) wanted to work with the organization Invisible Children, a group they were both passionate about long before the UMB chapter of SIFE was formed. “Unfortunately, Invisible Children was very busy and didn’t have the time to send a representative to Boston to train us on how we could help,” Linda said, “It’s good for them because it means a lot of other people are interested in joining the cause, but it was disappointing to us because all of us in SIFE wanted to work with that organization.”

After the group was unable to work with Invisible Children, they looked into working with another organization called Heifer International. This organization keeps with SIFE’s goal of sustainability, as they give farm animals to people in poor countries and teach them how to manage the animals. Often, the animals donated are cows or goats that produce milk, or chickens that will provide fresh eggs. The people who are given these animals will be able to use the resources as food for themselves as well as a form of livelihood, as they can sell the milk or eggs.

Heifer International seemed like the perfect organization to get involved with, especially because SIFE planned on involving Boston-area middle schools with high drop-out rates – something that would make this project both a local and international effort. “One group member mentioned that when he was in middle school, his class raised money to donate a cow to an impoverished family in another country,” Linda told me. “While they didn’t raise the cow or work with animals, they learned a lot about how their fundraising efforts could help someone in need for a really long time, and he said everyone [in his school] was really excited about it.”

Unfortunately, SIFE found that many area middle schools were uninterested in participating in Heifer International. “We contacted a lot of schools in and around Boston, but they either didn’t get back to us or didn’t want to participate,” Linda said. “I think it would have been a great project both for the kids and for those, internationally, that the animals would help. We are going to keep trying with this project, but we’re going to look into new projects as well.”

Despite a couple of downfalls, it hasn’t all been disappointments for SIFE. One major accomplishment was a dodgeball tournament held in early April as a fundraiser. The turnout was great – 120 people participated and about $400 was raised. Even when SIFE needs to raise money for their own purposes, they stick to their selfless mission to help others; while the event was a fundraiser for the group, they didn’t keep all the funds for themselves. “We used what we needed for the competition in New York,” Jared told me, “but we donated all that was left to the Jimmy Fund.”

In addition to the success of the dodgeball tournament, SIFE triumphed at a SIFE USA Regional Competition that they attended in April in New York City. The group did so well, in fact, that they brought home two trophies. One award was for Rookie of the Year – a real honor as it means they were considered the best new chapter of SIFE in the region. The other award was for First Runner-Up. “The overall experience was phenomenal,” Jared said, “and competing on the same playing field as older, more established chapters of SIFE was a great opportunity. Coming home with two awards was really inspiring because it shows that, even though we’re a young group, we must be doing something right!”

Jared expressed that the trip to NYC served as a great bonding experience for members who attended, as it built friendships among members which has strengthened the group overall. Also, doing so well their first time at a competition has motivated everyone in the group to work even harder. Next year, the UMB chapter of SIFE is looking to take home the First Place trophy in lieu of this year’s First Runner-Up.

SIFE is still a young group here at UMass Boston, but they are already making waves on campus and amongst other colleges’ chapters of the group. In a less than a semester, they brought in a large number of members, put together a successful fundraiser, and attended a major, renowned competition. Now, there are about 75 UMB students who have joined SIFE – 20 students are members on the Executive Board and there are about 55 students serving as general members. The size of the group is impressive and it is still growing, as new members join with each meeting.

The group and group meetings have a fun dynamic, which makes it no surprise that so many students have already joined SIFE and more and more want to join. At meetings, business is tended to in an orderly and efficient fashion, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for jokes. Most meetings are filled with laughs, and SIFE is certainly the place to make new friends. Everyone is welcoming to new members and after one meeting you’ll feel like you’ve been friends with the rest of the members for years.

So what’s next for SIFE? While I can’t say for sure, I have high hopes for the group and, by looking at their short history, it’s clear that they’re capable of achieving all of their goals.

If you’re interested in joining SIFE and getting involved, “Like” UMass Boston SIFE’s page on Facebook, visit the SIFE website, or contact Jared at Jared.Ward001@umb.edu

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