Every year, Greek students on the University of Mississippi’s campus team up with various charity groups to make a difference within their community. At this point, it may seem like routine practice to some. However, this year, one fraternity in particular was reminded just how important its work is.
The Gamma Iota chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha tragically lost a beloved member of its fraternity, Blake Caummisar, 23, in 2016. Caummisar’s family has a strong relationship with St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, so the fraternity decided to work with them this year.
Former president Charles Ellzey said the loss of Caummisar had a significant impact on him personally. “It came as a complete shock,” Ellzey said. “I struggled to make it through his funeral service. Blake always brought a smile into any room he entered… He could make you laugh even if you didn’t want to.”
In addition to the emotional impact Caummisar’s untimely death has had on the fraternity, it also will have a long-term impact on the fraternity’s philanthropic endeavors. In a recent meeting, Ellzey proposed that, from now on, all donations be given to St. Jude in the name of Blake Caummisar. The proposal was unanimously supported by all members present and has since been added to the fraternity’s bylaws.
Sophomore Matt McPheron was the leader of about a dozen members of a team responsible for raising just under $20,000 donated to St. Jude for research regarding pediatric catastrophic diseases through an event called Pike Powderpuff, an annual contest in which each sorority on campus puts forth a team of eight players to be coached by a member of Pi Kappa Alpha.
McPheron worked with St. Jude Senior Event Specialist Lee Bobo, who has experience collaborating with Ole Miss’ Delta Delta Delta Chapter and helping organize Memphis’ “Up ‘Til Dawn” event.
“It is amazing working with collegiate groups who are dedicating their off time to volunteer for such a wonderful cause,” Bobo said. “The passion for the mission of St. Jude with these various groups is really inspiring to see and to be able to work with.”
Bobo also stressed the importance of this type of work.
“St. Jude can do so much with $20,000,” Bobo said. “It costs nearly $1 billion to run St. Jude every year, and 75 percent of that funding comes from events like this. The average individual donation is $35, so events like Pike Powderpuff really make a difference.”
In the week leading up to the tournament, participating sororities can earn points through donations and. This year, wristbands were sold in memory of Blake Caummisar.
The tournament winner receives many points, and the sorority with the most points at the end of the competition receives a portion of the money raised to donate to the organization of its choice.
In addition to the football tournament, sororities can also earn points by performing in a dance competition held the Friday before the tournament. However, girls are not the ones who dance. Rather, each sorority assigns two of its members to coach small groups of the fraternity men to compete, representing their coaches and the rest of the girls in their sororities.
One cheer coach, Malia Willis, had a lot of great things to say about her experience.
“My favorite part was teaching the boys the routine,” Willis said. “While the actual event was fun, all of the practices were so enjoyable. The boys wanted to win so bad and worked so hard on their routine. They took practice seriously and wanted to learn, so they were easy to work with.”
While “the boys” may have been serious about their roles in the dance competition, McPheron described the dances as hilarious and entertaining. “It’s definitely one of the funniest and best parts of the weekend,” McPheron said.
Furthermore, Coach Malia Willis said she was impressed by the event and how many different ways Pi Kappa Alpha offered to contribute to their cause. “It was an awesome experience and a great opportunity to make friends and help St. Jude,” she said.
Philanthropic events like Pike Powderpuff raise money for a good cause in order to improve the community. As Willis pointed out, charity work brings members of the community who hope to make a positive change together.
Philanthropy has been a part of Greek organizations for decades. Pike’s Powderpuff is on the front end of a spring semester that is loaded with philanthropic events within the Greek community, such as Kappa Sigma’s Diamond Days and Sigma Nu’s Charity Bowl.
Pi Kappa Alpha president Ryan Johnson said it’s a personal responsibility for members of fraternities and sororities to contribute.
“As Greeks, a lot of us are fortunate, and that makes us want to give back as much as we can,” Johnson said.
This year’s Powderpuff was a great success, bringing in $6,000 more than in 2016 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. McPheron contributes it to the amount of planning and promotion all of the volunteers put into the event.
Ellzey had words of gratitude for everyone who helped out, both within and outside the fraternity.
“Thank you to anyone and everyone who participated in the event,” Ellzey said. “We greatly appreciate in not only to donating to St. Jude’s, but also in remembering Blake. We could not have done it without y’all, and we can’t wait to make an even bigger donation every year.”