Philanthropy: A Driving Force
“From the beginning, the I.C.s were interested in altruistic work.” The founders knew the importance of giving back to their communities to “dispel the gloom from the lives of all around them.” The Nebraska Alpha Chapter started a library in York, Nebraska, which it maintained for ten years before presenting it to the city. The importance of education and the benefits it can bring have always been a driving force for Pi Beta Phi. At the 1910 Convention, Emma Harper Turner proposed the establishment of a settlement school. This school would honor the twelve founders and would be established on the fiftieth anniversary of the Fraternity in 1917. The site chosen was the Appalachian Mountains, an area designated by the U.S. Bureau of Education at Washington as the most in need of education. Grand President May Lansfield Keller, Maryland Alpha, visited Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and was adamant that the Fraternity needed to place its school there.
Not only did the Settlement School provide much needed education for the local youth, but it created a market for the Gatlinburg community to sell their crafts — baskets, weaving and furniture. In 1922, the Jennie Nicol Memorial Hospital was opened and served the local medical needs and provide hygiene education to the community. For some of the students, the craft skills learned at the Settlement School meant “emancipation from tending the crop,” and by 1935, weaving was the big industry of Gatlinburg. “In 1924 the Grand Council and Settlement School Committee voted to secure and use a trademark for articles made at the School.” An arrowhead design was registered to represent the Arrowcraft trademark. The Settlement School lives on today in both Pi Beta Phi Elementary School, which is part of Sevier County Public Schools, and the Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts.
After World War II, Canadian Pi Phis felt that establishing a distinctly Canadian philanthropy would unify Pi Phis in Canada “and would create favorable public relations.” The Loan Fund was made available to the eight Canadian schools of social work and put into place in 1954. At the 1967 Convention, Arrow in the Arctic was established to commemorate the dual centennials of both Canada and Pi Beta Phi. “Money was sent to supply books to the libraries of the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The Canadian government supplied an adequate budget for the purchase of books, but there was no money available for extras such as expensive reference volumes. In July, 1967, a check for $1,000 was presented to the Commissioners of the Territories to be divided equally between the libraries.” Today, Arrow in the Arctic continues to support libraries in the most remote parts of the far North.
Most of Pi Beta Phi’s philanthropic endeavors have focused on literacy and education. Whether it’s providing education to and sharing the gift of reading in rural locations, helping out before and after the world wars or helping fund the isolated libraries of Canada’s north, Pi Phis have always believed in the power of philanthropy. “In 1990, Grand Council announced a new service project for clubs and chapters, Links to Literacy, joining a number of national groups to combat illiteracy, a critical problem in the United States.” Champions are Readers® (CAR), Pi Phi’s own reading enrichment program, was adapted by the Links to Literacy committee from a creative concept that originated with the Houston Alumnae Club. While CAR remains today, Links to Literacy evolved over the years, and to better express the mission of the Fraternity, is now known as Read > Lead > Achieve®.
Reading and Literacy Efforts
Read > Lead > Achieve encompasses all of Pi Beta Phi’s reading initiatives, which include Arrow in the Arctic, CAR and Fraternity Day of Service. Alumnae clubs and chapters across North America celebrate Fraternity Day of Service on or around March 2, Dr. Seuss’® birthday, by participating in numerous reading activities across North America, including Pi Phi’s five Signature Events which include the distribution of 20,000 brand new books each. Through their philanthropic efforts, Pi Phis have given away more than a million books and donated over a million dollars. Today, the organization is working towards a goal of impacting one million lives by 2017.
The Literacy Fund at Pi Beta Phi Foundation plays a critical role in the success of Read > Lead > Achieve. Gifts to The Literacy Fund support all Pi Phi reading initiatives under Read > Lead > Achieve, including Champions are Readers, Arrow in the Arctic, Fraternity Day of Service, Pi Phi’s First Book® Partnership and much more. Additionally, the Foundation has the Local Impact Grants program, which provides grant opportunities to support reading in local communities.