The room is dark and dimly lit. Candles line the floor, forming concentric shadows on the walls. The solemn atmosphere is so oppressive that it’s nearly tangible. A meek freshman holds himself stock-still as an upper-class officer bestows upon him the final rites of passage into the fraternity. This is the only university-sanctioned fraternity at Georgetown University – Alpha Phi Omega.

But APO, a co-educational community service fraternity, is more than simple rituals. It is a mixture of service and tradition. With over 275,000 members worldwide – including Georgetown alum Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) – today it is the largest fraternity in the world dedicated to community service.

At Georgetown, the Mu Alpha chapter’s commitment to service is displayed through weekly service projects that the fraternity offers to both brothers and non-members alike.

These service opportunities run the gambit from working on houses for low income area residents, to volunteering at a substance abuse center to Food & Friends, a food delivery program for patients with HIV. The comprehensive program covers many of the opportunities to do community service available in Washington, D.C.

The fraternity also provides on-campus services including the Van Escort program, which drops students living off-campus at their residences each weeknight between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

One need not be a member to participate in the community service opportunities offered through APO. But according to Dave Karch (COL ’06), the president of the Georgetown chapter, “It is the community atmosphere that makes Alpha Phi Omega different.” Members work together to coordinate each of the chapter’s nine service projects.

To gain admission to this group currently made up of 74 active students, prospective members must go through a pledging process of six to seven weeks beginning at the beginning of each semester. They must spend a significant amount of time with active members and attend weekly “line meetings” where the pledges learn about the fraternity’s history and traditions.

Pledges have three main requirements over this period: participation in ten service projects, meetings in the fraternity office with current members and keeping a pledge journal to document their pledging experiences. Pledges must also eat at least 40 meals with current brothers – but they are all paid for by fraternity members, making this more of a perk than a requirement.

According to Karch, these requirements are designed to create strong ties between prospective and current brothers contributing to a smaller close-knit feel of the organization.

A pledge can expect to dedicate anywhere between 10 to 15 hours a week to the pledging process initially, but once one has joined APO, the time commitment is determined on a volunteer basis. embers say that hazing is prohibited by the fraternity’s bylaws.

Along with the accomplishments of new and prospective members, Alpha Phi Omega recognizes the continuing service of their active and alumni brothers.

The Georgetown chapter has especially strong alumni ties and connections with other area chapters, member Valerie Ciccone (COL ’05) said.

“This is a good way to meet students from other schools,” she said. “The way the alumni stay involved is also really unique.”

Members who have graduated and moved on to the professional world still often attend fraternity meetings and return to Georgetown’s campus to meet prospective members. This unique feature of Alpha Phi Omega differentiates it from many of the other service organizations on campus, Ciccone said. It was this brotherhood that made Horiana Isac (SFS ’06) want to be a part of the organization.

“I love it because I’ve gotten to know amazing people through APO and have done many things I wouldn’t have done otherwise,” she said. “I was skeptical at first and didn’t think it would be more than another club, but through APO I found my niche at GU.”

It might not be an Animal House, but the friendships and love of community service developed in Alpha Phi Omega can last a lifetime.

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