In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Omega Tau Omega Chapter in Fort Mill, SC and did an interview with Denise Casey the President of the chapter.
The position of president of a Black sorority chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Denise Casey, who works as a Registered Nurse, has been in the position of president for 2 years.
We interviewed Casey, who is a 1997 Laurens, SC initiate of Alpha Kappa Alpha and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in the digital age.
Read the full interview below.
What motivated you to take on the role of alumni chapter president?
When I joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc® in 1997, I was determined to leave a legacy of service for those who came after me. My parents, George and Patsy Casey, have always instilled in my brother, sister and me an unwavering dedication to community service. We watched both our parents, who do not have college degrees, serve, and lead organizations in the community from the time that we were little. Their examples of servant leadership helped to shape the woman that I am today, and their examples impact the decisions that I make daily. Therefore, it was never an option for me to only be a member of any organization. My parents are leaders, and they bred leaders. I have held leadership positions in the chapters that I have served since my initiation. So, chapter president was the ultimate goal on this level.
What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the local community or the broader Black community?
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.® Omega Tau Omega Chapter focuses on the International Initiatives of the sorority as well as chapter initiatives that impact and improve the entire community, specifically the African American community. The Uplift Our Local Community initiative focuses on promoting local change and substantial impact by offering programs that meet the needs of the local community. Omega Tau Omega Chapter through Uplift Our Local Community is establishing a footprint in Clover, SC through an emphasis on the homeless and the economic disadvantaged. Thus far, Omega Tau Omega Chapter has provided bedding donations and the Handbags for Homeless Women Project, which included gently used handbags, toiletries, and gift cards to residents at an area homeless shelter. The chapter has identified the need to continue to build and improve the lives of the homeless by strategically and intentionally working within this specific area. The Empower our Families Initiative focuses on providing the community significant health awareness programs, which include, breast cancer awareness Forums and mammography day events. Omega Tau Omega Chapter recognizes that mental health awareness is an area of health that affects Black lives significantly, but our people are not empowered to seek help for mental illnesses. To help increase awareness, the chapter held a three-part mental health awareness program, including an in-person workshop featuring licensed therapists; a virtual session discussing the impact of emotional intelligence entitled, “It’s Okay Not to be Okay.” The panel discussion was streamed live on Facebook and as of June 5, 2023, the post reached 2,243 individuals. Because this is such an imperative health topic the third part of this mental health awareness campaign on social media featured a weekly mental health video via Facebook. The health of the community is a key focus of Omega Tau Omega chapter; an important demographic focus for us is our Seniors. On June 10, 2023, the chapter hosted a free health and wellness fair for seniors living in the communities of Upper York County, SC. Given the unique challenges facing seniors, this was an opportunity to provide access to a multitude of vendors and services specifically for seniors. The chapter also focuses programs on the youth in the community. Two programs that Empower Our Families are the Youth Leadership Institute which empowers our youth through collaboration and focuses on youth between the ages of 11-13; the second is the Childhood Hunger Initiative Power Pack (C.H.I.P.P.) Program which provides weekend and holiday meals for children within the local community.
What made you want to pledge Alpha Kappa Alpha?
Alpha Kappa Alpha runs deep in my family. I have experienced first-hand the work and sisterhood of the organization my entire life. The women I admired and loved as a child also love AKA. So, there was no other option for me and I have never regretted choosing to become a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.® Omega Tau Omega chapter is unique in how dedicated the members are to handling business for the sorority on local, regional, and corporate levels while doing so in a sisterly manner. Being a chapter that is only 5 years old, our charter members, of which I am one, had the vision for a different chapter. Initially, we laughed about it being a eutopia in the sorority. Where everyone loves on each other, and all things run smoothly. While of course we have disagreements and we are learning daily, Omega Tau Omega is that beacon of light in the sorority. The chapter members exemplify love and light in everything that we do. Not only do many members of Omega Tau Omega give of their time to ensure the chapter is handling sorority business through planning and executing programs for the community; but many members are active on regional committees to help carry out the vision of the sorority. The chapter even has a member on an international committee as well. We have dubbed ourselves as the OH-mazing Omega Tau Omega chapter as we continue to exceed expectations within the sorority!
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
N/A – we are not assigned an undergraduate chapter
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
Fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members was pivotal in establishing this year’s strategic plan for this administration which is themed “A Legacy of Light & Love.” The overall goal is to spread love throughout the chapter, while shining a light on Omega Tau Omega chapter by bringing it into the forefront in Fort Mill and the Upper York County, SC. One of the key focus areas in the “Light & Love” Plan is to have joy in the sisterhood. Intentional goals were established to support a legacy of light and love.
A few of the goals set forth in this year’s strategic plan that I have found to be effective in fostering that sense of unity and camaraderie are:
1) Membership Engagement & Sisterly Relations Goals The objective is to set a precedence and establish new standards for membership engagement and sisterly relations that would help expand the chapter and empower its members. To do this, we set actions in place to communicate with inactive members and support them in reconnecting and becoming active members again. We also ensured actions were in place for us to diligently work to ensure transfer members are acclimated within the chapter for overall requirements, events, and programs. During this administration, we have had 29 members transfer into the chapter (some were inactive, some were not affiliated with a chapter but still active, and some transferred in from another chapter). We established Squads that encouraged sisterliness among members and partnered transfer members with a mentor.
2) Wellness & Self-Care Goals The objective is to spread love throughout the chapter. The focus here is to lead women of color through a paradigm shift to view each other in a positive light and to express love for each other in all circumstances; and to speak out against those who seek to do otherwise. The intent is to normalize healthy relationships with other women of color and to be intentional with the love that we give to each other and those around us. Members share facets of love to encourage, uplift, and inspire chapter members and members of the community. This objective is the cornerstone of continuing to build a strong, long lasting, and successful chapter within the community. This goal also encourages members to increase self-care, as it is a “key” step in the individual growth process; help members to improve wellness through physical health (diet and exercise) and spiritual health (prayer/meditation). One of our Squads is our Fitness Squad which has run 5k’s together, attended Burn Bootcamp together, acted as accountability coaches to one another and hiked a few trails together. Our Monday night manifestation prayer calls led by our Spiritual Oversight Committee are focused on our spiritual health and are recorded and shared with the entire chapter to ensure everyone has an opportunity to receive a rich word for the week.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
I would highly recommend to aspiring leaders the importance of first knowing and understanding the current corporate initiatives and sorority documents. As this is done, it helps members to properly develop plans that are in alignment with the goals and objectives for the sorority. The next piece of advice I would give is to always lead by example. Members are inspired by how they see the leaders of the chapter operate and conduct themselves. Having a genuine sisterly attitude is a starting point of a good leader. You cannot be a good leader if you are not a good sister. Sisterliness is intricate to leadership.
How has mentorship helped you get to where you are today? Are there any specific people in your org who have made a significant impact on your life as mentors?
Mentorship has definitely helped me to get to where I am today. I joined the sorority in a chapter in a small town where I grew up and the women in that chapter have ensured that I have the resources I need to be successful even though I am no longer a part of that chapter. They are excited to see me at conferences and they support events in my chapter when possible. My most significant and impactful mentor is a member who took me under her wing when I transferred to a new chapter. She taught me valuable information as a new member of the chapter and sorority. She cared for me as if I was her own child, so much so, my daughter called her grandma. We served as graduate advisors together for Mu Xi Chapter at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC and the knowledge that I gained from her during this tenure is immeasurable. My mentor is affectionately known amongst the D9 community in this area as “Soror Bettye” as if Soror is her given name. She has been influential in guiding and shaping all Black Greek organizations at Winthrop University in a way that only she could. Fraternities and sororities on campus gave her the utmost respect and she served the students on campus well for over 10 years. Bettye Gathings’ spirit and tenacity when it comes to Black Greek letter organizations has left a legacy on all who have known and worked with her. As my mentor, she demonstrated the true meaning of leading with light and love, and I am forever grateful to her.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch the Yard is important to Black greekdom because it creates community amongst the D9 organizations and bridges a gap between non-Greeks and Greeks. Watch the Yard helps to ensure the perpetuity of Black Greek letter organizations by bringing awareness to and helping to dispel myths surrounding fraternities and sororities. Watch the Yard helps to put a face to Black Greeks and uses it’s influence to further the mission of the organizations to those who might otherwise be unreachable. Watch the Yard also shines a light on the positive work being done in our communities through the collaborative efforts of these organizations.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
What’s not to love about Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated? She is the FIRST of all Black Greek Sororities, supreme in service to all mankind, and the premier sorority. Why do I love being a member? Simple…Sisterhood and Service. I am able to use my talents to better the community on a platform larger than I could ever imagine. I love the leadership development and commitment to our members, and the philanthropic reach of the sorority. I am proud to be a 26-year member of our 115-year organization!
Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?
Sisterhood to me is a bond of women who have like-minds and are motivated by common goals. Sisterhood is the glue that holds women together when opposition arises, and trials come. Sisterhood is the formidable force with which we rise up to defeat our enemy and by which we affect change in the community. Sisterhood is an experience that most women want, but seldom experience. True sisterhood, once experienced, is a life-changing phenomenon that no woman lets go easily!
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Denise Casey for her work as the President of the Omega Tau Omegawhich has a legacy that spans back to 2017.
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