Every month, the OCF social media platforms will be featuring one of the nine regions of chapters. September is the month for the Mid-Atlantic Region, which encompasses Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC/Baltimore, Delaware, Virginia, and Eastern Ohio.
On the blog, I’ll be asking the Regional Student Leader–for Mid-Atlantic, the lovely Rachel Howanetz–for a few names of people in their region who are absolutely rockin’ it. It’s an opportunity for every region to showcase and share that which makes them unique and awesome, and hopefully all the regions can learn from and grow with each other.
So, without further ado, your Mid-Atlantic All-Stars!
Nicole Mansour — District Leader, DC/Baltimore
My name is Nicole Mansour, and I’m a junior at Georgetown University, majoring in Global Health and minoring in Economics. One fun fact is that I am the Interfaith Coordinator for Georgetown’s OCF, and the most important part of my position is to organize weekly Interfaith Sandwich-Making events, during which students from all faith groups come together, assemble about 100 sandwiches, and donate them to the nearest homeless shelter. It’s a great way to facilitate interfaith dialogue and service!
How did you get involved in OCF?
How did I get involved? I honestly don’t know where to begin. I could say college, or high school, or even middle school. I was known as “The Dictator” because I was the teen group Consul for so long…I promise that I was voted into the position every year. The community of Orthodox Christians has always been so valuable to me, both spiritually and emotionally, so when I came to college, it was one of the first things for which I looked. In a place so different from my hometown, I could still feel at home. I am a very active member of Georgetown’s OCF, and when I was told that I could get even more involved through the District Leader position, I felt that it was only natural to apply. And now I have the most wonderful opportunity to serve as the District Leader for the Washington D.C. to Baltimore area.
So you’ve had a lot of OCF experience–what’s one of your favorite memories?
Last year, our Georgetown OCF actually had the opportunity to travel to Boston to visit Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology for the weekend. The retreat was so refreshing, filled with theological discussions and tours of the majestic city. While retreats are typically hard to schedule (and harder to plan), the impact on each one of us (especially me) was not only enormous, but uplifting as well. It reminded me of the breadth and depth associated with Orthodoxy, and how the support network of Orthodox Christians expands far beyond the gates of Georgetown or any campus OCF. (sorry if that was too preachy…)
It wasn’t–I was a big fan. So, any advice you could give to District Leaders across the nation?
Advice? To be honest, I can typically use more advice than I can give. Perhaps I can share some of my goals with the hope that other District Leaders share similar goals. Firstly, as a District Leader, I want to be a support system for thriving, struggling, and potential OCF chapters. Secondly, I hope that our district retreats will be both spiritually enriching as well as applicable to our college lives. Thirdly, I wish to be a good representative through my actions as a person of the Faith and in leadership to non-Orthodox Christians, so that they might better understand what Orthodoxy is.
Stephen Yamalis — Chapter President, Pitt/CMU Chapter
Hi! My name is Stephen Yamalis and I am a Junior Information Systems major at Carnegie Mellon University. Some fun facts about me are that I’m an avid SnapChat user and in 2013 Selena Gomez posted pictures on her Instagram account that I am in.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
Respect. Alright, the Pitt/CMU chapter is notoriously dope. What are you guys doing that you’d like to share with us?
Our chapter does so many fun things that have almost become little traditions of ours that to us I believe is a staple of OCF. One of those is Bible Olympics, led by our very own, Stephanie McFarland. For one of our meetings we get together, split into teams, and have to complete different activities like putting a list of Books in the proper order or matching Feast Days with the correct date. It gets a bit competitive for a change and is a big hit! Another cool meeting we’ve done was an open discussion, lead by our treasurer, Abay Tadesse, to talk about anything on anyone’s minds, and it really encouraged some deeper topics and great opportunities to learn about and from each other.
Something very important to our chapter that is new this year is that we wanted to make sure we are creating more opportunities to get together as a group and have a social chair, Nicole Yanouzas, who has organized all sorts of awesome things like late-night pizza outings and a Pirates game.
Something fun we have planned for October, which is Orthodox Awareness Month, is that we will be doing a “Church Tour” on Sundays. We are blessed to be located in Pittsburgh where we are surrounded by so many beautiful and welcoming Orthodox parishes. Therefore, we will, as a group, be visiting a different parish each Sunday. We are very excited for that!
Okay, what’s the BEST thing you’ve ever done?
I’ve had the opportunity to do so many amazing things with the Pitt/CMU OCF, from College Conference to the awesome meetings and social events we’ve gotten to do. However, something that sticks out is something much simpler. Last year as an OCF chapter we read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and each week at the beginning of the meeting would discuss little chunks of the book.
One of my Sunday School teachers, Mr. Brian Elderkin is a big fan of C.S. Lewis and graciously offered to come discuss the book and other related topics at one of our meetings. We usually end our meetings with half of the Small Compline service, so we went into the church after a great discussion and the lights were off. I know where the light switch was so I really couldn’t tell you why I didn’t just turn the lights on, but our OCF Secretary, and now your very own Media Student Leader, Dan Bein came up to me with candles and said, “Hey, why don’t we try a candlelight service?” And that’s just what we did. We got in a semicircle around the altar, each holding candles and standing close together to share the books. It was a simple thing, but it was very special and really captured the tight bond of our chapter, despite being a relatively large one. Of course, the opportunity could not be missed for #ocfIsLit posts to accompany pictures on social media. Very good times!
What about your advice for a Chapter President?
The advice I’d give to anyone else in a chapter president or officer role within OCF in general would be definitely to work as a team and don’t expect to do it all alone. It’s definitely a group effort and I absolutely could not pull it off without the hard work and dedication of our executive board team, as well as all of our members who come to our meetings and make it all worth it.
The biggest piece of advice I have is also to take advantage of the opportunities to connect as a group. We are all going through similar stressful situations, pursuing further education, and OCF is truly an important source support to grow together. Therefore, creating opportunities for us to all bond and create long-lasting relationships is essential as we strive to grow in Christ. It’s the little things and the extra social events that have helped make these friends dome of the closest friends I’ve ever had in just 2 years at school.
Tim Daly — Chapter President, Penn State
Hi! My name is Tim Daly and I’m the president of the Penn State OCF. I’m a senior getting a Management B.S. (Human Capital concentration), a Labor & Employment Relations B.A. (Human Resources concentration), a minor in The Legal Environment of Business, and a M.S. in Human Resources and Employment Relations. I’m from Lancaster, PA and am a huge sports fan.
Alright, how did you get involved with the OCF?
Growing up, I attended the Annunciation Lancaster Greek Orthodox Church, went to Camp Nazareth every year, and am an alumnus of CrossRoad. Coming to college, I knew I wanted to join OCF as soon as I could and got in touch with them the first week of school when I went to Liturgy. Since then, OCF has been my second family. In addition to being President, I have also served as Treasurer and Vice President for our OCF.
Coolest thing you’ve ever done with the OCF? Tell us a good story!
This one is tough. Our OCF has an annual fall cabin trip and an annual spring beach house service trip that are my favorite parts of each semester, but I want to talk about Pascha last spring because I think some of you might want to steal this idea. Normally, our parish eats in the church hall after the midnight Pascha service and our OCF maybe has 4-5 students who stick around in that crowded room and eat some cold food together. Last year we made that different.
We somehow discovered and excavated a mini OCF grill that no one had ever seen before from the church shed and got an idea. Mike Mavrides, my VP and best friend, went with me to Walmart the day before Easter to spend an immoderate amount of money on meats and cheeses. We spread the word and got people to chip in a couple dollars each for our Pascha feast.
After the midnight service on Pascha, Mike and I fired up the grill and went to work. I’ll never forget that meal. While the rest of the parish was inside eating, we were outside on the porch of Trinity House, the building next door that the church had purchased, grilling and jamming out to Greek music and hanging out.
We had the most magnificent arrangement of artery-destroying food you could ever see. Burgers, sausages, ribs, bacon, burgers wrapped in bacon, sausage wrapped in bacon, bacon wrapped in bacon, along with drinks and other food that other OCF members brought with them.
Many of our OCF members went home for Easter, but we had about 20 who showed up that night and had a great time. I was most happy to see them having so much fun.
Unfortunately, Mike and I also had cleanup duty. We spent hours trying to clean out the grill and I had grease in my fingers for weeks. Despite this, I think it went really well and will be an OCF signature event for years to come. I’d suggest your OCFs try to provide similar events for members who stick around on campus during Pascha. It’ll be tons of fun, and who knows, you might just learn the legend of Snowball the Lamb.
And your advice for Chapter Presidents?
Be organized and surround yourself with the right people! It’s one thing to have elections be a popularity contest. It brings your OCF to a different level to have real leaders on that executive board who will make an impact. Combine that with excellent organization and communication and your OCF will provide the best experience possible for its members. But it really does take a team. There’s no way I would be able to execute the eight projects outlined in our 2016-17 OCF strategic plan the way my team of four has thus far. And if you need any tips, contact your District Student Leader or feel free to reach out to me and I’d love to help.
“Mystical Beauty: Exploring the Liturgical Arts & How They Point Us Toward Heaven”
Oct. 7 – Oct. 8
OCF chapters are always looking for new ways to engage more students. Here’s an easy fellowship event you can add to your calendar to attract more students.
As we’ve said before, you’ll have better attendance over time if you meet consistently and offer a variety of activities. Once a week is really best, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every week or even on the same day of the week. Let’s say your chapter meets bimonthly on Thursdays right now. Consider adding a weekly dinner or lunch on the Tuesdays in between meetings. Or maybe your chapter does meet every week, but your meetings are fairly similar in structure every week–try adding a monthly dinner for a change of pace. Here are a few ideas for planning OCF meals:
- Meet on campus or at a favorite spot that’s walk-able from campus. This is a great way to engage more freshmen who are living on campus. It’s as easy as having the president and another student commit to having lunch every week together and then opening it up to anyone who wants to come when they have time.
- Go out before or after your regular meetings. This is an easy one, too, though it may not draw a new crowd if they aren’t quite sure about the meetings yet or have a scheduling conflict.
- Take turns hosting. Have all the upperclassmen who have off campus housing take turns cooking for the whole group. Don’t forget to offer rides if you can!
- Involve the parish. Talk to your spiritual advisor or lay coordinator to see if parishioners at the local parish(es) might be interested in hosting occasional meals for the group. You’ll have the blessing of getting to know the amazing people at your parish and learning from them as well as sharing your OCF experience with them.
- Budget in the meals. If you are cooking yourself or going out to eat, try to see if you can get a small budget from the local parish or a generous parishioner for your meals or collect a few dollars at the beginning of the semester from everyone to offset the costs that way people don’t feel like they have to say no to coming because they’re short on cash.
- Try a fasting day. Dinner any night of the week is great, but sometimes it can be hard as a student, especially if you’re on a meal plan, to keep the fasts of the Church. Joining together as a chapter on a Wednesday or Friday can be a great way to offer everyone a chance to offer up a little fast to Christ (plus, you could save the extra money to do a service project or support a charity or organization you love).
- Do a dinner with another chapter. Get to know another chapter in your district by planning a special off campus meal once a semester or once a month with the members of another chapter.
I have personally seen all of these suggestions played out in chapters successfully. Talk about it, try it out, and see what works best for your group. You’ll be amazed that often some students just needed a little food to motivate them to get involved! Be prepared that some students may only show up for meals and not other events at first–that’s ok–embrace them while they are with you and be patient. Meals are also a great way to invite visitors to an OCF meeting whether it’s someone from the local Orthodox community, friends of chapter members, or another organization on campus.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2
Planning and executing a retreat for Orthodox college students is a blessed endeavor for everyone involved, but it takes prayer, time, and practical strategies to do it. The above admonition of Saint Paul to the Romans could be the goal of your OCF retreat and will keep the planning process focused and smooth.
University of Virginia OCF Retreat Fall 2012
In our current times, the university culture makes it easy for students to conform more often to the negative currents of the world than the positive ones. A consistent annual retreat is a great way to help students re-charge their lives and be with their friends in Christ. The retreat should assist college students in taking on the mind of Christ and living the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
First, discuss with your OCF group, your priest, and lay leaders and pray to determine a necessary theme that is of great relevance and need for students during their college years. Examples include:
- Balancing prayer life with daily tasks,
- Witnessing Christ to others on campus,
- Examining the Scriptures,
- Understanding the Orthodox Faith,
- and doing a study of the life of an exemplary Saint.
Next, pick a date and secure a location. Ideally the retreat should be on campus, but it can be away from campus if rides are available.
Once these are in place, spread the word via email and a Facebook event that includes date, time, place, and registration information. Try to keep the expense under $30 if possible. Seek out the local parish for help in funding and/or limiting expenses through monetary, housing, and food donations.
Make sure you find a main speaker who is an inspiring Orthodox role model with experience in the Faith. A local speaker helps minimize travel expenses and maximize the time spent with the group. For a major speaker requiring travel, seek financial assistance from the local Orthodox parish.
Get help from the Church!
Consult OCF alumni, parents, clergy, the OCF North American Office, and OCF friends from other schools. Recruit people from your local parish to help you with the food, location, and accommodations.
Create a schedule of events and allow extra time for fellowship breaks and discussion or counseling with clergy.
Include time for interactive small group discussions, preferably led by lay leaders and older students. Remember to ask the speaker in advance for suggested questions to guide discussions.
It is vital to schedule as much time for group prayer as possible. Common prayer is another way in which we grow closer to God together. Christ says in Matthew 18:20,
For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.
Include prayers in the morning, at meals, compline, vespers, a Special Akathist, and Matins & Divine Liturgy. Have copies of service books available, to encourage group participation!
College of William and Mary OCF Retreat Spring 2013
Schedule time for confession opportunities. This sacrament is vital for spiritual renewal and transformation. Depending on the number of attendees, it is wise to have at least two or more priests throughout the retreat to hear confessions and offer guidance & counsel at any time that it is needed.
Many students often come to a retreat during drastic times of spiritual and psychological need. Make sure to include a fun activity or service project, ideally something hands-on. For example, you could prepare meals or other goods to distribute to the homeless or to relief efforts such as IOCC. Fellowship activities could include a hike, a visit to an orchard or park, or just a walk around campus or church grounds (be sure to provide directions to whatever site you choose).
Do not allow worldly influences such as alcohol, drugs, promiscuous behavior, and extreme late-night activities to enter into your retreat. Always strive to keep in mind that the purpose of the retreat is to bring students together in Christ, to rise above the influences of the world, and to build healthy, lasting relationships with one another.
Make your retreat an annual tradition that students will look forward to. A post-retreat online survey and debrief with your OCF group will help for future events.
Remember to take a group picture and send it and a small event summary to firstname.lastname@example.org! This will help spark excitement for future events. May God bless your endeavors for planning your OCF retreat!
About The Authors
This is a guest post from Christina Thames and Demetra Perlegas.
Christina has been active in the College of William & Mary OCF chapter for the past ten years. Although her involvement began when she was an undergraduate student, she served as the Chapter Coordinator during her work as the Director of Youth Ministries at Sts. Constantine & Helen in Newport News, VA. She is now involved as a graduate student at William & Mary. Through OCF she was blessed to gain many wonderful friends—including Demetra!
Demetra has been active in the University of Virginia OCF for the past 12 years. She was first involved as a PhD student for several years, and currently serves as the Chapter Coordinator at the University of Virginia. She also serves as the Virginia District Coordinator while being the Youth and Christian Education Coordinator at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville, VA. She has been very blessed to become Godmother to little Irene, whose parents met at the very first College of William & Mary OCF retreat. OCF has also blessed her with many beautiful and inspirational friends—like Christina!
This is a guest post from Tanya Schillawski, North American Student Leader of the 2013-2014 Student Advisory Board
and a senior at Northeastern University. She got involved with OCF at school during her Freshman year, and joined the OCF Student Advisory Board in 2011. She will graduate from Northeastern University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in both Psychology and History.
I moved to Boston as a young, 18 year old freshman, eager to start at Northeastern University. I can remember my first day at my “new” church. I had plotted exactly how to get there on my map, knew precisely what “T” I needed to take—that’s Bostonian for Subway—and knew that I would arrive just in time for the Doxology before Divine Liturgy.
My new church wasn’t actually new to me at all; in fact, it was more of a homecoming. I was going to be attending St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, the church where my mother grew up, my parents were married, and where I was baptized. When I was two, we started going to a church closer to home. I knew some of my late grandparents’ friends who went to St. Mary’s—although four years later they still like to pinch my cheeks and remind my of my little blond pigtails. Though I didn’t know them very well, I knew that I would have someone to sit with and talk to during coffee hour on that first Sunday.
Having a pre-made community made that first outing to church bearable, and being familiar with the practices of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, I was prepared to take that step on my own.
At the same time, the Northeastern University OCF Chapter was just getting started; on a good day we had 3 members. What we did for our first Holy Week together we dubbed a “World Tour.” For each night of Holy Week, we went to a parish from a different Orthodox jurisdiction. On Sunday, we went to the Romanian church, on Monday: Bulgarian, Tuesday: Antiochian, Wednesday: OCA, and Thursday: Greek. We’re blessed to be in Boston where we have this ability, and some of them were within walking distance of our school.
By going to church with my OCF community—with people that I already knew—I was able to get my feet wet and experience the different practices that I hadn’t before. Each church was welcoming in its own way. For the first time, I went to a church that required that women cover their heads, and the iconography in the OCA church was unlike anything I’d seen before. It covered every inch of the building and every inch of my peripheral vision.
I still go regularly to my Antiochian parish, but I now like to go to other churches too. It’s an opportunity that I would probably not embrace if I hadn’t gone that first Holy Week with my OCF chapter, which brings me to today.
This semester, I am doing a semester abroad in London, England. I spent the first weekend becoming acquainted with the “Tube”—that’s British for Subway—before attempting to find my way to church the next weekend.
Some things haven’t changed since I was a freshman. The whole week leading up to my excursion to church I researched the closest parish and what Tube lines I needed to take; I knew exactly which train I needed (to not be late) and had compulsively checked the balance on my Oyster Card to make sure I would have enough money to get to church and back. While the morning was not without a few mishaps and wrong turns (that’s a whole other story), I made it to church, smelled the incense, and despite not knowing anyone and being thousands of miles away, I knew that I’d made it home.