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Friday, April 22, 2011
Stand-Up Guys Stand Out at UNM
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Journal Staff Writer
Frat boys, apparently, have changed.
The ones I knew in my collegiate days long, long, long (sigh) ago were of the "Animal House" persuasion, the stereotypical privileged lads of keggers and swagger who possessed as much civility as a band of randy gorillas.
Maybe I didn't know them well enough. Or maybe I knew them too well.
You don't hear much about the Greeks these days. They haven't appeared on the Journal's front page since 2007, when a troubled pledge from the University of New Mexico chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was accused of inviting underage girls to the videotaping of his private toga-free toga party.
But that was then. That was that.
This week, I had the privilege of meeting three members of the Omega Delta Phi fraternity at UNM, and these guys are no gorillas.
"I hate that stereotype of the crazy, drunk frat boy because it gives the rest of us a bad name," said Angel Portillo, who at 19 is the youngest of the three ODPhi brothers in the group. "Sure, we have fun. We throw parties. We're college students. I'd be lying if I said we didn't drink. But we know how to separate business from pleasure."
They are, he said, gentlemen.
Which is all the more amazing considering that they each came from lives not necessarily conducive to refined fraternity life — or going to college at all.
Portillo, a sophomore majoring in biology who plans on going to medical school, is the son of a single mother who held down two cleaning jobs in Roswell while raising her children and going to college to become a teaching assistant. His mother inspired him to work hard, stay out of gangs and keep his grades high (4.1 GPA in high school; 3.5 GPA at UNM).
Isaac Perez, 23, graduates at the end of this year with a degree in business and a dream of starting his own Web design firm. He's from the South Valley, a graduate of Rio Grande High School and the first person in his Spanish-speaking family to attend college.
Juan Dorado, 22, hails from a migrant farm-working family out of the tiny rural village of Loving. He graduates in May with a major in architecture, though he will continue at UNM under a McNair scholarship, a prestigious program that prepares high-achieving students from underrepresented segments of society for doctoral studies.
Each of these young men carries a high grade-point average and possesses a strong sense of principle and ambition not only to improve himself but the world around him.
But these Greeks are no geeks. They're cool — especially when they dress in their sharp suits and ties, which is often.
"For meetings, we dress up," Portillo said. "If I have a presentation in class, I dress up. If it's a sit-down dinner, we dress up. It's a habit."
Even more habitual for the brothers is their community service. The fraternity, one of the smaller ones on campus, with 18 members, spends many semester hours picking up trash on highways, flipping pancakes or rolling enchiladas for fundraisers, collecting clothing for homeless shelters, stuffing Christmas stockings for needy teens and hosting the annual Silver Rose beauty pageant, one of its biggest fundraisers.
"We don't sleep," Portilla says with a laugh, though that's not altogether a joke. "We may be a small fraternity, but we get the job done."
Two years ago, ODPhi chapters across the country adopted the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, or CASA, as their national philanthropy. The program provides volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children in foster care. Last year, 868 CASA volunteers worked with 2,091 foster children in New Mexico.
The local brothers work with Albuquerque CASA to raise funds and awareness for the program and provide assistance through such activities as moving donated furniture for foster children aging out of the system. They inserted special stickers with CASA information into plants sold at local nurseries and served popcorn to children waiting for their special moment at court for National Adoption Day.
Last year, the fraternity was honored for its philanthropic efforts as the top ODPhi chapter. Dorado, then the president of the UNM chapter, was named the philanthropic brother of the year.
This semester, ODPhi presented a check to CASA for $1,000 from its pancake breakfast and $660 from a quilt raffle. Plans are under way for a charity golf tournament this summer sponsored by both organizations.
"This is a remarkable group of young men dedicated to helping the kids who, in many cases, come from the same backgrounds as they did," said Rick Semones, Albuquerque CASA board president.
Raising money for CASA and the kids is one thing; raising the hopes and dreams of those kids from places the brothers know all too well, where college and fraternities are seemingly unreachable, unthinkable until they aren't — well, that's another job the brothers are up for.
"Someday I'm going to be a CASA volunteer because someday there will be a little kid who need someone to look up to, a role model," Dorado said. "And that could be me."
That's what gentlemen do.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.