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Congratulations Illini SSA!

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Every year, the national Secular Student Alliance hears about the amazing things our affiliate groups are doing. When we hear of a group doing something especially awesome, we give out an Award for Outstanding Activism for their exemplary work. Here is an article from the Illini Secular Student Alliance about their incredible success fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which has earned them an Award for Outstanding Activism!

Two years ago, at the annual SSA summer conference, the outreach coordinator for the Illini Secular Student Alliance sat down at a talk about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). The Foundation Beyond Belief was spearheading a nationwide fundraising movement for the LLS, and the Illini Secular Student Alliance (ISSA) wanted to get involved. That fall, we hosted a walk to benefit Light the Night, and raised over a thousand dollars to fight cancer. This year, we wanted to give even more to the LLS, and our current outreach coordinator planned a full semester of fundraising events.

ISSA AwardWe started with “Hug an Atheist” and sold hugs on the quad for a dollar and group hugs for five dollars. We were on the quad all day for a nearly a week and raised nearly a hundred dollars each day. Our members came by to give hugs whenever they had a break in their schedules, and one student even visited his old high school and charged any friends that wanted to give him a hug. He was able to donate over $20. We did run into some belligerent people who were outraged at the very idea of atheists on the quad, but after being screamed at by a man that “cancer was a lack of wisdom in the body” and he would never give money to “people like us” another 10 people donated because they were impressed with our calmness in the face of angry insanity.

Part Three of Tori's Story

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Hello Friends,

You heard about how Tori’s time as a Secular Student Alliance intern inspired her to bring a secular community to her own campus—now see what that community has become! Here is the final chapter of Tori’s time with the SSA—so far. You can read part one here, and part two here.

As I told you last time, after weeks of continuous lobbying, the student government unanimously approved the Juniata affiliate of the SSA! It was a victorious moment for our group, and we immediately set to planning meetings and events.

Our first major event was during “Hug an Atheist” week, a national effort organized by the SSA and Foundation Beyond Belief to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Our members were so excited to focus on both activism and service. We changed the name to “Hug a Heathen” so all of our group members, whether they are atheists, agnostics, or secular allies, would be excited to participate. Group members took turns camping out in front of the campus cafeteria to exchange hugs for tips towards cancer research.

ToriHug a Heathen was a huge success for our group, with some people signing up as new members of the SSA on the spot and joining in the hug-fest! The timing of Hug a Heathen also worked out perfectly; it coincided with midterms and students were thrilled to receive hugs between exams. To top it off, Hug a Heathen was covered in articles on the Juniata website and campus newspaper, providing fantastic positive publicity for our new group!

Despite our overwhelming success during Hug a Heathen, not all students on campus were pleased by our presence. This prompted us to address the controversy of secular identity in our upcoming meetings, as well as to work more closely with Campus Ministry on interfaith initiatives. I was even invited to give a talk about my atheism at an interfaith service event! Our membership and presence on campus continues to grow and we are looking forward to even more exciting events next semester.

Part Two of Tori's Story

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Hello Friends,

I last shared with you part one of Tori's story: the impact being a Secular Student Alliance intern had on her. Today, hear about how she brought a secular community to her small college. You can find part one of Tori’s time as an SSA intern here!

My summer internship with the SSA was a fantastic experience that ignited my passion for the the secular movement. Unfortunately, there was no existing secular group at Juniata College, the small liberal arts college I attend in central Pennsylvania. Returning to Juniata was a strange experience. After being away for so long, the quiet town of Huntingdon felt like an alien planet. I wanted to bring the sense of secular community and shared passion for science embodied at the national SSA to the Juniata campus.

Perhaps the most surprising part of starting a SSA chapter at Juniata was the wonderful assistance from Campus Ministry. Campus Ministry had attempted to form a secular club on campus a few years ago, after a visit from Chris Stedman, then of the Interfaith Youth Core. The effort had faltered because of the difficult process of forming a new club. Despite the lengthy procedure, I was motivated by my experience with my internship at the SSA and support of the excellent campus organizing team to overcome any difficulties.

To build interest for a new SSA, I formed a somewhat oddball team of supporters. The campus chaplain, key leadership members in Catholic Council and Brethren Student Fellowship, and, of course, a committed group of secular students all vouched for the importance of a secular group on campus. We attended everything from Campus Ministry picnics to other clubs’ meetings to rally support. Throughout the process, the national SSA stayed in touch and helped overcome any hurdles we faced.

Part One of Tori's Story

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Hello Friends,

To end this year, I wanted to share with you the story of one of the thousands of students the Secular Student Alliance empowers every day with your support. Tori Rehr, one of our 2013 summer interns, volunteered to tell you the impact the SSA has had on her campus and her life.

My name is Tori Rehr and I had the pleasure of working at the Secular Student Alliance as a summer intern. When I’m not moonlighting as a newcomer to the secular movement, I’m a senior studying Psychology at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, which has been my home for the better part of four years. But only recently have I started to make my small campus a welcoming place for secular students.

My exposure to the SSA prior to my internship was minimal. I fully de-converted to atheism about two years ago and started searching for a community that could replace the one I’d lost in my church. There was no existing group on my campus and I felt entirely alone—until I stumbled across the SSA and was drawn to its mission of building secular student communities. I immediately joined up as free student member, and was so excited by the possibility of doing a summer internship! I applied to be the Resource Development summer intern in 2013 and was offered the job a few weeks later.

My previous jobs in resource development boiled down to persuading group leaders that cooperation was much more exciting than in-meeting shouting matches. However, the SSA gave me a more dynamic opportunity by building off an existing database of excellent resources to fill in and expand on areas where groups seemed to be faltering. I learned how to write basic code and present information in a way that would be appealing to worried students, all the while gaining valuable experience about working in a non-profit.

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