ELGIN - As we start to approach August, a lot of college students are finishing up camps, internships and jobs before heading back to school. However, one set of fraternity brothers have been traveling the country for a unique cause and are in the middle of spending time right here in Central Texas.
The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity has a philanthropy known as "The Ability Experience" that focuses on support organizations and nonprofits around the country that are focused on men and children with disabilities.
The Ability Experience's "Build America" is a six-week event where some of the fraternity brothers travel around the country for the summer, raising awareness and helping support people with disabilities. This year, 20 Pi Kappa Phi brothers from many different colleges are visiting 18 cities across 10 states, helping with construction at different facilities.
Goureesh Paranjpe is a Pi Kappa Phi member and just graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He said while he is currently waiting to figure out his job situation, this type of volunteering is something worthwhile.
"I couldn't think of a better place to spend my summer," Paranjpe said. "Instead of sitting by my phone waiting to a call, I'm out here doing service work with these guys."
None of these members are getting paid to do this work or earning any credit hours -- it is all volunteer work. Austin Bollella is a Pi Kappa Phi member at the University of Denver at Colorado, and he said getting to meet the people they are working for always makes it worth it.
"We do try to have a balance of working away and also spending time with the campers or members," Bollella said. "It's great to see them so happy to see the changes we make."
These men are spending time at Down Home Ranch in Elgin, a 410-acre working farm and ranch where 46 men and women with Down syndrome and other disabilities live with friends who work beside them. Scott Ragan, director of ranch operations, said his nonprofit organization is always in need of help.
"I've probably got over a hundred projects on my list that I would like to get done on the ranch," Ragan said.
Ragan has a barn that has been used as a storage units for about three years now, but he has wanted to get it back in running condition. That is the project he let these fraternity brothers work on this week.
"If I didn't have them, we'd have to go out and hire a large amount of people to do the job," Ragan said. "We don't have that type of income to hire a crew to do these jobs. They are renovating this barn and getting it back to barn use. We are even hoping to use it with ranch camps. I would welcome them back every year."
While Paranjpe said getting up early and working until sundown every week in a new city can get tiring, seeing the finished products and the excited faces of the people they are helping keeps him motivated.
"We all have that special camper interaction," Paranjpe said. "Everyone might describe their moment with a specific camper individually, and at the end of the day, you kind of hold on to those little moments and it really keeps you going."
The barn is expected to be finished Thursday, and then on Friday the 20 brothers will be packing up on their way to Illinois to help out Camp Little Giant -- a camp for children with disabilities.
TAP HERE to learn more about Down Home Ranch.
TAP HERE to learn more about The Ability Experience.
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