Department: Chapter Alumnus Spotlight
In 2009, Nathan Huddleston (Oklahoma State ’03) was isolated and wandering the wilds of a new life in Jacksonville, Florida, a place where his wife had family and friends, but he was starting new. In his time of need, he was welcomed with open arms by the Jacksonville Alumni Association and rediscovered that brotherly camaraderie he’d been missing since moving away from home.
Huddleston had always been fond of knocking on the door of the local SAE chapter when traveling as an undergraduate, and the positive experiences he had gained through those experiences influenced him to seek out this new alumni association. Since he found this new group of friends, the association has grown significantly. He says that consistency is key to an alumni association, especially in communication. “This year we’re sending out a Christmas letter with an update on what we’re doing and giving people things to look forward to, and whenever we have an event we’re always talking about what’s coming up next.” Huddleston sees himself as an advocate for the association as it grows in membership and involvement.
One of their greatest strengths is that the Jacksonville Alumni Association has members who hail anywhere from Florida to Clemson. “I’m the only one from Oklahoma State,” Huddleston says, “and it’s great. There’s no distinction made. We’re all SAEs.”
This diversity, according to Christopher Slott (North Florida ’08), is what makes their association successful. “There are more viewpoints and different ways to do things,” Slott says, and they have used this eclectic mix of talents to bring this new alumni association far from humble beginnings. Slott contacted his regional director, Darin Patton, and brought up the idea of starting an alumni association in the area. Patton supported the idea, and Slott gathered ten or 15 alumni he knew in 2010 to fill out the paperwork. But like our primary Founding Father Noble Leslie Devotie, Slott found bringing friends together did not automatically make him their leader.
Instead he chose fellow North Florida graduate Alberto (A.J.) Souto (’08) for the position. “I begged A.J. to be president,” Slott says. “His leadership skills are very good. He’s also a very open guy. He can talk to anyone no matter who they are or what walk of life they follow. I thought he would be the best match for it.” Slott took Vice President, and the two of them lead the association and also serve as joint chapter advisers for Florida Nu at North Florida.
Once they received their charter, the association moved into action quickly, holding an inaugural barbeque, followed by meetings held the first Thursday of every month. The association periodically holds similar barbeques, but their biggest event so far, attracting more than 100 people, was last year’s Florida/Georgia Tailgate, celebrating the rivalry between the two schools. The barbeque is held in the parking lot of a warehouse owned by Slott’s father, also an SAE. It was a chance for the alumni to have fun with old friends and relive their undergraduate days. The barbeque even caught the attention of two brothers from Georgia Southern who saw the purple-and-gold flag waving on top of the warehouse. According to Slott, the flag could be seen from the stadium.
But this association is not all about reaching out to alumni. The members’ philosophy, according to Souto, is that the active members of Florida Nu are their future, and they hope to instill in these young men a pride for Sigma Alpha Epsilon that will last a lifetime. “If the pledges are the future of the undergraduate chapter, then the undergrads are the future of the alumni association, and it’s important to constantly build on that so you have a solid base,” Souto says. “People fade out after time, and it’s important to invest in the active chapter. In this way, the future of the Jacksonville Alumni Association continues to be a bright one.”
One strategy of chapter involvement, spearheaded by Slott, is a chapter advisory board. Slott, unsure of how best to give back to the chapter, once again consulted Patton, who sent Slott information about what would become the association’s chapter advisory board. When Slott brought the idea up in a meeting, alumni were falling over each other to participate. “It made me proud to see that,” he says.
Slott has split the board up into 12 categories ranging from academics to Ritual. The association’s Ritual Adviser served as Herald as an active, and because he knows the Ritual back and forth, he serves as a resource for the chapter. Slott himself covers chapter management, risk management and university relations in addition to being the chairman of the board. He recently gave a resume-building workshop. Meanwhile, Souto is in charge of finance and alumni relations and has held a finance workshop for the chapter.
While the association has grown by leaps and bounds in membership and chapter involvement, Souto knows that the association can achieve more. Now he is focusing on expanding membership and getting the association more involved with the active chapter. Down the road he hopes to have enough active alumni so that each active member can have his own personal adviser in his field of study to whom he can go for advice or assistance when needed.
Souto would also like to see the alumni participate in philanthropy and service events with the chapter in an attempt to inspire them to selfless endeavors. The association’s president hopes to attract more alumni by getting closer to the active chapter through mentoring and service. This gives the alumni a chance to reconnect to the brotherhood they experienced in their college days, and that, says Souto, is what keeps alumni interest piqued.
The Jacksonville Alumni Association is also looking for brotherhood between alumni. Souto speaks fondly of introducing two alumni at the Founders Day Barbeque who not only knew each other but grew up on the same block and went to the same school. As they shook hands and shared stories from years ago that seemed as fresh as yesterday, Souto saw the flame of friendship rekindle in their hearts through their clasped hands, and his goal for the alumni association was made a reality. “Few things in life are permanent,” he says, “but SAE lasts forever. Sigma Alpha Epsilon is for life.” Souto encourages any Jacksonville-area alumni to get involved with the association and to attend its various events throughout the year. For more information, contact Souto at email@example.com.