Supporting Our Sisters: An Interview with SDT Foundation

By Sara Puppala,

Exemplifying our motto, Patriae Multae Spes Una—One Hope of Many People—the One Hope Fund is Sigma Delta Tau Foundation’s first impact program to serve all sisters during every phase of their lives. Grants from the One Hope Fund are for collegians and alumnae facing difficulty due to an unforeseeable circumstance, such as unexpected financial distress, serious health issues, consequences of natural disasters and urgent family crisis.

Sigma Delta Tau National Headquarters had the opportunity to sit down with Sigma Delta Tau Foundation President, Beth Sesler (Epsilon—University of Cincinnati) and Vice President, Caren Silverman (Phi—Pennsylvania State University), prior to the March 25 launch of One Hope grants to discuss how the Foundation brought the hardship fund to life during the global pandemic.  

The One Hope Fund will officially be taking applications on March 25! How does it feel for this initiative to be ready to go and in a place to help sisters?  

Caren: I’m ecstatic! This was an idea 4 or 5 years ago that I thought was so necessary for emergencies and to really be there for our sisters—whether in school or as an adult. I’m just so happy it’s finally a reality.  

Beth: I agree! A lot of things converged at the right time to make this happen: we made this initiative a priority for 2020 before we had any idea of a pandemic affecting our plans; our Foundation Board of Trustees really embraced our dedication to making this fund a reality; and we focused our fundraising on being there for our sisters when they need us the most. We made our initial fundraising goal to launch One Hope grants, and it feels unbelievable! This was a big step forward for the Foundation, and I’m so happy.  

How would you say this is a big step up for the Foundation? What do you mean by that?  

Beth: By offering such a heartfelt focus—especially during COVID—I think many sisters were drawn to this new initiative and really understood the need for a hardship fund. And the fact that we were able to reach our fundraising goal during the pandemic… it was a huge win for the Foundation.  

Caren: And to play on that, I think the idea behind the One Hope Fund really resonated with our sisters in a way that was different [from what we’ve offered in the past]. No matter where any of us are in our lives, we’ve all been at a point where we’ve needed help. I think the One Hope Fund really talks to our sisters in a way that goes back to our values and our motto: one hope of many people.  

From a process standpoint, what did it take to get here?  

Caren: We really did some investigation because we knew there was a need. We’ve always had people come to Foundation asking for a grant or a loan because [of an emergency]. We looked to our Panhellenic sisters across the NPC to see what they were doing, and got insight from their emergency funds and how they’re structured. By bringing in that knowledge without having to recreate the wheel, we were able to really educate our Trustees about the benefit, structure and data to move this concept forward to implementation. 

Beth: Plus, our Executive Director, Kristen Jackson, has been pushing a hardship fund since she was hired in 2016. This is her baby.  

Caren: I would also like to say that Nancy Spire, our Foundation Trustee, really connected with the impact potential of the One Hope Fund. She took the bull by the horns and did a lot of the investigation of the other Panhellenic sororities. And really pushed the refining of our process in preparation for our next phase. So, Nancy Spire really deserves a lot of credit there, too.  

How do you think the One Hope Fund will help to define the leadership of this SDT Foundation’s Board of Trustees?  

Caren: I think that collectively, our Board and the overall work of the Foundation is focused on the legacy of our sisterhood. From the beginning of being a new member, we focus in on the value of tzedakah, of helping everybody. This carries through in the dedication of each Trustee to raise charitable dollars to make a difference for the women of SDT.  

Beth: Not only that, Caren, but we’re also looking at our mission statement and the four values of the sorority. Our purpose is always sister driven and complimentary to the sorority’s focus. 

Caren: Right, the legacy is that of lifetime engagement, community service, caring for one another—that’s always been a part of the sorority. Going back to our motto, one hope of many people: we are there for our sisters whether or not we know them, because you meet a sister and you immediately have a connection. And that’s the legacy.  

Beth: One other point, I think: there’s been a real transition within the conceptual aspect of this Board. It’s not just the undergraduate sisters that we need to take care of, but also to take care of our alumnae. And this was one way to do that as the One Hope Fund is not specific for undergraduates, it’s also for alums who are on their life journey.  

Why did the Foundation choose ‘now’ as the time for the One Hope Fund?

Beth: I think timing played a big a part in it. And I mean not only the timing of what was going on in the world but also within our Board. We needed a Trustee who was going to care about it and work with it, and Nancy was ready to take this on. And Kristen had been ready from her start. It was time within the organization, the timing outside of the organization, and it just clicked and worked.  

What are the future goals for this fund?  

Beth: We want to support sisters in this way five, ten, twenty years from now. As long as our sisters continue to help us perpetuate this initiative, we’ll be able to keep it going. 

Caren: I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to help sisters in need for decades to come. We now have an avenue of giving to help support individual sisters in hardship, and offer assistance in natural disasters and national tragedy. The One Hope Fund opens up new donor opportunities and, more importantly, increases sisterhood support in times of need.  

Is there anything else you would like your sisters to know about the One Hope Fund?  

Caren: Thank you, and please continue to support the One Hope Fund!

Beth: This fund is currently set up to fulfill timely needs with the goal of continual replenishment from donors. Our long-term goal is to connect donors to this cause who would like to see the One Hope Fund exist in perpetuity. If your heart is behind this initiative, please reach out to the Foundation.  

Caren: Yes! And thank you to our sisters who donated to make this happen. Thank you to the Trustees who believed in it. Thank you to our sisterhood for your continued support. And really, thank you, Beth, for pushing this initiative despite the pandemic.  

The Sigma Delta Tau Foundation was established 60 years ago with the purpose of carrying the Torch from generation to generation of sisters through charitable giving and long-term investment in our sisterhood. To be a part of this storied legacy, celebrate our Founders Day by joining in our day’s events and partaking in Founders Day of Giving.  

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