BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Sam Freemark, OTTAWA 2021, draws upon his experience with homelessness to serve those at a local homeless shelter and increase the volunteerism of his chapter
In April 2018, Sam Freemark, OTTAWA 2021, unexpectedly found himself back in Ottawa after living in Toronto for over a year. A relationship fell through, he was in debt and he had no plan on how to support himself once in Ottawa. Although Freemark had started his undergraduate studies at the University of Ottawa in 2014, he had paused his education when he moved to Toronto in 2017 and anticipated resuming classes in the fall.
For about a month that summer Freemark lived out of the university library as he searched for permanent housing.
“At that point in time I got to experience what homelessness was like and what the challenges are in terms of getting food into your stomach but also having a spot to stay,” he says. “I either wasn’t aware of or wasn’t comfortable enough to approach a shelter. For a whole bunch of reasons, I didn’t go there. I felt like I was not the guy who would be there.”
Freemark signed a lease on July 2, and classes started in September. He participated in Sigma Chi recruitment first in 2018 and then again in 2019 after briefly pausing his education a second time. In 2020 he was elected philanthropy and community service chairman. When it came time to finding volunteer activities for the chapter, Freemark chose to organize a weekly outing to The Ottawa Mission, a local homeless shelter a block away from the chapter house, and he encouraged volunteerism for other organizations as well. He continues to volunteer at the shelter despite having graduated.
For his volunteer work with The Ottawa Mission and for increasing the community involvement of the chapter, Freemark has been named the fall quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award recipient.
TAKING OWNERSHIP OF THE SHIFT
The Ottawa Mission provides people experiencing homelessness with a warm place to sleep at night and nutritious meals each day. It also provides addiction treatment programs, medical and dental care, job training and education, housing support and other services to those who need them. The Ottawa chapter volunteered its time in the kitchen on Saturday mornings. The Sigs’ responsibilities included food preparation and food service.
“It was only a few hours on your Saturday mornings, but I felt it breathed life into the rest of the week,” Freemark says. “My favorite was if assigned [to] the food service area, you got to hand them their plate, ask them what they wanted, make that two seconds of contact with them, give them a smile and wish them a good day. I think the guys who came out and joined got something out of it, too, and felt that sense of having done something for their community. It becomes more and more clear as you get older that life is about serving other people and helping bring joy to others, and the program at The Ottawa Mission was a really fun time for doing just that.”
Volunteer Coordinator Jake Harding says Freemark took ownership over a shift not often seen with other volunteers.
“After a few weeks our kitchen staff reported that they had come to rely upon not only the team from Sigma Chi, but also Sam and his ability to help direct work. Rarely do my volunteers so readily embrace the experience of volunteering and the opportunity engage others in doing the work that we do,” Harding explains. “While we are grateful for the great work of all of the Sigma Chi volunteers, it’s the organization and promotion by folks like Sam that we rely upon to engage with our community. Sam, in organizing his own small team of volunteers, magnified his impact [on the clients served]. Furthermore, Sam’s personality was a true delight, as he always comes to work with a positive attitude that brightens the day of those around him.”
It didn’t take long after volunteering at The Ottawa Mission to see how accommodating the shelter is to people in need, and Freemark wishes he had known how helpful a shelter could be when he was experiencing homelessness. There are no questions asked and no application process to stay there, and those were big misconceptions Freemark had at the time.
“After going through a rough patch in my life, I got to realize that the distance between undergraduate students and someone in a homeless shelter is not nearly as great as one might think,” he says. “It really helped me empathize with those there and understand how quickly life or your decisions in life can put you there.”
MAKING A MARK
Freemark credits Sigma Chi in helping him find an outlet for volunteerism. He’s grateful for the mark the organization has made on him and hopes that his time as philanthropy and community service chairman has made a mark on others.
Former Consul Alex Kreissl, OTTAWA 2021, says the volunteerism of the chapter has not been great in the past and that it was impressive for Freemark to increase the chapter’s volunteer hours, especially during a pandemic. The chapter volunteered 99 hours at The Ottawa Mission from September 2020 through February 2021, and at Freemark’s encouragement many brothers attended monthly blood donations.
“He has impacted the chapter by further reinforcing and bringing to the spotlight the importance of our commitment to our community, character and campus. He has unquestionable furthered our volunteer efforts and set the bar for future generations of the Lambda Theta chapter,” Kreissl says. “I would say Samuel is one of the most selfless individuals I have met within Sigma Chi. His dedication to others is truly inspirational.”
Freemark recalls how when he was planning out a volunteer plan for the chapter, he thought back to when he was 18 and how his priorities have changed since then.
“At that point in my life I wasn’t interested in volunteering. It was get good grades and what was happening on Friday night. I kind of wish [at the time] I was part of something like Sigma Chi or at least aware of the opportunity to do something like that to give back,” he says. “Three hours a week is really not that much but can have a huge impact on people.
“Volunteering is great because it doesn’t cost you anything other than your time. You come away with a richer worldview, and you appreciate the situation you have in your own life. I really wanted to try and help some of the younger guys in the chapter experience that, and maybe they wouldn’t jump in [to volunteering regularly] with two feet but at least have a taste of it and have that seed planted in their mind for down the road in life.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.