A Lifetime Commitment – Pi Alpha Spotlight: Brian Stark

Name: Brian Stark

Chapter: Epsilon Iota (UNC-Greensboro)

Hometown: Jamestown, NC

Events/Involvement: Journey of Hope North 1991 Crew,  Chapter Philanthropy Chairman 1991-1992.

Brian Stark has remained close to the organization over the years. Most recently, he participated in the Journey of Hope Ride Along Challenge, our Founders’ Day 5k, and even a local Ramp Build Project. Find out what has kept Brian committed to serving others – ESPECIALLY in a year like 2020.

Tell us a little about your whereabouts, your career, your family:

I’m till living in Greensboro area. I’ve been here since graduating from UNC-Greensboro in 1992. I work as a Consultant for Hub International in our Employee Benefits division – working with Small to Medium sized employers. I’m married and have a son and daughter in school at UNC-Wilmington, a step-daughter at UNC-Greensboro, and step-daughter who is junior at Ragsdale HS.

How has the pandemic impacted your day-to-day and interaction with other Pi Alphas and brothers?

Getting along just like everyone else in this crazy 2020. While the pandemic has been hard and has been devastating in a lot of ways, in some ways it has also been a blessing. It has allowed people to slow down a little and deepen relationships with those in your family or “Quaranteam”.  I know for me it has meant less travel for work, and more time on the weekends without having soccer games or other commitments popping up. We are getting a lot of yard work and home projects done 😊. I’ve been doing a lot outside like running, biking and hiking.  I look forward to being able to go to concerts and sporting events again as soon as we can, but the slow down has not been all bad.

Earlier this summer we had a Zoom call with the JOH North 91 team.  We had about a dozen or so guys on the call and it was great seeing everyone and catching up.  Of course, some great memories and old stories were shared!

Any fun or interesting fact about you, your life, your family, and/or your Pi Kappa Phi connection that you want to share with us?

I don’t have anything that I would consider an interesting fact, but I do believe I was truly blessed and lucky to have had the opportunity to join Pi Kappa Phi in college. Many of my best friends and long-time friends I can attribute to my connection with the fraternity.  The guys who were in the chapter when I was there are truly good human beings, and many stayed around NC after graduating.  We’ve been able to stay connected despite busy personal lives.

For the past 20 years I have worked for a Fraternity Brother, Alan Overbey, in a company he built and grew to great success.

I was honored to have my Father become an Alumni initiate. We are able to share that additional bond.

What would you say has been your most meaningful experience with The Ability Experience? Past or present.

Certainly, the grandest experience was the Journey of Hope trip in 1991 where I was a crew member, but every experience has had an impact.  What’s cool is that each experience brings together a collection of people with a common goal or project.  You have to work together, raise funds, problem solve, meet deadlines, etc..  The payoff comes when we see and interact with the people we are working to benefit thru that experience.  Hopefully we have done some good, but I know I have benefited as much or more than the folks we are working to serve.

In the wake of COVID-19 you chose to do something really special by participating in our Journey of Hope Virtual Ride Along Challenge. Can you share a little about that  – and why you felt it was important to participate in that?

Participating in the JOH Virtual Ride Along Challenge was a cool experience.  I hate it for the young men who were not able to experience the actual Journey of Hope this summer and for the organizations and people the trip benefits.  My JOH ’91 Project Manager, Ian Rubin, took the lead as he has always does by setting a goal for our Team.  We had a Zoom call and it got the excitement flowing.  I certainly had a little extra time with the COVID shutdown and I decided to challenge myself (I was a crew member, not a bike rider) and do my part.  I set my own riding goal and started fundraising.  People started giving, so I thought, Uh-Oh, I actually need to do this…  That first ride was tough, but I eventually started hitting a groove and actually started enjoying it.  I am not sure what I would’ve done if I had a flat 20 miles from home, so thankfully that never happened.  It was nice to do something different and it was nice to see the support I was getting from those donating money, many of whom were folks in knew in the fraternity.

In a nutshell, how have your experience(s) with the organization changed the way you view people with disabilities?

My Grandfather was paralyzed from the waist down due to a bout with Polio. I only knew him in a wheelchair.  My Grandfather ran a successful insurance agency, drove a car, etc., and never complained about his situation or used it as an excuse.  Sure, sometimes he needed some help or some accommodations, but otherwise he was just as able as anybody else I knew.  This shaped me early on in my view of people with disabilities.

During my first couple of years in college, I was not pro-fraternity. When I started opening up to the idea of joining a fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi having a national philanthropy was appealing and was a big reason for my choice.  PUSH, as it was known back in my day, resonated with me.  It help expand my beliefs and put into practice what my Grandfather taught me about people with disabilities.

What are some things you like most about our servant leadership programs?

The Ability Experience has grown a lot since my initial experiences from almost 30 years ago.  3 things I like most about the programs are:

The servant leadership opportunities truly give young people the ability to become leaders and grow that skill. Thinking about my JOH experience, it’s hard to believe that a hodge podge of 20 somethings from around the country could come together for the first time and safely make their way across the country in 60 days.  We had no cell phones or GPS systems, or in some cases, no guaranteed place to stay that night.  We had to become leaders and work as a group to be successful.

We all have our challenges. The Ability Experience helps foster that empathy for others and to help mitigate those challenges through the work we do in building accessible ramps, playgrounds, amphitheaters, etc., but what I love about the servant leadership programs is that it also helps us, those without visible disabilities, face and realize our own challenges.  That may come in the form of forcing us to public speak to share the message, or ask someone to donate some money, or more physical challenges like riding a bike up Kirkwood, or running a marathon pushing a wheelchair.

As mentioned, The Ability Experience has come a long way. What I am excited to have seen happen is that the programs have morphed in many instances from doing something “for” people with disabilities to doing something “with” people with disabilities.  The message has shifted from education of abilities to more of inclusion and interaction with our disabled friends, organizations and community.

Is there anything else you’d like the community to know about The Ability Experience or Pi Kappa Phi?

Fraternities and Sororities have always had their challenges, many rightly deserved, but Pi Kappa Phi having The Ability Experience is one great positive that can shine in these times. The Ability Experience drew me to Pi Kappa Phi and Greek life.   It sets Pi Kappa Phi apart from others in that we don’t volunteer or raise money for some other organization.  The Ability Experience is Pi Kappa Phi and it does as much for the young men who participate as it does for the people it is meant to serve.

A global threat like COVID-19 affects more than just the infected. A pandemic touches every person on the planet. What have you learned during this whole experience that you’d like to share with the rest of the Ability Experience family? Any words of encouragement for our students – or alumni – or our parents?

I have learned that we are all connected in some way. The world is a big place, but something that starts small, thousands of miles away with oceans in between can make its way into your own community, and your own backyard.  As a result, we need to care for one another and protect one another.  Doing a few simple things can make a big impact, but it takes everyone doing their small part to achieve the best result.

What do you think is the single best reason a Pi Alpha should give back right now?

The idea of having a Pi Alpha group was hatched during our JOH (PUSH America) ’91 trip. The JOH experience created a special bond, and we didn’t want to give that up after we dispersed from DC.  JOH gave me a lot and is one of my most cherished memories/experiences.  I know that every single Pi Alpha out there can say the same.  Because of the gift we were given, we should be willing to give back.  When we have the opportunity to stay connected with TAE and help it sustain and grow, we should.  It doesn’t always take a lot of effort to give back.  Just like I mentioned above, if we all do our small part, we can achieve great results.

Finish this sentence, “Were it not for The Ability Experience, I would have never…”

…slept under a Picnic Shelter in Dinosaur, CO. I say that in jest, but it symbolizes the unique and wonderful new experiences that I have had through my involvement with The Ability Experience.  The JOH trip was certainly a highlight, but I have so many great friends and memories from all my TAE adventures.  The other cool thing is that here I am at the age of 50 still being able to be involved through things like a Virtual JOH ride or building an accessible ramp as we did a few weeks ago.  The Ability Experience gives us a lifetime of opportunities to grow and serve others.