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The Michigan Secular Student Alliance (SSA) has undergone a major transformation over the last year. Growing from 10 to 15 regular attendees to upwards of 40 at any given meeting, the group has adapted to grow with its members. Though the SSA originated as a tight community engaged in intellectual discussions, the emphasis on big service projects and activism events following its recent growth has made for a challenging balance, yet a sharper focus on their mission.
With the group’s rising popularity on campus, it wanted to become more active in the community. More important, the group saw volunteering as an essential aspect of secular humanism. “We don’t need prayers to change the world because we’re going to do that ourselves,” said Victoria Dykes, the group's activism chair.
The group has started developing partnerships throughout the community, including with The Greening of Detroit, a project dedicated to improving the neighborhoods of Detroit. This includes strategic landscaping, cleaning up trash, planting gardens in abandoned fields, planting trees, and demolishing houses.
Community Service Chair Cathy Chow recently spoke on the budding partnership: “Detroit can look very crummy … but people can change that with a lot of work and many volunteers.” Victoria continued, “[Greening of Detroit] was all very community driven, and it was great to see the residents coming together and improving their neighborhood—and getting to be a part of that, I really felt like we made a difference.”
This focus on giving back to the community has even led to some interesting and unusual bedfellows. The religious groups on campus have a strong presence, and through volunteer events and public participation and awareness, Michigan SSA is bridging the gap. “They always invite us to their events and they come to ours, which has led to some awesome discussions! We even have a couple theists who are regular members and attend almost all our events,” said Victoria.
From the changing awareness on campus to reaching out to the local community, Michigan SSA is making a difference in their area of influence and beyond. “Being a humanist means working to create a better and more humane society. Volunteering is an easy and fun way to improve the lives of other people around and your community. It can help you build relationships within your group and feel like you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. It also has the added benefit of showing that people can be good without god and helps to dispel the notion many people have about atheists being without values.” Victoria is providing evidence of these beliefs each and every day, as the group continues to strive to leave Michigan better than they found it.