All about Alpha Phi Omega, a great way for college-age BSA alumni to stay connected

A tour guide the Iota Phi Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega leads Scouts on a tour of the University of California at Davis. (Pre-pandemic photo courtesy of the Iota Phi Chapter)

With more clubs, student organizations and intramural sports than there are hours in the week, college offers more than enough opportunities for young people to stay involved.

But college-bound Scouting alumni who wish to continue serving others in meaningful, rewarding ways will want to save room on their Google calendars for Alpha Phi Omega, the national service fraternity found at hundreds of colleges nationwide.

Alpha Phi Omega, or APO, was founded by Scouts for Scouts — transporting the Scouting commitment to service into college, where service projects are a great way to give back, make friends and strengthen résumés.

Membership in Scouting was dropped as an APO requirement in 1967, and women were invited to join in 1970. While APO is no longer officially associated with the BSA, the two are still considered “partners in service.”

In fact, you’ll still find APO in the Scouts BSA Handbook. Page 438 (of both editions, boys and girls) tells readers that APO “encourages its members to continue their Scouting involvement through college connections.”

APO is a service fraternity (rather than social, academic or professional), meaning young people can be APO members while still joining other Greek life organizations.

Founded by Scouters

Alpha Phi Omega is the only national college service fraternity with its roots firmly planted in Scouting.

It was founded in 1925 by Scouters and Scouting alumni at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Its founder, Frank Reed Horton, wanted to assemble a group of college students that would strive “to help other people at all times.”

Sound familiar? Horton wasn’t a Scout, but while at Lafayette, he met a local Scout executive at an American Legion banquet. Intrigued and inspired, Horton signed up to be a commissioner, a Scoutmaster and later a summer camp associate director.

“Through these experiences, I found that the Scout Oath and Scout Law were what I had been seeking,” he says, adding that the BSA’s timeless values are “a code of ideals created and accepted by some of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.”

The Alpha Phi Omega booth at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree (Courtesy of APO)

Helpful, friendly and kind

Since 1925, APO has helped more than 500,000 members on more than 375 campuses give back to their local communities by organizing campus blood drives, helping at first-year orientation, promoting first aid training and much more.

Many chapters connect with local BSA councils and districts to give back to Scouting directly. They have helped at:

  • Klondike Derbies, with check-in, food prep, judging stations, setting up and taking down
  • Pinewood Derbies, as judges, check-in officials and food servers
  • Local council camps, assisting with running weekend or weeklong camps or opening or closing camp for the season
  • Merit Badge University, as merit badge counselors or all-purpose volunteers ready to help wherever needed

“We have a large presence with some college campuses that host these Merit Badge University events,” says Kevin Baldwin, chair of the National Scouting & Youth Services Committee for Alpha Phi Omega and the liaison between APO and the BSA. “It’s great to see young people committed to continuing their leadership and service in college.”

Other examples of APO service include:

  • In March 2019, the Alpha Zeta Xi Chapter at Lake Superior State University hosted a lock-in for the Scout troops in the area where the chapter provided food, activities and games throughout the night.
  • In April 2019, the Xi Chapter at Iowa State University hosted a Merit Badge University for approximately 200 Scouts from all over Iowa.
  • In April 2019, the Alpha Zeta Kappa Chapter at Eastern Kentucky University repaired and rebuilt the benches at the amphitheater at the BSA’s Camp McKee in preparation for a council event.
Alpha Phi Omega members at APO’s 2018 National Convention (Courtesy of Chris Gordon)

Leadership, Friendship, Service

APO’s three principles are leadership, friendship and service.

Opportunities for leadership and service are a core part of APO’s ethos. So where does friendship come in?

As any Scout knows, when you’re engaged in a service project, like planning a kickball tournament for kids with special needs or even cleaning up a littered lawn after a big event on campus, you’re bound to make new friends.

Sure enough, Scouts who join APO form lasting friendships with fellow members. They bond with others who agree that this is the best way to spend some of their free time in college.

“While transitioning from high school to college, I was glad to have found an organization that had the same ideals as the lifelong friends from my BSA camp staffing days for so many years,” Baldwin says. “It was like I didn’t miss a beat from graduating high school by continuing to have service projects to work on and making new friends — that I still keep in touch with today.”

How to get involved

You’ll find APO chapters all over the United States (and even in Canada and the Philippines). There’s a chapter at the University of Alaska Anchorage, the University of Miami and pretty much everywhere in between.

To see if there’s an APO chapter at your alma mater or a school your Scout is considering, use the chapter locator tool. Think of it as APO’s version of BeAScout.org.

“Alpha Phi Omega’s partnership with the BSA — and other youth-serving organizations — makes our fraternity a unique bridge by joining forces to serve nearby campuses and communities,” Baldwin says. “When APO brothers are members of both the BSA and APO, the opportunities and connections for APO chapters to help nearby BSA councils, and vice versa, grows and grows.”

APO members who have gone above and beyond the call to strengthen the relationship between APO and Scouting and/or another youth-serving organization, can be awarded the Herbert G. Horton Service to Youth Award. More details here.

About Bryan Wendell 3220 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.