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This Week (Group Starting Edition) - Activities for a New Group

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Ask an Atheist Day at Purdue UniversityOnce you have an advisor, a constitution, interested members, etc. it can be hard to decide where to go from there.  Even if you took my advice and decided what your focus area (or areas) should be, it can be hard to pick out a concrete activity or project that you want to engage in. This week, I’d like to talk about some of the more common, fun, and exciting activities we have that your new group can engage in.  Whether your group's focus is education, activism, service, community, or cooperation, we have ideas and activities for you!

First off, I am a huge advocate of game nights, especially for informal or social meetings.  There are several reasons for this.  Firstly, it is not sectarian.  By this I mean you’re not going to scare off the religious or pseudo-religious individuals that are interested in coming to your meetings (believe me, there will be plenty of time for that as the year goes on).  Secondly, it’s a great way to break the ice and bond over a fun activity.  Apples to Apples, Munchkin, Risk, Monopoly, etc. can all be a great way to bond and learn about people you otherwise have just met.  Some schools even have the ability to hook up video game equipment to projectors and/or computers so you could even play Rock Band or something similar (but make sure this is ok with your school first).  Game nights can be a huge success, especially if your group is focusing on community-building activities.

Second, a simple but effective service project can be a huge early success.  On many college campuses (and in many areas around colleges) there are typically a lot of opportunities to volunteer, either at soup kitchens, Goodwill stores, or other service-oriented projects.  And your campus probably also has tools to connect your group with service opportunities.  Spending a Sunday morning cleaning up your local park or serving food to the homeless is a great way to bond and get group cohesion early on (and, let’s face it) what else are you going to do on a Sunday morning?  If your group is focusing on activism, community, or service, this can be a great way to start off the year right and establish relationships with local community groups that could turn out to be extremely beneficial to your group’s mission later.

As far as activism goes, there are many activities that you can participate in this Fall.  First off, I know a lot of campuses are plagued by campus preachers this time of year.  If your campus happens to be host to one of these colorful characters, organize a peaceful counter-protest or even go out and preach the gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Nothing dispels hate like love, so you could organize a “Hug an Atheist” day if you have enough time in advance.  If your campus is lucky enough to not host one of these hate mongers, there is still a lot you can do in terms of activism.  There are a lot of important separation of church and state struggles going on across the country and at the local level - and maybe even on your campus.  If there is a specific issue on your campus that you’d like to tackle, but don’t know how, just give us an email and we’ll be sure to lend a hand!

What if your focus area is education?  Well, an event that is really fun and relatively easy to set up is Ask an Atheist.  Now, this can go one of two ways (actually, it can go more, but here I’ll limit my scope to these two).  One is an Ask An Atheist table.  You can set up a table in a high traffic area of your campus, put out a nice big sign that says “Ask an Atheist” and wait for the questions to roll in.  My group has had a lot of success doing just this, and SSA has lots of supplies to help.   The other way to approach this idea is an Ask An Atheist event.  Plan something like a panel or a radio show (if your school has a radio station) where people could come and ask questions about atheism.  Either way, engaging your community and teaching them a little bit about what it’s like to be a secular student in today’s America will be invaluable.  Plus, it's honestly a lot of fun - I’ve met a lot of good friends this way. 

Finally, what if your focus area is cooperation?  Well, there is a literally endless list of things you could do with faith-based groups.  You could engage in service projects, community-based activism (if there is an issue you both agree on), education (i.e., can you be good without god?), and many others.  Cooperation is one of the richest and most accessible areas to work in, mostly because many religious organizations tend to be well organized (they’ve been around for a while) and typically well-funded.  We here at the SSA strongly encourage cooperation with faith-based groups.  Even though we may disagree on many things, there are areas (such as feeding the poor, ending war and violence, etc.) that we can all agree on. 

I hope this quick run-through has sparked some ideas for you.  The main point of this article is not for you to cherry-pick some idea I put in here to use for your own group, but to give you examples and ideas of what are some possibilities you could go with.  The real goal is for you to get inspired and make an activity your own.  As always, if you have questions, suggestions, comments, concerns, or anything else, do not hesitate to contact me.  Good luck and go out there and get some work done!

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