Get to know Cal Poly AHA


Get to know Cal Poly Alliance of Happy Atheists (AHA), one of our newest Volunteers Beyond Belief teams.

How did your group get started? What motivated you to organize and maintain your group? The Cal Poly Alliance of Happy Atheists was originally started under the name “Cal Poly Brights” around 2006. A small number of secular students banded together to create a group for nonreligious students (or those friendly to the nonreligious) to meet up, socialize, have open discussions, and be themselves. Over the next couple of years, the club grew from half a dozen students to about 200 members on the mailing list and around 50 active members and has kept those numbers fairly consistent. This year we did change our name as part of affirmation of some unwritten goals the club has had which are now incorporated into our mission statement.

Were there any particular challenges you had to overcome to form or to keep the group together? We cannot attest to the difficulties founding, as none of the founding members are at Cal Poly now, but in the 2010-2011 school year, every one of the founding members had graduated, leaving the club disorganized and very unstable. There was much difficulty getting momentum up again, and we’re still working on building a stronger foundation, but the club’s members are very interested in seeing the club continue. Students from freshmen to seniors are participating in organizing more events and keeping the momentum of the club strong.

How or why did your group choose to be involved with volunteering?
Part of our club’s mission, like most clubs, is to make the community a better place. Volunteering is really an extension and perhaps in fact the most important of all the ways we try to accomplish that–by working to educate people through outreach booths and by bringing in relevant speakers. Educating people that atheists, agnostics, nontheists, and freethinkers are good without god is an added benefit of volunteering in the community. Also, volunteering provides our group members a chance to get to know one another outside our meetings. It’s really about education, socializing, and making our community a better place.

What sort of volunteer events have you participated in? Much of our volunteer work has centered on making the campus a better place. We have not ventured far from a number of cleanup events we’ve done, but this year and into the future we hope to establish some regular volunteer routines and relationships in the community.

How do you deal with the additional organizational challenges posed by a volunteer event? As odd as it sounds, the most difficult part for our group has been finding opportunities. It can be difficult to find opportunities for large groups of people to show up and help. At least a couple of times it is overwhelming to the staff to be asked about opportunities for 20 people to show up and help.

Cal Poly AHAWhat was your favorite volunteer event so far? San Luis Obispo is such a beautiful place, in part because of the volcanic plugs known as Cerros. One of these, Bishop Peak, is host to a large, public open space, and we’ve hosted a number of cleanup hikes to keep the trail clean and friendly for all. About two-thirds of the way up the trail our last time going up, we helped a young woman find an alternate route around a trail that was blocked by a rattlesnake. She ended up walking with us, inquired about our group, and learned that atheists can be “good without god” in a very real way. Not only were we able to help our community, but we were able to directly help someone and foster discussion.

What other types of events and activities has your group held? Our club holds bi-weekly meetings on Sundays and Tuesdays, which are usually social but sometimes feature speakers on a variety of topics from religion to science to entertainment. We host a number of public talks each year on topics regarding religion, science, and the secular community, which often draw many club members as well as many interested community members or fellow students. We also work with a local community group to host a booth at community events and host our own outreach booths on campus and at orientation events.

Do you feel supported by others in your community? The reactions we get are often mixed. Some groups are enthusiastic about working with us, others respond less favorably. On the whole, though, we enjoy good relationships with most clubs on campus, and have a great relationship with local secular groups. We do both outreach and volunteer work with them.

What would you like to tell other secular humanists who are interested in volunteering? Do it. As leaders in our organization, we find volunteering to be a hugely popular and rewarding pastime with our members. Everyone is very enthusiastic about it, it’s a great opportunity to get to know one another, and it’s a great way to reach out to the community. If you’re not involved with a group, there are many opportunities to get out there on your own and do your part, or if you can find a group to get started with, volunteering is a great way to get involved.