The Illini SSA fights cancer (and stereotypes) with hugs


LLS LTNThis post comes from Sam Shore, who, in addition to being one of Foundation Beyond Belief’s fall interns, is active in the Central Illinois freethought community.

The partnership between Foundation Beyond Belief and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has been profoundly rewarding on many levels—not the least of which is the phenomenal amount of money nontheists have raised in the service of scientific research and the fight against horrible diseases. My local group, the Illini Secular Student Alliance, has been taking advantage of the opportunity to do some good with the support of the local community. Along the way, we’ve reaffirmed just how valuable service work is for helping to strengthen our community.

ISSA Hug an AtheistEach week, ISSA members have been setting up a table on our university’s Quad and selling hugs for $1 with all proceeds going to our LLS team. Being outside and interacting with each other and passersby has made our little community for nonbelievers on campus even closer. There’s nothing like enthusiastically soliciting hugs for cancer research to bring a group of heathens together.

By setting up in the middle of campus, we’ve also had the opportunity to engage in outreach to the broader campus community. For some people who’ve encountered us, it’s been an exercise in contrasting their negative stereotypes of the nonreligious with our real-life, cancer-fighting selves. Others have become aware of a community for people who think like them on campus who take time out of their week to do some good for the world. On our big, diverse campus we’ve come in contact with people of all backgrounds. I’ve taken donations from and had conversations with one devout Jew celebrating Sukkot across the lawn from us, as well as a proselytizing Mennonite preacher who stopped by to leave us a tract along with his donation. Our club president even took a donation from the mayor of Champaign, who said he appreciated us being out that day!

By choosing a fundraiser that made us highly visible to the broader community, we’ve been able to not only support a great charity but grow as a community in the process. I encourage secular groups across the nation to learn from ISSA’s example and make service work part of their strategy for building local freethought communities.