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Members of Christian student organization support one of their own.

The members of ONU’s Kappa Phi club may not all be blood-related, but they are sisters in every other sense of the word.

A national Christ-centered organization for University women, Kappa Phi’s ONU chapter unites its 37 members in a common purpose of strengthening their Christian faith together. The group holds weekly meetings in the English Chapel, where they share Bible study, prayer and fellowship.

Kappa Phi is not a sorority, but it’s still referred to as a sisterhood. If you spend even a little bit of time with the group, it’s easy to see why.

Being a sister in Kappa Phi means being there and always being willing to lend a hand,” says senior Taylor Fleischman, president of Kappa Phi. “We have sisters who go through really hard things, but you always know you’re going to have someone there for you. When one sister is down, all 37 of us are there to pray for her and to help her get back up.

Theresa Meli speaks to students about RSD before the start of the 2017 Sing-A-Thon.On the surface, Theresa Meli, a Kappa Phi member and graduating senior from Cleveland, Ohio, looks like any other typical college student, but each day, she fights a battle that nobody can see. Meli lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) syndrome, a disorder of the sympathetic nervous system. It’s a debilitating disease with intense symptoms such as constant burning pain and extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, temperature and vibration. She was 13 years old when she was first diagnosed with RSD. She was recently in remission for around four years, but in April 2017, the condition resurfaced.

“Living with RSD is excruciating,” Meli says. “You never can see RSD, and you never will. It’s not deadly. It will never kill me, but it is a chronic pain syndrome that is higher on the McGill Pain Index than losing an arm.”

Most days, Meli dons a chipper spirit and smiles through the pain. It’s her goal each day to portray a positive, outgoing personality. Sometimes, though, the pain is so great that she can’t pretend that she’s OK. Among her Kappa Phi sisters, she knows she doesn’t have to.

Meli joined Kappa Phi as a junior, and she fell in love with the group right away. It met her immense need for spiritual fellowship and helped her stay positive. By the time she had come out of remission, every member of Kappa Phi was already a sister to her, and when things started getting tough, they did what real sisters do. They not only sent up numerous prayers for her, but also found ways to help her feel better physically. They allowed her to Facetime into meetings when the pain was so bad she couldn’t even leave her bed. They didn’t hesitate to be there for her in any way they could.

We call ourselves a sisterhood because that’s what we are – a family,” Meli says. “They’re my family, they’re my support, they’re my backbone, especially through this hard couple of months that I’ve had. You should be able to count on sisters, and with Kappa Phi, I look around at that sisterhood, and I can count on every single one of them.

Meli was amazed with the sisterhood’s strong show of support, but something else was about to happen that would completely blow her away.

Kappa Phi members open up their 2017 Sing-A-Thon in McIntosh Center.Every year, Kappa Phi holds a Sing-A-Thon, a fundraising event during which members of multiple student organizations sing for 24 straight hours in 30-minute slots to benefit a charity voted on by the sisterhood. Ever since she was diagnosed, Meli has been a huge advocate for RSD and has spearheaded multiple fundraisers to benefit the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA). This year, she decided to nominate RSDSA for the Sing-A-Thon, in hopes of helping others living with the condition.

However, when Meli went to nominate RSDSA, she was met with a shocking revelation: Several sisters had already nominated it, in support of her. She hadn’t prompted anyone to do so. This gesture brought tears to her eyes.

When it came time to decide, RSDSA was voted as the charity for the 2017 Sing-A-Thon. Meli was, in her own words, “overwhelmed with love.” To her, it meant the world that they supported something she was so passionate about. To the sisterhood, it was a way to be there for a sister in need.

“It has been a decade-long battle that has affected me, my parents, my whole family and my friends,” Meli says. “Now it has grown into a cause for my sisterhood, people I call my closest non-blood family. I couldn’t have been more grateful.”

The Sing-A-Thon took place Dec. 1-2 and raised a total of $1,096. The proceeds will go toward helping people with RSD, educating physicians on early diagnosis, and raising awareness for a disorder that is often misunderstood and not talked about enough.

Meli has completed her coursework to earn her degree in forensic biology. While she is returning to walk for graduation in May, she’s now leaving ONU to pursue a career as a forensic toxicologist.

The day after Sing-A-Thon, Meli also became an alumna of Kappa Phi. It’s bittersweet for her. While she’s looking forward to being actively involved in Kappa Phi alumni activities, she’s also sad to leave behind something that has added so much to her life at Ohio Northern.

You want to bring the sunshine to each day,” she says. “I think that Kappa Phi has been that sunshine in my college experience. When I think of Kappa Phi, I think of roses, I think of smiles. I can literally picture each and every sister, and it brings joy to my heart. I’m never going to forget any single piece of it.

At the same time, there’s something from her time in Kappa Phi that can never be taken away – the bonds of sisterhood. It’s said that having a sister means having a friend for life; in Meli’s case, that couldn’t be more truthful.