Each year, many UNC students spend their fall break at home, binge-watching their favorite Netflix show or catching up on sleep lost during midterms. But for 70 students participating in APPLES Service-Learning alternative fall breaks (AFB), fall break is spent serving communities throughout North Carolina, the mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
APPLES alternative fall breaks are student-led, service-oriented experiences where students dedicate their service to participate in six focus areas: urban communities, Latino communities, rural communities, environmental issues, arts in public service and service-learning initiative. Because APPLES alternative breaks has long-standing relationships with community partners, the work students perform is aligned directly to what the community needs. So in the wake of the devastation Hurricane Matthew brought to Eastern North Carolina on Oct. 8, the rural communities alternative break revamped its work to focus on helping those affected by the hurricane.
“While in Robeson County, we felt angry about systemic injustices that people face, but also hopeful and inspired by the strength of the community,” said Rachael Purvis ‘18, a biology major from Gastonia, North Carolina. “One of our community partners told us to hold on to those feelings from this experience and let them carry us throughout our lives and careers.”
The 12 students who participated in the rural communities break visited Robeson County, a highly impoverished riverside community in Eastern North Carolina. Robeson County was one of many communities left flooded by Hurricane Matthew. Students spent their time cleaning out damaged homes, learning from local speakers about emergency response in rural and tribal communities, and assisting the Center for Community Action and the Robeson County Church and Community Center in their work serving the community.
These AFB students gained a first-hand account of how their service work can make a difference in a community only a few hours away from their university. While these Tar Heels only served Robeson County for a few days, the impact of this experience will last long past their return to UNC.
“The clean-up experience [with the students] was both excruciatingly painful and dramatically rewarding. We shared both aspects of the experience with each other and with family members,” said Reverend Mac Legerton, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Community Action. “The experience was deeply transformative, mainly because it included care and discomfort, heartache and heart affection. The classroom experience rarely takes you to either space and place. Community experience does, particularly when it provides both depth and breadth in one’s life that is made explicit through de-liberation and reciprocity. This is the core of meaningful and transformative service-learning.”
Beth Clifford ‘19 from Mount Prospect, Illinois said, “Robeson County changed us in ways we didn’t expect. Even though we just intended to serve, the community members made their mark on our lives.”