By Janell Smith
Most students at Carolina graduate with some type of public service having been part of their undergraduate experiences and nearly half of UNC-CH’s seniors (47 percent) reported participation in service-learning. Sometimes that service is not only an act but a way of life. For George Barrett ’14, an APPLES Service-Learning alumnus and current associate director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, service to others is a trait that runs blood deep.
“Serving is an action that has been instilled in me from birth,” Barrett said. “My mother is the epitome of an individual with a servant’s heart.
“My passion comes from steadfast inspiration and guidance from watching her live her life.”
Barrett admires his mother for her service-oriented life and seems to have inherited that same altruistic spirit. Since graduating from UNC-CH with a degree in anthropology, Barrett has dedicated his career to meaningful service and engagement with communities in North Carolina through working with the Jackson Center, a public history and community development center located in the Northside neighborhood in Chapel Hill. The Jackson Center honors, renews and rebuilds communities in the historic Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods. It was through an APPLES service-learning course that Barrett’s desire to work full-time with the Jackson Center was born.
“I was connected to the Carolina Center for Public Service through an APPLES service-learning course [I took during] my senior year,” he said. “UNITAS was a year-long course that provided a social justice education with an ethnographic, participatory learning base.
“During the second semester, students were required to do a service-learning project at a community organization. This pipeline is how I came to the Jackson Center and eventually to the Northside family.”
Barrett’s work with the Jackson Center fosters engagement across local communities, including the place where his involvement started: the APPLES Service-Learning program.
In August, Barrett hosted at the Jackson Center a group of first-year students participating in APPLES Service-Learning Initiative (SLI). SLI participants and site leaders engage in a wide range of service activities: working to address food scarcity at Heavenly Groceries, supporting the Jackson Center Oral History Trust, writing and distributing the Northside News to more than 800 households in Northside and Pine Knolls, and aiding the neighborhood housing retention efforts through Home Repair projects such as A Brush With Kindness through Habitat for Humanity.
Barrett said these type of cross-cultural, inter-generational service opportunities promote good work and a better sense of community.
“Students at UNC are extraordinary,” he said. “I consistently tell my friends from my home town of Charlotte that UNC is this weird place were the extraordinary is the ordinary.”
Barret is part of a long history where the University and community come together in a tradition of service. By participating in Carolina Center for Public Service programs, he hopes students gain a perspective outside of themselves.
“I hope they gain history,” he said. “I hope they gain the tools to look outside of themselves in order to see the world around them. I hope they gain love from the community. I hope they gain wisdom from the community. I hope they gain a community.
“My mom has always told me God puts people on this earth for a reason. I feel like my reason and role is to help other people.”