By Janell Smith
Twenty-six years ago, Tony Deifell and four other Carolina students (Mike Ulku-Steiner, Serena Wille, Kas Decarvahlo and Emily Lawson), saw the need for service experiences to be incorporated into their academic lives. As members of the Campus Y, they were frustrated by the University’s absence of a program that recognized the learning experiences they had outside of the classroom in service activities.
In 1989, they put forth a plan to create a student organization that would provide students with experiences in service-learning.
“I was all fired up about trying to design a program that would be much more academic-based than student activities-based,” Deifell said.
When the University declined to fund the program, they lobbied students directly, encouraging them to pass a referendum to tax themselves to pay for APPLES. Students approved the referendum and student fee. One year later, in 1990, the APPLES Service-Learning program was fully functioning.
In the 25 years following its inception, APPLES remains one of the only student-led programs at Carolina that transforms educational experiences by connecting academic learning and public service. What began in 1990 as six service-learning courses has grown to be a program that strengthens civic engagement through the collaboration of students, faculty and communities in a variety of programs, including alternative breaks, the service-learning initiative, internships, courses and fellowships.
The 25th anniversary celebration, Feb. 27 and 28, brought together current students, alumni, APPLES founders, professors and community partners for a weekend of meaningful reflection, service and planning.
“Co-founding APPLES was a passion of mine as an undergrad at UNC,” Lawson said. “A lot of the principles that were important to my fellow co-founders – public service, activism, community engagement, equality – remain important to me in my day to day life.
“It’s encouraging and deeply gratifying to see new generations of UNC students’ involvement in the organization,” said Lawson.
At the core of APPLES’ longevity is its ability to transform itself and to meet the needs of the students and communities it serves. In doing so, the anniversary theme highlights the sustainable growth of the organization.
APPLES programs are constantly evolving not only to promote sustainability, but to meet the expressed needs of students and community partners.
For example, Bryan Social Innovation Fellowships now include two grant funding opportunities and a service-learning course designed to help fellows develop long-lasting, service-based initiatives. Likewise, spring and summer internships provide a stipend and academic credit for student interns. Additionally, a reflections committee was created to foster meaningful reflection about service-learning experiences.
In 2009, APPLES underwent another change: The service-learning organization joined the Carolina Center for Public Service, bringing together two organizations with rich histories rooted in service-learning, community engagement and scholarship to become more integrated in addressing Carolina’s mission of public service.
Continuing to evolve, in this academic year alone, APPLES experienced two successful program developments.
These developments stress the importance of reflection, community partnerships and sustainability of a different kind ‒ environmental responsibility.
Christina Galardi, graduate assistant for alternative breaks, said these new components strengthen the connection between community engagement and the classroom in a new, but necessary way.
“We don’t want [the break] to feel like an isolated experience,” Galardi said.
The 2014-2015 academic year continued a year of anniversaries: in May 2014, the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, also a part of the Center, graduated its 10th class. In November 2014 the Center celebrated its 15th anniversary. In celebration of these anniversaries, including APPLES 25th, the Center launched the I Serve campaign to provide Carolina students, staff, faculty, alumni and community partners with a visible way to explain why they serve and to inspire others to serve.
The campaign includes photos from Chancellor Carol Folt, Coach Roy Williams and Coach Sylvia Hatchell, among others.
“The idea really took hold with the center staff,” said Cayce Dorrier, APPLES president and an anniversary committee member who helped implement the I Serve campaign. “It has grown beyond just celebrating the anniversaries of APPLES and CCPS.”
APPLES students, staff, community partners and alumni gathered to celebrate APPLES 25th anniversary with a full complement of activities Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28. Its annual APPLES awards dinner Friday, Feb. 27 honored five individuals and an organization that have provided significant contributions to service-learning and support to APPLES. Recognized were:
- Reena Gupta ’15 – APPLES Undergraduate Excellence Award
- Community Empowerment Fund – APPLES Community Partner Excellence Award
- Rachel Willis – APPLES Teaching Excellence Award
- Donna LeFebvre – Service-Learning Award in honor of Ned Brooks
- Cindy Cheatham – Outstanding Alumni Award
On Saturday, Feb. 28, participants discussed ways to build on APPLES successes through meaningful reflection, active engagement, networking and discussions about APPLES longevity and opportunities.
APPLES has made a lasting impact on Carolina and other communities, nationally and globally.
Since 2000, 1,651 students participated on alternative break experiences; 22,675 students enrolled in more than 1,000 APPLES service-learning courses; 722 first-year students were introduced to service at UNC through the Service-Learning Initiative; 131 fellows created service-based organizations; and 493 interns had professional work experiences. Through this involvement, APPLES participants’ commitment to public service has produced more than 1 million hours of service.
Furthermore, APPLES alumni ‒ who include founders of charter schools and other educators, nonprofit consultants, entrepreneurs, doctors, even a professional actor ‒ continually relate their current success to their involvement in APPLES.
APPLES alumnus Will Thomason ’10 said APPLES provided him with the foundation to commit himself to public service for the rest of his life.
“Through guided discussion, academic and ethnographic research and public engagement, I was able to grow as a servant, as a leader and as an individual, both within the APPLES program and beyond,” Thomason said.
In the past 25 years, APPLES and its participants have left lasting “heelprints” on the campus community and beyond. They are imprinted locally, nationally, globally and individually, and are perhaps the most telling sign of the organization’s impact.