APPLES recognizes 2014 service-learning award recipients

2014 APPLESAwardsGroupExtending learning beyond the boarders of the classroom is the essence of service-learning. Every day, UNC students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community partners put this concept into practice making a difference in the lives of individuals and the communities they serve. To honor their work, each year the APPLES Service-Learning program recognizes those individuals and organizations who have exhibited a sustained and deep involvement in service-learning at Carolina. This year, Hannah Smith, One Act, Hannah Gill, Robyn Fehrman and Clair Lorch received awards for their outstanding contributions to service-learning at the annual APPLES award brunch held Friday, April 11.

Hannah Smith – Undergraduate Excellence Award

Hannah Smith, a graduating senior majoring in Health Policy and Management, is honored for her involvement with the Samaritan Health Center over the years. Her work reflects a sustained and ongoing commitment to the community, while demonstrating genuine and valuable contributions to the organization. Her work has extended to her honors thesis project where she is researching patient satisfaction and health care access.

One Act – Community Partner Excellence Award

One Act is honored for its sustained and ongoing commitment to interpersonal violence prevention and the development of unique and valuable trainings to build awareness among students. The unique work of One Act integrates education, service, reflection and social action which provides students with particularly meaningful and transformative learning experiences. Through One Act’s partnership with service-learning, students have been included in significant work on campus, and in the community.

Hannah Gill – Teaching Excellence Award

Hannah Gill is selected based on her work with the Latino Migration Project and the APPLES Guanajuato course, where she has continued to deepen students’ understanding of local migrant perspectives over the years. Her teaching has strengthened the quality of learning in these courses through local and global community-based experiences combined with challenging critical reflection.

Robyn Fehrman – Outstanding Alumni Award

Robyn Fehrman is a 2000 and 2004 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a former APPLES organizer. She is honored for her efforts and contributions toward social change in the roles she has served in for various nonprofit organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Triangle Community Foundation and Teach For America of Eastern North Carolina. Robyn’s work reflects a passion for working with individuals and communities with the goal of increasing capacity building and social change

Claire Lorch – Service-Learning Award in honor of Ned Brooks

Claire Lorch is celebrated for her deep commitment to building community through service and ensuring food access to University employees. Through Claire’s determination, the Carolina Campus Community Garden (CCCG) has become a thriving part of our campus. She has sustained long-term partnerships with various APPLES courses, enriching the education and experience of Carolina students, while making a substantial impact impact on the lives of University employees and their families. Before her work with CCCG, Claire’s career at Carolina in various roles has reflected a genuine and meaningful connection with individuals and communities.

“Service is at the heart of APPLES and the same can be said of the Community Garden,” Claire Lorch said. “This garden is so much more than vegetables; it’s being involved in something bigger than all of us. It brings the campus and community together for a common goal…. APPLES allows students to take a deep dive into the workings and needs of the garden. There is only so much I as the garden manager can do. We are able to do so much more because of the students’ and their professors’ commitment to this work. It is our hope that the garden is a meaningful experience for them and one they will continue to benefit from in years to come.”

UNC students to spend spring break serving the community

By Laura Fisher ’15

2013 civil rights alternative spring break.

2013 civil rights alternative spring break.

While their peers venture off to tropical destinations for spring break, 60 UNC students will instead dedicate their time to giving back to the community. Through the APPLES Service-Learning Alternative Break program, students will spend eight days focusing on civil rights and disaster relief or characteristics of Latino, urban and rural communities. Students spent the semester preparing for the break experience through the two-credit hour class HBEH 610, Critical Approaches to Service-Learning. Classroom interaction focused on theories and experiences relevant to social action and community development, and the alternative spring break experience will allow them to apply what they have learned through service and advocacy work.

Between March 7 and 15, some APPLES students will travel to Birmingham, Ala., or Atlanta while others work in the North Carolina communities of Burgaw, Dunn, Durham, Charlotte, Clinton, Lumberton, Pembroke, Raleigh, Rocky Point and Swan Quarter. Each group will engage in direct and indirect service with community partners in the area, gaining a deeper understanding about the assets and challenges of those communities. Following the experience, emphasis is placed on reflection to encourage active citizenship beyond the break experience when they return to Chapel Hill and their home communities.

“It has been interesting to learn about civil rights in a classroom setting,” said Amy Kalinowski ’15, a student traveling to Birmingham to address civil rights issues in the community. “I am looking forward to directly applying everything we’ve learned so that I can gain a more personal connection to the issue.”

All APPLES alternative breaks are student-led experiences in which students travel outside of Chapel Hill to engage with a community, performing service while learning about a pertinent topic reflective of that area. Each year, more than 168 UNC students give their time to serve through APPLES alternative break programs, working with community partners that have established relationships supporting these breaks year after year.

For more information on APPLES alternative spring breaks, visit

Katie Weinel learns most from service work

By Deborah R. Meyer – The Chapel Hill News

Buckley Public Service Scholar and Bryan Social Innovation Fellowship recipient Katie Weinel shares her experience with service and its impact on her life

Brushstrokes: Students take arts into the community

Katie Weinel, Mary  - BPSS Musical OutreachKatie Weinel knew that a stellar GPA was key to getting into medical school.

“But I think that while I was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill, I learned the most not from my classes, like biochemistry or molecular biology, but from leading Musical Empowerment,” said Weinel, who is in her first year at the UNC School of Medicine. Musical Empowerment matches UNC students with children in the community to give them private music lessons.

“Music taught me perseverance and how to have confidence when playing in front of an audience,” said Weinel, who plays the flute and violin. “These are skills that you carry with you always.”

“I think the arts, and music in particular, are amazing tools for social change, bettering a community,” she said. “It is a language that everyone understands.”

Her senior year Weinel learned from her faculty adviser, Emil J. Kang, UNC’s executive director for the arts, that there was talk of forming a new service group related to the arts which would be a subset of the Carolina Center for Public Service’s Buckley Public Service Scholars program. The BPSS program gives UNC students who want to be involved in public service a framework. Undergraduates pledge to do at least 300 hours of community service. Weinel asked to help push this arts initiative to an immediate reality.

With a lot of hard work from key players, including Ryan Nilsen and Lynn Blanchard at the Carolina Center for Public Service; Aaron Shackelford, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts; Weinel and Kang, the new program, Arts in Public Service Fellows recently accepted its first 20 students. Two weeks ago, they began journeying out, volunteering at arts organizations, and exploring how the arts can be a tool for social change.

Some of the groups they are working with are Hidden Voices, Sacrificial Poets, The ArtsCenter, Durham Arts Council, Theater Delta, Boston Urban Music Project, and Triangle ArtWorks.

‘A huge challenge’

After Kang began at UNC in 2005, he took the Tar Heel bus tour, which is a five-day trip across North Carolina.

“I realized from this trip that the university’s commitment to the state was such a big part of what makes up the university,” Kang said. “It seemed to me like a huge challenge – what could we do at Carolina Performing Arts that has some connection to this commitment that did not seem contrived or fly-by night?”

Then in 2007, Kang went to a presentation by students involved in the Carolina Center for Public Service, which Blanchard leads. “I asked Lynn if there was any way that we could create a dedicated program that looks at the arts in public service. She thought it was a great idea,” Kang said. But the barriers that often exist for new ideas, including funding, were there.

In 2013, the perfect storm occurred. Weinel got involved, and seed money became available via The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create and support the Arts@TheCore program that puts the performing arts at UNC’s core. Shackelford agreed to create and teach a course as part of this new program. Service-Learning in America, offered through the American Studies Department, explores how the arts are tools of social change in our country. Course requirements include the students doing service hours in art organizations.

“We are approaching it as an historical overview and looking at a number of different movements,” said Shackelford. Movements since abolition are explored. The last three weeks of the course focus on Art and Social Change in North Carolina.. “We will look at Moral Monday and how North Carolina musicians have responded to this movement.”

Last year, a choir visited an American Studies classroom. “They talked about how their music is an expression of their faith, and started singing a hymn. Members of the choir and students started crying from the sheer beauty and power of the moment,” Shackelford said. “I had no idea of the religious convictions of the students, but it tied the entire room together in a way that no lecture could accomplish.”

Premed dancer

The 20 students who were accepted into the APSF had to first be Buckley Scholars, like Aditi Borde, a UNC junior chemistry major.

Like most of her fellow students, Borde does not intend to make her living in the art world. She chose to do her service hours with Carrboro’s nonprofit Art Therapy Institute..

“I thought volunteering with this group would relate back to my premed background and my interest in the arts.” said Borde, who is on a UNC dance team. “This has offered more connections in my life and opened my eyes to what is out there in ways to give back to the community.”

Though it took several years to happen, Kang is thrilled that this idea is now making its first ripples in the community.

“I like to think that we had to wait for the right set-up. We had to have Aaron and Katie here for it to work,” he said. “We see great potential.”

Students address community issues through popular service-learning course

By Nicole Beatty ’15

Pozefsky - s-l course Braille SquadUNC offers many courses for students interested in learning more about public service and civic responsibility. APPLES service-learning classes bring the two together by extending learning outside the classroom to collaborate with community organizations. One service-learning course in particular is in high demand: not only by students but by organizations in the community as well.

During the fall semester, 39 UNC students experienced service-learning in a unique way under the instruction of Dr. Diane Pozefsky. Students in COMP 523, Software Engineering Lab, created software for real-life problems, meeting the needs of clients in the community. To accomplish this, students had to understand the users’ needs and then design an appropriate system for each client.

“The most challenging parts of the course were that students learned new systems on their own and dealt with the problems of designing and implementing a system that has not been vetted to avoid problems,” said Pozefsky.

Throughout the semester, students worked on 12 different projects including one with MyHealthEd where students created an online sexual education course for the organization. MyHealthEd offers online courses to students in North Carolina’s rural areas where school districts are not always able to hire qualified teachers. Students also worked with Braille Squad, led by Diane Brauner, an orientation and mobility teacher for visually impaired children. Here students built an application to teach blind children how to use a refreshable Braille display, which aids them in typing, reading and learning braille on a computer. Unlike other courses, Pozefsky says she never knows what problems the class will encounter while working on projects with clients.

“I had a team working with a refreshable Braille display attached to an iPad, and they tried to use specific features that the client, who works with this device regularly, had never seen used before,” she said. “Not surprisingly, they ran into some technical issues.”

The class worked on a testing project for Tar Heel Reader, created by UNC’s Dr. Gary Bishop, a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar. Bishop developed a website dedicated to helping people learn to read. While the website was originally designed for teens and adults who never learned to read due to disabilities or lack of opportunity, it is now also used to assist people wanting to learn English. The student team assigned to this project created a way for Bishop to automatically test changes in the program before introducing them to the program users.

COMP 523 has come a long way since its inception almost 50 years ago. Dr. Frederick Brooks, founder of the Department of Computer Science, created the course. While working at IBM he was challenged by the company’s CEO to understand what made managing software hard. Brooks developed the book “Mythical Man-Month” and the COMP 523 course in response to his inquiry. Pozefsky took this course from Brooks when she was a graduate student and after working at IBM for 25 years, returned to UNC to teach. Pozefsky has been the course instructor for 10 years and has found that her industrial background made COMP 523 a natural course for her to teach.

Taught by Pozefsky in the fall and Professor David Stotts in the spring, this service-learning course offers a unique learning experience for students, so it’s no surprise that it is in high demand. Pozefsky says she typically has three times as many project proposals than the course can support. To make the course feasible for instructors to teach, class size is capped at 40 students per semester.

“As our department has grown and requests from clients have grown, it no longer was possible to contain it to a single semester,” Pozefsky said. “There is a huge demand for the course.”

With this course having been taught in the computer science department for almost 50 years and a service-learning course since 2010, it is a good example of how learning in the classroom blends with real-life application in the community.


APPLES Service-Learning student teaches healthy eating habits to community in Ecuador

Watching a student become a teacher is a teacher’s best reward.

So says Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP).

Ammerman recently heard from Cate Parker, her former student in Nutrition 245, “Sustainable, Local Foods and Public Health.” The course, co-developed and co-taught by Ammerman and Molly De Marco, PhD, research fellow and project director at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, which Ammerman directs, was offered through the Carolina Center for Public Service’s APPLES Service-Learning program.

Parker, who earned a double major in global studies and geography at UNC, is now program director for Manna Project International, a holistic community development nonprofit organization based near Quito, Ecuador.

Parker’s work, focused on preventive health, includes teaching four nutrition classes to 145 sixth- and tenth-graders – challenging work, she says, that she “absolutely loves.” She wrote to Ammerman and De Marco to let them know how she was sharing with her students the knowledge she acquired from her UNC coursework.

“I really enjoyed your class,” Parker wrote, “and just wanted you to know how far the information has spread.”

There is no standard nutrition curriculum in Ecuador, Parker said, so her class is likely the only nutrition education the children receive.

“Previously, the class had been taught using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s somewhat outdated food pyramid models,” Parker said. “We gave a quiz at the beginning of the semester, and it was shocking to learn how skewed these kids’ nutritional beliefs are – especially in a country with such an abundance of fresh and healthy food.”

Parker redesigned the curriculum, basing it on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate and the work she had done in Nutrition 245.

She and fellow students had used the Healthy Eating Plate concept to develop a class presentation for employees of Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery in Carrboro, N.C., that sells local, sustainable foods.

“The employees of the market tend to have varying degrees of knowledge about nutrition,” Parker said. “Our presentation allowed them to learn some new information and become better able to educate their customers.”

In her classroom in Ecuador, Parker teaches the basics of the Healthy Eating Plate (whole grains, healthy proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and water) and then covers topics such as the importance of learning about nutrition as a young person, the value of learning to cook, the connection between food and the environment, and ways to make healthier substitutions for traditional ingredients in Ecuadorian recipes.

“It is always heartwarming to hear about the good things our students are doing with the knowledge they gained from our courses,” Ammerman said. “We’re proud of all Cate is accomplishing in her classroom.”

Posted from the Gillings School of Global Public Health

Guanajuato Connections: Experiencing the global South

Reprinted with permission from Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine 


Hannah Gill, director of the Latino Migration Project, says Guanajuato programs offer UNC students a “transformative experience.” (photo by Steve Milligan)

Beyond the headlines and policy papers about Mexican immigrants are the lives of men and women, boys and girls. Helping Carolina students better understand the human complexities of immigration is the mission of UNC’s Latino Migration Project.

The Latino Migration Project is a program of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives.

The Project builds ties between Chapel Hill and the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, where many North Carolina immigrants have originated. It offers UNC students two programs — APPLES Service-Learning Global Course Guanajuato and Project Guanajuato — which provide a “transformative experience” involving service learning, global travel, internships and the development of close ties between UNC students, local immigrants and their families in Mexico, according to Hannah Gill, director of the Project.

Gill, an anthropologist who graduated from Carolina in 1999, teaches the APPLES course, which connects academics and research with public service.

“Students are required to volunteer throughout the semester with a local organization that works with immigrants in some way,” says Gill, who is the author of The Latino Migration Experience in North Carolina: New Roots in the Old North State (UNC Press, 2010). Students travel to Guanajuato over spring break, staying in the homes of local families. “The class offers a very in-depth experience of migration from both sides of the border.”

“It’s really profound to make a connection in your hometown with someone who is from very far away and then go to their hometown and connect with their family,” Gill adds.

For the final class project, students interview immigrants they have met through their service experience, and Gill trains them in oral history methodology. The interviews are available online.

A church in the town of El Gusano. (photo by Brittany Peterson)

A church in the town of El Gusano. (photo by Brittany Peterson)

Project Guanajuato — a summer community development and internship experience for UNC students — was started in 2007 by students who participated in the APPLES course in collaboration with Nourish International, a student organization that addresses global poverty. Thanks to a partnership between the Latino Migration Project and Fundación Comunitaria del Bajio (FCB), a nonprofit in Mexico, UNC undergraduate and graduate students spend about six weeks each summer in Guanajuato, working in rural communities with high levels of emigration to the U.S. Last year, students helped teach English, recreation, arts and dance classes at local elementary and high schools, and they lived with local families.

Guile Contreras ’14, whose parents are from El Salvador, grew up in Siler City, N.C. He participated in Project Guanajuato the summer after his first year at Carolina and became a trip leader the following summer.

“Students who go through Project Guanajuato get a new image of Mexico,” says Contreras. “In the long term, they have a better understanding of immigrants and why people emigrate, beyond [just] talking about it in class.”

Gill says that Guanajuato programs “educate and train students to be able to understand the complexities of migration which are usually glossed over in the public context.”

Students are gaining the skills they need to deal with demographic changes in their community, she adds. More than half of the students who have participated in the program since 2007 are first- or second-generation immigrants or minorities.

“The course gives them the skills and training to understand the social and historical context for their own personal experience,” Gill says.

Gill’s book addresses the Latino migration experience in North Carolina.

Gill’s book addresses the Latino migration experience in North Carolina.

Gill wants to empower students to become leaders in North Carolina.

“I want students who are underrepresented in leadership throughout the state to be able to advocate for themselves and have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

The impact of Guanajuato programs on students’ professional lives is significant. About 70 percent of the program’s alumni work in a field affected by migration — the majority in K-12 education, public health or law.

“This program helps them think about how they can apply their own personal interests, and even their own migration stories, to a career in this field,” says Gill. “It strengthens relationships between North Carolina and Guanajuato.”

Read more about two students’ experiences with Guanajuato programs below:

Providing eye car to immigrants

As the son of parents who emigrated to the U.S. from India, Atif Mohiuddin ’08 has a personal understanding of the immigrant experience.

His passion for helping immigrant communities was kindled by his work as a health educator with the large Guatemalan community in Morganton, near his western North Carolina hometown of Valdese. And that commitment was further cemented after being a member of the inaugural class of APPLES Guanajuato taught by Hannah Gill.

“Hannah’s class was the embodiment of what I had been searching for,” says Mohiuddin. “The course gave me emotional connections that create change in people’s hearts and minds.”

Atif Mohiuddin in Southern Spain.

Atif Mohiuddin in Southern Spain.

Mohiuddin created an interdisciplinary major in migration and diaspora studies, so that he could better understand the perspective of immigrants.

His commitment to serving immigrants continues as he trains to be an ophthalmologist. As a medical student at The George Washington University, from which he graduated in May 2013, Mohiuddin was president of Student Sight Savers, which organizes and runs eye screenings for underserved immigrant communities in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

“There are not a lot of eye specialists who focus on these populations, which are at increased risk for glaucoma and diabetic eye disease,” he says.

“My time in Guanajuato made me even more passionate about giving back to immigrant communities,” adds Mohiuddin. “[Wherever I live], I know that I’ll be active in providing eye health care within these communities.”

A career in public interest law

Guanajuato Connections helped define Sarah Plastino’s career path.

“Hannah’s mentorship and my experiences with immigrants in North Carolina and Guanajuato motivated me to continue with immigration advocacy work after college,” says Plastino ’07, a public interest attorney in Newark, N.J.

“I provide free legal services to low-income immigrants facing deportation,” she said. “At present, my clients are all children.” Plastino cites the huge unmet need for legal services in deportation proceedings.

Sarah Plastino and Atif Mohiuddin were part of the first Guanajuato class (2007), pictured here with Adriana Cortes, director of Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio (FCB).

Sarah Plastino and Atif Mohiuddin were part of the first Guanajuato class (2007), pictured here with Adriana Cortes, director of Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio (FCB).

She wants to ensure that more immigrants have legal representation so that they understand their rights and get a fair hearing.

“In the summer after my junior year, I traveled with Hannah to Mexico to do my own research,” says Plastino. Her research was supported by a Burch Fellowship from UNC. “I interviewed family members of people who had emigrated to Chapel Hill and also returned migrants who had lived and worked in Chapel Hill so I could understand the effect of U.S. immigration policy on them.”

That experience was so powerful that Plastino and Gill added a travel component to the Latin American Immigrant Perspectives course Gill was teaching. Plastino served as the student leader for the course’s first spring break trip in 2007.

“The trip engages students in service related to immigration, but it also gives them a better understanding of the cross-border and local/global aspects of immigration,” says Plastino. “There is a tendency to focus purely on the U.S. side of the equation.”

[ By Michele Lynn ]

This entry was posted in Cover Stories, Fall 2013, Features, Issues and tagged APPLES, Atif Mohiuddin, Carolina, Center for Global Initiatives, Guanajuato, Guanajuato Connections, Hannah Gill, Institute for the Study of the Americas, Latino Migration Project, Sarah Plastino, service learning, UNC, UNC College of Arts and Sciences, UNC-Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on September 12, 2013 by Kim Spurr.

High expectations for APPLES Alternative Breaks

Alternative Break leaders - challenge courseAPPLES Service-Learning Alternative Breaks student leaders will plan 14 programs during the University’s fall, winter and spring breaks throughout the year. To do that, these students – working in pairs – must exemplify good organization, communication and management skills to coordinate logistics, develop relationships with community partners and serve as peer leaders for the participants. But their success ultimately depends not on their individual characteristics but on their ability to work together.

This trust and accountability was first put to the test – tens of feet in the air.

The leadership team set the tone for the semester with an afternoon at the Carolina Outdoor Education Center, where partner pairs participated in a tree course and high ropes elements. The experience finished with a ride down the tandem zip line.

AFB leaders

“The challenge course is a great bonding experience for trip leaders to experience together and provides a unique setting for APPLES organizers to learn about and from each other,” said alternative fall break co-chair Rani Reddy ’15, a public policy and philosophy, politics and economics major.
By using encouraging messages and problem solving to handle course obstacles, student leaders laid the groundwork for their roles during the academic year. If any participants were nervous, they didn’t show it – with the team’s support, all leaders completed at least one challenge course activity.

“Conquering the ropes course really allowed me get to know the other APPLES trip leaders better in a fun setting,” said alternative spring break leader Olivia Perry ’15, a history and public policy major. “I’m sure that we can now conquer anything together!”

Alternative Breaks @ challenge courseAPPLES Alternative Breaks leaders are selected in the spring for the following academic year. Participation is open to all undergraduate students. To learn more about APPLES Alternative Breaks, visit APPLES online.


First-year students kick-off school year with service work through SLI

SLI Club Nova 2

Even before they have their first class as Tar Heels, UNC’s first-year students are already engaging in service, getting a jump-start on the Carolina Way. Fifty first-year students spent three days working with local community partners engaging in public service as part of the Service-Learning Initiative (SLI).

SLI is a unique student-led pre-orientation program that provides incoming first-year students with an immersive introduction to the array of service opportunities in and around Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Each year, over three days the week before classes start, participants learn about and work with APPLES community partners, become more aware of local social justice issues, form lasting friendships with other engaged students and are introduced to reflection as a tool for making meaning out of service experiences.

“SLI is special to me, not only as a site leaders, but also because we are leading through service,” said SLI co-chair Jessica Jenkins ’14. “This is a wonderful way to connect to Carolina and make the campus a little smaller.”

During the three-day experience, SLI participants worked with local community organizations doing a variety of tasks including making floral table holders for the ARC of Orange County, sorting food at TABLE, gardening work at Hope Gardens, making birthday cards for A Helping Hand clients and trail maintenance at Battle Park. On the final day of SLI, all 50 participants visited Central Elementary School in Hillsborough to help teachers clean, organize and prepare classrooms for the school year.

SLI participants are also introduced to other campus and community service organizations and become connected with a network of older students who help first-years with their transition to Carolina. After SLI, many participants become involved with other components of the APPLES Service-Learning program or choose to be involved with planning and leading SLI for future classes of incoming first-year students.

SLI group wavingCayce Dorrier ’15, who also co-chairs SLI, said, “APPLES and SLI expanded how I view service. I have learned a lot through SLI and met some amazing people doing great things in the area.”

Learn more about SLI.


Saarah Abdul-Rauf: VISTA Profile

NC Campus Compact VISTA View

VISTA Profile: Saarah Abdul-Rauf

Saarah VISTADuring her two years as an NC Campus Compact VISTA, Saarah Abdul-Rauf has coordinated service opportunities for hundreds of college students. Her efforts have helped many develop a passion for service, just as she herself was inspired by an NC Campus Compact VISTA while a student at Peace College.

“The first VISTA I worked with and probably the reason I chose VISTA over other things was Jessica Baxter (Peace College VISTA, 2008-09). I feel like she really helped our campus grow as far as recognizing there are things in the community that students can do and getting us pumped about it. It was really an eye-opener for me in realizing what I was passionate about.”

Saarah has since shared her passion for service with students at two campuses, Lenoir-Rhyne University and UNC-Chapel Hill. At Lenoir-Rhyne, Saarah instituted the school’s first Hunger Banquet, and she started a student group to focus on homelessness and food security. For much of the past year at UNC-Chapel Hill, she has worked to strengthen the SMART Mentoring program in collaboration with community partner Volunteers For Youth. The program pairs 20 college students with local 8 to 13-year-olds in a year-long relationship. Saarah believes her experience building partnerships with community organizations at Lenoir-Rhyne prepared her for the work she’s done with the mentoring program, making her “comfortable” in her role as liaison and capacity-builder.

“I spent a lot of time working with student leaders to solidify a structure that wasn’t there before,” Saarah explains. “Creating documentation, creating a way to log mentor hours, forms to ease the matching process…. We completely changed the orientation for incoming mentors.” She has helped developed skill workshops for mentors and mentees. Now, she is focused on transitioning the project to new staff and even holds Skype meetings with student leaders over the summer to be sure the project is ready to go this fall.

Saarah has also worked with APPLES Service-Learning fall, winter and spring alternative break programs that address Latino issues or rural poverty in eastern North Carolina. To refine those experiences, she visited the partners in Robeson County and in Dunn, clarified needed service activities, and prepared training materials to orient students to the history of the communities. Working with these groups gave Saarah some of her toughest moments as a VISTA, but also one of her proudest.

At the end of the semester, the students wrote letters to Saarah and Carolyn Byrne (former Carolina Center for Public Service staff member and VISTA) about how much the break experience meant. “It really solidified that my work here wasn’t just work, that they really were getting something out of what we were doing.”

Saarah grew up in both Chapel Hill and in Washington, D.C. – “both are home” – and she will head north to Silver Springs, Md. when her VISTA term ends. She plans to continue work with nonprofits and is especially interested in mentoring programs or organizations that support high-schoolers transitioning to college.

After two years of helping campuses engage with communities, Saarah’s advice to future Campus Compact VISTAs working with student leaders is simple: “understanding and listening to student voice is really important.” As she learned from her first encounter with an NC Campus Compact VISTA, students have the power and ability to make things happen.

Musical Empowerment serves local kids through music

University Gazette

Photo courtesy of Dan Sears.

This fall, Tun and Morris were paired through the Carolina student organization Musical Empowerment, which has given Tun the chance to work with Morris once a week.

Morris, a junior psychology major who sings with the UNC Chorus and the campus a cappella group The Tarpeggios, said Tun is a natural. “From our very first lesson, I knew: This girl has so much talent.”

Tun’s entire family is musical, and they’ve always encouraged her to sing. But the high cost puts private lessons out of reach for many families. Carolina’s Musical Empowerment volunteers offer that same level of expertise and attention free of charge.

Musical Empowerment, which began as Carolina Music Outreach in 2002 [and was created in through an APPLES Social Entrepreneur Fellowship] , pairs musically inclined Carolina students with local children interested in learning a musical craft. Applications for the program go out to area elementary and middle schools, and the group accepts as many students as they have volunteers.

This year 50 Carolina students are sharing their time and expertise with 50 young members of the community. Lessons take place weeknights at the Methodist church on Franklin Street, where classrooms are filled with students practicing trumpets, running scales on violins, learning chords on guitars and warming up their voices. When the 40-minute lesson is up, one pair replaces another until 7 p.m

Alternative Winter BreakFor the love of music

Some volunteers are music majors, but not all. Junior Kaitlyn Hamlett, co-president of Musical Empowerment, is a biostatistics major who happens to be proficient at piano.

“That’s the great thing about this group,” said Hamlett. “We’re just students who love music, love kids and want to help.”

For the past three years, Hamlett has taught piano to a pair of siblings, one of whom was very shy. At the youngster’s first Musical Empowerment recital, Hamlett sat next to her on the piano bench for support.

Susan Gleaves is a first-year nutrition major who plays violin in the UNC Symphony orchestra and turned to Musical Empowerment for a more personal music experience.

“I’m busy, but I can’t imagine my life without music,” she said. “Though I’ve switched roles from student to teacher, I get one-on-one contact with someone else who loves music, too.”

Musical Empowerment gives Gleaves’ student Quinn Lutz, a sixth-grader from Phillips Middle School, an opportunity to stretch her wings outside her school orchestra. “Here, I can just come and play, and if I mess up, I’m not holding up anyone else,” Lutz said.

“Quinn is a great listener,” Gleaves said. “When I tell her one thing she goes home and practices and is ready the next week for something brand new.”

Like many Musical Empowerment volunteers, Gleaves has no formal training in teaching music, but she calls on the finger and bow control techniques she learned as a child and tries to remember what it was like to be Lutz’s age, nervously cradling her first violin and trying to move each finger without moving her whole hand. 

“It’s one thing to be able to play yourself, but to be able to pass on that knowledge is a totally different thing,” Gleaves said.

The power of the arts

Emil Kang, executive director for the arts at Carolina, has served as the group’s faculty adviser for four years.

He knows from his own childhood that private lessons are a big investment.

“Whether you’re 8 or 15, proficient or just starting out, the chance to have private lessons can be rare,” Kang said.

The opportunity to develop a musical craft coupled with a mentoring relationship makes Musical Empowerment “the perfect storm of human relationships and human dynamics,” he said. Children learn discipline, perseverance, commitment, character and self-esteem. Student teachers learn communication skills and empathy.

“For me, the development of an empathetic society is critical to developing a more civil citizenry,” Kang said. “The arts have an impact, not just in creating the next Yo Yo Ma or Baryshnikov, but in actually creating better human beings.”

Kang said he believed in the power of the arts to change lives and cultivate better students.

“Most of the students who come to Carolina have participated in arts, theater, orchestra or band, and this is a part of what makes a successful student,” Kang said. “Through the commitment to an instrument, to time and to practice, we are teaching these kids the lifelong skills that will serve them in any field.”

Beyond Carolina

Not only can the cost of lessons be a barrier to a musical education, so can the cost of an instrument. Through seed money from the Campus Y Social Innovation Incubator, Musical Empowerment has been able to develop an instrument-lending program to make it easier for young musicians to practice on their own.

“With this grant, we were able to get violins, guitars and keyboards for the students to borrow so they can practice at home,” Hamlett said.

The Campus Y Social Innovation Incubator is a program developed in response to Chancellor Holden Thorp’s call to solve the world’s problems through innovation. The incubator supports entrepreneurs on campus through seed capital, dedicated workspace and equipment, workshops and coaching services.

As part of the Campus Y Social Innovation Incubator, Musical Empowerment has had the opportunity to seek advice from students in the School of Law about incorporating as a non-profit, which would allow the group to apply for more grants and expand to other campuses.

This semester Kang has been leading Musical Empowerment co-president Katie Weinel in an independent study on nonprofit management and leadership. Together they’ve worked on bylaws, marketing plans and grants to carry the organization forward. Weinel is currently drafting a strategic plan for the group’s next five to 10 years.

Weinel will be starting medical school at UNC in the fall, but plans to remain on the group’s board of directors. She wrote about her four-year experience with Musical Empowerment for her medical school application.

“It’s helped me as I’ve learned how to plan ahead, how to work with individuals and as a team, with the students and their families, and with my fellow volunteers, who are like my family,” she said. “I’m so passionate about it, because it has given me so much.” 

Kang said Musical Empowerment keeps growing because of the doors it opens for all who become involved.

“We like to see the spark that develops within the individual that comes from arts participation,” he said. “Whether it’s a fourth-grade student or a student at Carolina, what we’re trying to do is give them every possible opportunity to succeed.”

By Courtney Mitchell, University Gazette.

Photo credit, Dan Sears.