In the days before classes began in the fall of 2003, 11 UNC first-year students gathered for a day of service work in the Chapel Hill community. Twelve years later, the Service-Learning Initiative (SLI) continues to make an impact on the community.
With the largest SLI to date, 60 first-year and transfer students worked with eight community partners from Aug. 12-14 doing everything from working on the trails at Battle Park to harvesting tomatoes and planting kale at Anathoth Community Garden.
Offered through the APPLES Service-Learning program and part of the Carolina Center for Public Service, SLI is a unique student-led orientation to service-learning that provides incoming first-year and transfer students with an immersive introduction to the array of service opportunities in and around Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Each year, over three days in the week before classes start, participants learn about and work with APPLES community partners, become more aware of local issues, form lasting friendships with other engaged students and are introduced to reflection as a tool for making meaning out of service experiences.
“I wanted to participate in [SLI] because it seemed like a great opportunity to connect to the Carolina community before college even started,” said Jamie Dorrier, a first-year student from Raleigh, North Carolina. “I was also excited for the opportunity to meet new people at SLI with whom I shared a common interest of service. I am hoping that the service I participate in, whether through SLI or later in my college career, will help me give back to the Carolina community.”
Mirroring the University’s new theme “Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives,” which focuses on resolving food issues throughout the world and kicks off this month, this year’s SLI will emphasize food security in the local community. SLI co-chair Edward Diaz said, “We will be working with organizations that deal with this issue as well as hosting guest speakers from various organizations that deal with food insecurity in Chapel Hill.”
In addition to a new theme, SLI co-chair Courtney Bain explained other changes. “This year, the program has grown which allows us to reach out to more incoming students and also include additional sites in the area, further strengthening our partnerships in the community.”
The 60 SLI participants and 18 site leaders worked with Battle Park, Club Nova, ARC of the Triangle, Helping Hand, Carolina Campus Community Garden, TABLE, Anathoth Community Garden and SECU Family House on a variety of service projects.
“We love to have students work with us because it combines the efforts of the university and the community. It gets them outside the university bubble,” said George Barrett, associate director of Organizing and Advocacy at Heavenly Groceries in Chapel Hill. “It’s great to see how students connect with the community. They make some great inter-generational connections and bond to do good work.”
Expressing her passion for service, Bain added, “APPLES has had a tremendous impact on my Carolina life from introducing me to the world of service opportunities in the community to providing me with the chance to hold a leadership position for the program I love the most.”
During SLI, participants are also introduced to other campus and community service organizations and become connected with a network of current students who may help in their transition to Carolina. Many SLI 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 students. Since the program’s inception in 2003, 854 students have participated. All focused on a common goal: immerse themselves in service at Carolina.
“I am involved with SLI and APPLES because I have seen firsthand the difference it has made [with] students in the Carolina community,” Diaz said. “I love seeing how students who have participated in SLI become involved with the organizations we work with.”