During fall break this October, a group of Carolina students drove to Nags Head, North Carolina—but not for a beach vacation. Instead, the group participated in service activities and toured a number of environmentally-oriented local organizations as part of an APPLES Alternative Break focused on environmental issues.
Carolina juniors Jessie LaMasse and Aaruba Ayesha led the trip. In planning, the co-leaders connected with several organizations that had partnered with other APPLES groups in the past.
“The organizations know that we’re coming every fall, so they have special opportunities reserved for us,” Ayesha explained. “Building that service relationship with community partners felt very important to us.”
Ayesha and LaMasse also added new components to the trip, including a visit to a platinum LEED-certified facility called Jennette’s Pier: home to a research center, exhibits on marine life and more.
Ayesha and LaMasse said the group’s main takeaway from the trip was awareness around environmental issues.
“Though we were leaders of the trip, we were still learning as well,” Ayesha reflected.
“This trip taught me that knowledge is power,” LaMasse said. “I realized that service doesn’t have to be a direct impact through physical labor. I can take all the things I learned about and try to change my habits or educate others.”
Participant Zoë Ebbitt, a sophomore at Carolina, said she made friends and learned about coastal environments—in addition to some long walks on the beach, of course.
Sophomores and APPLES Alternative Fall Break co-leaders Laura Crook and Morgan Harron led a trip to Asheville focused on hunger and homelessness. They agreed that one of the most meaningful community partnerships of their trip was with the Haywood Street Congregation, which offers a breadth of services and programs for people experiencing homelessness in the Asheville area. The APPLES group spent two days volunteering with the organization by painting a hallway and cooking a dinner. The group also ate dinner with people who were staying in the Haywood Street Respite, a temporary housing option for members of the homeless community who were recently discharged from the hospital.
“I think it was an eye-opening experience for a lot of participants,” Harron said. “We got to unpack a lot of stigma. We got to see how stigma has impacted people.”
For the Asheville trip participants, the most impactful partnerships may have been with a nonprofit called Food Connection, which collects surplus food from restaurants and caterers and delivers it to people who need it. After learning about this food redistribution approach, a group of trip participants are planning a similar project back in Chapel Hill.
Though the participants’ motivation to take action is exciting, Crook said it’s important for students to maintain a careful balance between service and learning.
“As a college student, you need to be doing direct service, helping people where you can—but learning about the issues can be much more powerful if you’re looking to create change,” she said. “Having knowledge about the issue and wanting to ever expand that, knowing you’ll never know enough…It will help you serve and it will help you make change in the future.”
Carolina students can apply for APPLES Alternative Spring Break through the CCPS portal until Monday, Nov. 4.