Hiwot Ekuban: reflections on how service at Carolina led to a career helping others

By Hiwot A. Ekuban

Hiwot Ekuban in South AfricaBefore Carolina, my experiences with service were largely short-term endeavors, which I did in order to fulfill some sort of high school club requirement. However, as a soon-to-be Carolina alum, I can say with confidence that my philosophy of service has since expanded.

Not only should we serve, we must use our talents to fight systemic inequities, locally and globally. Service work should not be limited to well-intended “volunteerism” or mere conscientiousness. We all have a responsibility to eliminate structural inequality by targeting its root causes, not just treating the symptoms.

APPLES Service-Learning was key to transforming my perspective on effective community service.

APPLES is a student-led, staff supported organization that offers multiple programs to connect students to academic-enriched service experiences. Ultimately, APPLES championed my ideals of social justice while introducing me to new concepts regarding public service, such as the importance of community asset mapping, the role of policy in embedding social inequities, and the value of forming cooperative partnerships between multiple stakeholders.

I got involved with APPLES in my first year through the Alternative Break program. As a former APPLES Alternative Spring Break: Latinx Communities participant and break leader, I explored health disparities within the Latinx community that are inflated by a lack of immigration reform, ineffective labor laws, limited language access, racial discrimination and other forms of institutionalized bias.

Hiwot Ekuban on an APPLES alternative spring breakThe highlight of my experience was learning about the unique challenges that target migrant farmworkers’ access to health from Student Action with Farmworkers, a nonprofit organization in Durham, North Carolina. Despite contributing to a multimillion-dollar food industry, migrant farmworkers cannot afford the produce they harvest, much less health coverage. Their constant exposure to toxic pesticides puts them at risk for many chronic illnesses. Ineffective labor regulations, language barriers, lack of transportation and fear of deportation further marginalizes migrant farmworkers as a community and limits their access to health care.

By the end of the alternative spring break experience, I realized that the social determinants of health must be remedied in order to eliminate health inequities among marginalized communities. I decided to pursue a field that allows me to confront unethical public policy and empower vulnerable populations to sustain preventative health initiatives.

I was pleased to find the BSPH Health Policy and Management (HPM) program offered at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. The HPM program allowed me to study ways that policy enables health disparities and further stratifies the health of society by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, documentation status, socioeconomic status, geographic location, religious affiliation and ability level.

Over time my approach to service has evolved to a systems-focused approach to eliminate social inequity, specifically health inequity. Once I graduate, I will return to my hometown of Concord, North Carolina to continue service at Cabarrus-Rowan Community Health Center, a clinic that offers sliding-fee payments to folks who cannot afford health services. One day, I envision incorporating my background in public health in my future career as a primary care physician.

Words cannot express my gratitude to APPLES for illuminating my true passions, and for the countless mentors, friends, community partners and educators for supporting me on this journey.

Doing more: Zaynab Nasif’s journey through service-learning

By Catie Armstrong

Zaynab Nasif, a senior global studies major from Raleigh, was already service-minded before she attended her first APPLES Service-Learning Alternative Spring Break trip in 2016. In high school, she was involved in service organizations that connected her to the community, but the experience left her yearning to do more when she came to Carolina.

2018 Alternative Spring Break participants at Foodbarn“Service, as I had known it before, was merely direct; I tutored elementary school students, which was one of my favorite experiences, but it didn’t go further than that,” she said. “With APPLES, I was able to discuss my service experiences more in-depth and critically think about why I was doing service and how it can expand toward advocacy and greater institutional change.”

APPLES offers alternative spring break experiences, providing students with opportunities to perform service activities across North Carolina, the Southeast and the mid-Atlantic during fall, winter and spring breaks. The student-led groups work collaboratively to engage in focus areas and learn more about their destination community before the trip occurs. Once at the destination, students explore a new culture and carry out meaningful community service.

During her sophomore year, Nasif’s first ASB was to Atlanta to learn about poverty and homelessness in a larger urban area. She was thrown out of her comfort zone; an experience she said allowed her to grow and inspired her to become more involved in service. Two years later, Nasif has expanded her engagement with ASB to co-lead the urban alternative spring trip to Atlanta.

“When I went on my ASB trip in 2016, there were times I was uncomfortable and out of my element,” Nasif said. “That’s what I wanted my participants this year to feel, because I think that’s when the most growth happens.”

Alongside co-leader Cameron Cooper, Nasif wanted to provide their participants with a well-rounded and meaningful break, similar to her first experience.

“As leaders, it was a totally different experience throughout because we realized we had to step back at times and let the participants feel that discomfort for themselves,” she said.

At times, this meant exposing the nine participants to situations that may be uncomfortable but would result in incredible learning experiences.

“We knew that the work the community partners were doing was difficult and often emotionally taxing, but also had a positive impact on the community,” Nasif said. “So we wanted our participants to see what it takes to be a community asset.”

One of the community service partners the urban communities ASB served this year was Re:Loom, a subset of the Initiative on Affordable Housing in Atlanta, which aids the community by employing individuals to turn recycled materials into clothing and accessories.

“From this year’s trip, I loved going to Re:Loom,” Nasif said. “The whole group ended up cutting up this giant festival poster to into small pieces to turn into bags, and we all bonded as we were helping out.”

2018 ASB participants in AtlantaShifting roles from serving as a participant to co-leader meant Nasif was able to take the elements she loved from her first ASB experience and supplement them by personalizing this year’s trip. Nasif designed the ASB experience to encompass everyone’s unique service interests, a quality she adopted from her former break leaders.

She highlighted the connection she felt when her team visited DeKalb International Student Center, a transition school for refugees. “I never saw a school operate the way it does,” she said. “Learning about the circumstances that many of the students were living in was also hard to dissect. It was the community partner that had the biggest impact on me personally, and I wanted others to feel that sense of connection and passion for a cause or organization.”

Nasif has always been interested in working in nonprofit settings and serving communities in need. Leading this alternative spring break reinforced her passion and opened her eyes to the reality of her future field.

“As a senior graduating in less than two weeks, I remember thinking ASB would be a one week experience, but I left feeling motivated to do more,” Nasif said.

She also emphasized the importance of the sustainable relationships APPLES breaks program has built with its community partners, particularly in Atlanta. Many of the community partners ASB serves have been partners for years, meaning participants have been able to see their impact grow.

“We know that a week of service will not alleviate all the problems that some of the communities are facing, but I think it is important to be exposed to what the partner is doing, how they are doing it, and what service-oriented leaders can do to help either in the moment or in the future.”

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Tiffany Turner’s journey from needing food to a life passion for alleviating food insecurity

By Charlotte McArthur

Tiffany Turner works to alleviate food insecurityMost Mondays for the past four years, Tiffany Turner could be found sorting cans and packing food boxes at TABLE. She did this because alleviating food insecurity is a passion born from personal experience. Now a senior majoring in public policy and minoring in social and economic justice, and marine science, Turner exemplifies the essence of Carolina community involvement through her passions for service, teaching others the value of healthy eating, and providing scholarships and opportunities to undocumented students.

Turner, a 2018 graduate from Greensboro, North Carolina, spent her time at Carolina serving the community as a Bonner Leader and Buckley Public Service Scholar participant and was awarded an inaugural Scott D. MacDonald Community Service Fellowship. Since July of 2017, she has served as the executive director for the nonprofit Pupusas for Education. Pupusas for Education is the sister venture to So Good Pupusas, a food truck and catering company started by a UNC alumna that uses its profits to provide scholarships to undocumented students.

“Nonprofits touch every person’s life in some way, shape or form, and for me, they had a particularly strong impact,” Turner said. “When I was younger, I had a big sister from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program and received weekly food bags from food pantries. As soon as my family was in a more financially stable situation, I began to do my part to pay it forward and help organizations think through how we could take their impact to the next level.”

Turner said that while she is grateful for the role nonprofits played in her life, she often felt frustrated about the lack of representation in their staff and the way in which nonprofits approached their work.

“Many of the food pantries that served weekly meals were not thinking much about culturally relevant and appropriate foods, and I wanted to change that thinking,” Turner said. “Once I started this work, I knew it was the work that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Tiffany Turner volunteers at TABLEIn addition to participating in the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, Turner served in the Campus Y’s Bonner Leaders program where she worked with community partner TABLE to alleviate food insecurity in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. In the summers after her sophomore and junior years, Turner was a fellow in the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellowship and later served as the food systems team senior fellow. In class, Turner connected the dots between her community work and academics through two APPLES Service-Learning courses, Nonprofit Consulting and Public Policy Clinic, and Philanthropy as a Tool for Social Change.

“If it were not for the Buckley Public Service Scholars program and the Bonner Leaders program, I may not have settled on a major course of study that aligned with my values and passions — public policy,” Turner said. “I can attribute much of my success in college to these two programs and the people behind the scenes who believed in me and encouraged me.”

Turner added that she is happy to have helped change the dominant narrative in the spaces that she has been in and has worked to ensure that the voices that needed to be at the table were heard. The community was always at the forefront of her work.

“Overall, I think I have grown so much from these experiences,” Turner said. “In teaching others about healthy eating, I also learned about it myself. In working to fight for equity in education for undocumented students, I’ve grown closer to the students we’ve worked with and learned much about mentorship. In all of these things, I have become more vocal and less afraid to speak up for what I believe in.”

After graduation, Turner plans to stay with Pupusas for Education for the summer to pilot a Summit and Fellowship program for undocumented students. In August, she will move to New York City to conduct a yearlong fellowship at FoodCorps, a nonprofit on a mission to work with communities to connect kids to healthy food in school, through the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship program. Turner plans to return to North Carolina after her fellowship year with hopes of continuing her work with Pupusas for Education, taking part in another nonprofit program or attending graduate school.

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Serving Latinx communities

Students from the Carolina Center for Public Service’s APPLES Service-Learning program spent their spring break in various communities around the country to see firsthand the range of issues impacting citizens.

By Gladys Sanchez

2017 APPLES alternative spring breakAs a Latina, leading the APPLES Service-Learning Alternative Spring Break: Latinx Communities was very important to me. I wanted the trip to encompass many Latinx communities, including those in urban areas, not just the usual presentation of Latinx communities as farmworkers.

For this trip, I traveled with my co-leader and 10 other participants to the North Carolina cities of Durham, Charlotte, Burgaw, Rocky Point, Atkinson, Wilmington, Raleigh and Dunn.

We learned about Latinx people who work in many sectors, such as business, construction, restaurants and contract work. We also learned about nonprofit organizations available in the area to help them.

While many Latinx communities face certain similar issues, there are many issues that arise depending on what kind of environment they are living in.

Organizations such as El Pueblo in Raleigh, Latin American Coalition in Charlotte and Amigos International in Wilmington are nonprofit organizations that offer immigration services, English classes, job-employment, Know Your Rights workshops, cultural festivals and so much more. Other organizations include Pender County Farmworker Health Program in Atkinson, Pender Christian Services in Burgaw, Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry in Dunn, which help the Latinx communities in rural North Carolina by providing immigration services and access to food and health services.

Working with these nonprofits, the Latinx trip gave hundreds of service hours to cities across North Carolina.

APPLES 2017 Latinx alternative spring break Our group created brochures for farmworkers and painted new workspaces for the Pender County Farmworker Health Program; organized the El Camino Community Center’s food pantry; cleaned and organized the entire facility of Pender Christian Services; created intake folders for immigration legal clinics at the Latin American Coalition; discussed the benefits of college with Latinx high school students in Pender County; and organized classrooms and workspaces for St. Martin’s Migrant Head Start.

We learned about day laborers, rights of farmworkers, the different types of farmworkers, legal cases involving the agribusiness and farmworkers, the state of DACA, Latinxs in business, Latinxs in the New South, the Latinx youth and their education, and the unification of all Latinos through cultural festivals.

All APPLES alternative spring break experiences have a class component that guides participants in understanding the work they will do in the communities — how every member of a community can be seen as an asset in their own way. We were able to see that in these communities, from the nonprofit organizations we visited to area businesses to the schools we visited.

Not only was I able to show other Carolina students the reality of the lives of Latinx communities as I led this alternative spring break, but the trip itself was also a re-affirmation for me.

I know I want to make a career out of aiding the Latinx community as much as possible. To be able to show the Latinx population in the New South was a life-changing experience because I was able to apply what I have learned in the classroom about Latinx communities to actual places and people for one week. I am very proud to have led this alternative break trip.

 

APPLES awards individuals and organizations for excellence in service-learning

By Charlotte MacArthur

Dedication to service-learning and a commitment to community – that’s what this year’s APPLES Award recipients have in common. From offering financial education to individuals in the community experiencing homelessness to supporting students’ efforts for sustainable gardening to promoting social change through interactive theatre, this year’s recipients have impacted the community in meaningful ways.

2018 APPLES award receipientsThe APPLES Service-Learning program recently honored three individuals and two community partners for providing significant contributions to service-learning at Carolina and support to APPLES.

Joyce Yao ‘20, a public policy major from Chapel Hill, received the 2018 Undergraduate Excellence Award for her leadership and substantial contributions to the campus and community through organizations such as the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a local organization offering financial support and education to individuals experiencing homelessness to help them secure their goals of affordable housing, financial independence and health insurance. Yao also works with The Marian Cheek Jackson Center to help honor and build community relations in Chapel Hill’s Northside neighborhood.

This past year, Yao became trained as a Certified Application Counselor. After this training, she was able to support CEF members as they navigated the health insurance marketplace and obtained health insurance during the open enrollment period.

Volunteers for Youth (VFY) received the 2018 Community Partner Excellence Award. Founded in 1981, Volunteers for Youth offers mentoring programs, community service and teenage outreach. VFY started the Juvenile Community Service and Restitution Program where youth who have broken a law are assigned community service hours. VFY is a long-time partner with the Buckley Public Service Scholars and APPLES Service-Learning programs, and provides Carolina students mentoring opportunities through SMART Mentoring.

“Volunteers for Youth is honored to receive this year’s Community Partner Excellence Award from APPLES and is inspired by the UNC students whose dedication and passion for community service make our work possible,” said Susan Worley, VFY executive director.

Amy Cooke received the 2018 Teaching Excellence Award for her dedication to Edible Campus UNC, which works to create working landscapes across the UNC campus and facilitate student engagement in sustainability. As the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Environment and Ecology, Cooke developed and teaches an APPLES Service-Learning course that works to sustain the community gardens.

In addition to Edible Campus UNC, Cooke also supports other food initiatives, such as the Real Food Calculator, by providing interns and guidance.

George Barrett 2018 APPLES AwardsGeorge Barrett ‘13 received the 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award. During his senior year at Carolina, Barrett served as an APPLES Service-Learning volunteer at The Marian Cheek Jackson Center.

“Always volunteer,” Barrett said at the event. “You never know where it will lead you.” Barrett is now the Jackson Center’s associate director and continues his relationship with APPLES by connecting almost 500 students and nine APPLES courses with the Jackson Center.

“My mom taught me that the purpose in life is to help others,” Barrett said. “Everything I learned about service I learned from my mother.”

Theater Delta received the 2018 Service-Learning Award in Honor of Ned Brooks in memory of its founder, Ben Saypol. Saypol founded Theater Delta and promoted social progress with interactive theater that challenges others to look inward to change their perspectives. Theater Delta is lauded across the country for its scripted and improvisational audience participatory theater to foster dialogue and implement solutions that result in change in communities around the globe. Theater Delta operates on a pedagogy that recognizes when participants engage characters and conflict and take part in dialogue to process the issues, they are more likely to change personal attitudes and behaviors. Many UNC students have seen Saypol’s legacy; while working for Interactive Theater Carolina, Saypol developed the interactive play that is still used at each Carolina new student orientation. Saypol later founded Theater Delta to extend and continue this work beyond Carolina’s campus.

Lyn Dickinson, the current executive director of Theater Delta and Saypol’s widow, accepted the award on his behalf. She spoke to the audience about how her late-husband was a passionate teacher at heart. She said he was inspired to take the experience of interactive theater to the community, and Theater Delta continues to push his work and mission forward.

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Leaving your Heel print: How one senior leaves his mark through service

By Becca Kronebusch

For John Paul (JP) Zalaquett, a senior music major from Matthews, North Carolina, service to others began long before he came to UNC. From working with Habitat for Humanity ReStore to serving at an orphanage in Mexico, service is second nature to Zalaquett. It is no surprise that at UNC, he jumped into service through the APPLES Service-Learning and Buckley Public Service Scholars programs.

“I am passionate about public service because many needs exist in our communities, and whether we realize it or not, we are all affected when some of those needs are not met,” Zalaquett said. “By stewarding our resources well, we can often address those needs within our own community.”

JP Zalaquett and other APPLES SLI site leaders

Before even stepping into a UNC classroom, Zalaquett participated in APPLES Service-Learning Initiative (SLI). Over three days in the week before classes started, Zalaquett learned about and worked with community partners in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. He served at the State Employees Credit Union Family House, Club NOVA and Wildwoods Farm. Since SLI, he has participated in several other service experiences impacting North Carolina and beyond.

But in October 2017, service beyond the local community took on a new meaning for Zalaquett because his aunts and uncles were some of the many people living in Puerto Rico whose lives were distressed by Hurricane Maria. Maria knocked out cell phone service across the island, and Zalaquett was left anxious and worried about his family’s safety for weeks until he was finally able to contact them.

“When we did hear from them, they told us about a lot of flooding and no drinking water, so they had to rely on water bottles,” he said. “Their diet consisted of soup, oatmeal, cornmeal, rice, beans and canned meat in the weeks after Maria hit.”

Zalaquett knew he had to do something. That something was assembling disaster relief cleaning supply buckets for the Carolina Bucket Brigade. It was an act of love to help his family in Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria’s destruction.

JP Zalaquett at Carolina Bucket BrigadeParticipating in the Carolina Bucket Brigade, sponsored by the Carolina Center for Public Service and Carolina Athletics, was a tangible way for Zalaquett to help his family and others affected by disasters that hit Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida and Mexico.

“I am passionate about disaster relief efforts because natural disasters are largely unpredictable and unpreventable and can affect anyone, both directly and indirectly,” he said. “Last year, I was indirectly yet very personally affected by a natural disaster, so disaster relief is particularly meaningful to me.”

In addition to disaster relief, Zalaquett credits APPLES Service-Learning and SMART Mentoring for giving him other opportunities to serve, think critically about the effectiveness and sustainability of service, and build meaningful relationships in the community.

Zalaquett is also a participant in the Buckley Public Service Scholars program (BPSS). BPSS helps students expand their understanding of service, connect academic and community-based experiences and build their capacity to help effect change. Through BPSS, Zalaquett serves as a SMART Mentor.

“SMART Mentoring allowed me to form a one-on-one social mentoring relationship with a local middle school student,” Zalaquett said. “I have gained much insight into the community outside of the campus bubble. This has been the most interpersonal service experience I’ve had through the Buckley Public Service Scholars program so far. My upbringing was different than that of my mentee, so I learn a lot from him seeing his unique life experiences first-hand.”

At Carolina, Zalaquett has held leadership roles in several APPLES programs. In addition to SLI, he participated in Alternative Fall Break, served as site leader for SLI experiences and became a co-leader for alternative breaks. Zalaquett worked as an APPLES summer fellow and is now working as the CCPS Union office manager.

Coming to Carolina with service already in his blood, Zalaquett said that he will leave UNC with the spirit of service running more deeply in his veins.

To learn more about these service experiences and opportunities, visit CCPS Disaster Relief, APPLES Service-Learning and SMART Mentoring.

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Service experiences lead to dream career for senior Analisa Sorrells

For Analisa Sorrells, a December 2017 graduate from Windermere, Florida, time in service at UNC led her to her dream career path – one of giving back and helping others.

Analisa Sorrells volunteering at TABLE“When I arrived at Carolina, I immediately got involved with Tar Heel TABLE and the Buckley Public Service Scholars (BPSS) program,” Sorrells said. “I was set on studying nutrition. I was fascinated by food and how it impacted our health and our livelihoods. I took an entire first year of prerequisites – anatomy and organic chemistry in all – before a few experiences that completely changed my academic and career course.”

Those experiences were in service.

The summer after her freshman year, Sorrells interned with Feeding Children Everywhere, an Orlando nonprofit that provides healthy meals to those in need. “I learned more about the startling reality of childhood hunger – both domestically and internationally – and about the various nonprofits and organizations working to end it,” Sorrells said.

“When I returned to UNC for my sophomore year, I took on a larger role in Tar Heel TABLE, learning more about hunger that existed right outside my dorm window in Chapel Hill.”

At the same time, Sorrells also enrolled in her first public policy class. “I took the class on a whim and fell in love with the material. For the first time, I learned about more than just the social problems facing our world – but about the possibility we each have to make a positive impact on them through our careers and through service. I changed my major to public policy and never looked back. After taking the APPLES service-learning course on nonprofit consulting and serving as a board member for TABLE, my interest in the nonprofit sector was solidified.”

During her sophomore year, Sorrells also participated in an APPLES Service-Learning alternative winter break where she was introduced to the concept of learning outside of the classroom. She engaged in hands-on service in the Asheville community, meeting with community leaders, local government agencies and nonprofits connected to hunger and homelessness.

“I was able to grasp the issues at hand more deeply than ever before,” Sorrells said. “This experience encouraged me to enroll in APPLES service-learning courses and continue pursuing skills trainings through BPSS, as they completed my undergraduate experience in a way that traditional coursework never could.”

During the summer of 2017, Sorrells partnered with EducationNC through the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellowship. She worked on the early childhood team and learned more about the importance of early childhood education, nonprofit management and social justice. Her project with EducationNC combined her interests in education and nutrition, allowing her to study and report on summer meal programs in North Carolina.

After her fellowship, EducationNC offered Sorrells a position as a reporter and executive fellow for the spring of 2018. Now with more than 300 service hours under her belt through BPSS, APPLES and TABLE, Sorrells said that this position is a perfect fit for her interests.

“It allows me to work in a nonprofit organization that I believe is striving to make North Carolina a better place for all,” she said. “I will travel across the state and meet with various leaders and change-makers, as well as report on pressing issues in education and public health. I look forward to taking the lessons I’ve learned inside and outside of the classroom at Carolina and put them into action with my role at EducationNC.”

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Photo credit: Rhesa Versola

APPLES alternative breaks launches new break experience

By Becca Kronebusch

A record number 82 UNC students participated in APPLES Service-Learning Alternative Fall Break, providing direct and indirect service to communities across North Carolina and the southeast. The seven break trips focused on each community’s needs, including Latinx, urban, rural, and refugee communities; environmental issues; hunger and homelessness; and Arts in Public Service.

APPLES alternative fall break participants with refugee communitiesThe refugee community break to Greensboro, North Carolina is the newest addition to the APPLES alternative break program made possible through the Murdock Family Alternative Break Experience Fund. Since October 2016, North Carolina resettled 1,812 refugees, the ninth most in the U.S. Victor Arahirwa, a junior chemistry major from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, served as a refugee community break leader because he has family and close friends who have been refugees or asylum-seekers. He wanted to learn more about the resources available for refugees to integrate into the society they find themselves in.

“Refugees have been the victims of negative, dehumanizing portrayals in the media,” Arahirwa said. “This trip served to re-humanize refugees and show that if given the chance, they can make positive contributions to society, rather than being a burden. In the light of political measures to tighten border control in the U.S. and other countries, having a trip that raises awareness of the realities of being a refugee could not have come at a better time.”

The refugee alternative break experience included volunteer efforts at a community garden with World Relief High Point, educational programs around refugee resettlement, financial security, employment and health care with various partners.

Simran Khadka, a senior environmental health sciences major from Nepal and alternative fall break co-chair, helped establish the refugee trip to help Greensboro’s 11 refugee communities. She said that her mother’s volunteer work inspired her to create the trip.

“My mom used to volunteer with AmeriCorps’ ACCESS project in Greensboro, which helped refugees and immigrants gain access to many services, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and life skills,” Khadka said. “I was definitely inspired by her even though she was ESOL individual herself. Even though her service was in 2010-2011, I was curious to know how the refugee demographics have changed over time.”

Khadka researched Greensboro community partners connected to refugee rehabilitation and created a mock trip report which turned into the plan for the new alternative fall break experience in Greensboro.

Students directly addressed the refugee community’s needs by installing water pipes in a community garden that grows local produce and providing after-school tutoring in math and English to refugee children.

Participants also gained a deeper understanding of resources and organizations available to immigrants. They attended a session at the North Carolina African Services Coalition, which assists refugees in finding employment, housing and language support, with the goal of helping them become self-sufficient within 90 days of arrival. In addition, students also talked with Dr. Jeff Walden of the Cone Health Family Medicine Center, who opened a clinic in 2014 to treat refugee patients, and they toured the FaithAction International House, which creates an environment of mutual understanding between immigrants, community members and law enforcement.

APPLES offers alternative breaks during fall, winter and spring breaks. To learn more, visit APPLES Alternative Breaks.

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APPLES gives fall break a purpose for UNC students

Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez The Daily Tar Heel

While most students are relaxing during their time off this fall break, the students participating in the APPLES alternative fall break will be helping communities in need all over North Carolina.

Since it was founded by undergraduates in 1990, the APPLES Service-Learning program has allowed students to learn through various types of civic engagement outside the classroom.

Becca Bender, a program officer for student programs at APPLES, said there are seven different focuses for the alternative fall break programs which are each led entirely by two student leaders.

“The fact that it’s all student-run, plus the service experience, is what makes alternative fall break really special,” Bender said.

Sophomore Alexandra Smith, a co-leader for a group, is headed to Asheville to work with Our VOICE, an organization that serves victims of sexual violence. She said that the groups were kept intentionally small.

“There’s only eight of us total, because we wanted to keep it small so that everybody could get to know each other better and so that way we could form more of a bond and be able to understand this more,” she said.

Smith said the work her group is doing is especially important to her.

“Every single woman and honestly every sort of minority has experienced some sort of case of unwanted sexual conduct in some way, shape or form, and I feel like it’s something that really isn’t talked about and isn’t taken seriously by groups that need to be targeted,” she said.

Bender said every program has a unique theme, and helps a different type of community. This includes a program aiming to help rural North Carolina communities and a new program aiming to assist refugees in Greensboro.

Alternative fall break co-chair, senior Simran Khadka, said they started the new refugee program to help students better relate to this diverse community.

“The best part of learning about these communities is working with community partners and learning about the community members themselves,” she said.

Bender said the programs cover a variety of themes, but all except for one of the seven groups will stay in North Carolina. Keeping it regional provides accessibility for participants.

“We like to keep the programs within North Carolina to create sustainable partnerships so that we can continue working in those locations, and also to make the trips affordable and accessible for students,” she said.

Khadka said every student at UNC should participate in one of the alternative break programs. She thinks the community involvement can enrich the college experience.

“It made me rethink a lot of my college involvement and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, because you get to work with community partners who dedicate their lives working on a certain issue,” she said.

Khadka said learning during an alternative break trip is a way to expand your horizons.

“It’s really easy to learn about the importance of something in a classroom, but it’s eye-opening seeing that happen in the real world.”

APPLES service-learning course is CURE-ious Chemistry

By Alyssa LaFaro, 

APPLES research service-learning course Carolina Campus Community GardenMadeline Cooke squats in the dirt and leans over the stacked, wooden two-by-fours supporting a raised garden. Scissors at the ready, she trims away weeds and checks the health of rows of red-stemmed succulents. Although many might consider this jade-like plant — called purslane — a weed, it’s actually edible, often found in Asian soups, salads, and stews. And it’s packed with antioxidants.

Cooke, a UNC senior majoring in chemistry, spent six months last year helping organic chemistry professor Nita Eskew tend to these weedy plants so she could use them in her “Chemistry of Purslane” class. A Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience(CURE), the class provides many students with their first active research experience.

APPLES research service-learning courser CURE“Some students don’t have the opportunity to do undergraduate research while they’re here, so this gives them the experience while also getting course credit,” Eskew explains. “I also wanted to get some type of chemistry research going in an undergrad lab course so students would have some purpose in their experiment other than making crystals and throwing them in the waste jar and walking out.”

Organic chemistry can be a little obscure, admits Eskew, so a course that highlights real-world applications draws more student attention. “It’s helpful to have something more concrete you can put your hands on,” says Eskew, adding that the class had so many applicants she couldn’t accept them all.

Purslane’s antioxidant content suggests it has medicinal properties — but it’s largely understudied in the United States. Eskew hopes that she and her students can answer some basic questions about it. What are the main differences between the gold and red varieties? Does one have a higher antioxidant concentration than the other? Does the growing environment impact their chemical composition?

Encouraging curiosity

Throughout the class, which first began in spring 2017, Eskew teaches standard chemistry techniques like extraction and ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy for identifying antioxidants in plants. Although every student learns how to perform these procedures, Eskew encourages each individual group to cultivate their own sets of questions and experiments.

“It’s about not having a recipe,” Eskew points out. “It’s about developing questions and going through the process of testing and modifying. And it’s also about iteration.”

In a traditional chemistry lab, students will complete one experiment and then move onto a different one in the following lab. But in this class, they’ll continue to run the same experiments three times or more, tweaking them each week. “In research, you don’t just do an experiment one time — you do it multiple times to try to improve it and see if you can reproduce results.”

To test the purslane for antioxidants, students perform a procedure involving a color shift that indicates when antioxidants are present. “Students can actually visualize what’s happening when the electrons are moving because they see a physical change in color,” Eskew says. “It makes the chemistry of it all more real.”

“The first time my team completed the test we were really excited — because the procedure worked,” Cooke explains. “It felt very gratifying and ebullient, and I think a lot of my group members shared that energy.”

Growing together

Before she developed the class, Eskew had never heard of purslane — until Claire Lorch pointed it out on a tour of the Carolina Campus Community Garden (CCCG), a program of the North Carolina Botanical Garden located on Wilson Street that donates all its produce to university housekeepers. Lorch, the CCCG program manager, solicits volunteers from across campus and the greater community to work in the garden year-round.

“I learned of purslane when my dear friend Vimala (of Vimala’s Curry Blossom Cafe) pointed out the plant and its nutritional value,” Lorch explains. “From then on we stopped weeding it and started planting it. Forty percent of the housekeepers are refugees from Burma and appreciate that we have purslane in the garden.”

APPLES research service-learning courseEskew’s partnership with the CCCG for the class means that it’s also one of the Carolina Center for Public Service’s APPLES courses, which connect academic learning with community service. Students enrolled in the course, held once a week, must spend a minimum of 30 hours volunteering in the garden — some of which is used for lab time.

Since completing the class last spring, Cooke, now Eskew’s teaching assistant, continues to dedicate her time to the garden each Sunday. “It’s a unique experience in that it’s inter-generational,” she says. “On campus, I don’t get the opportunity to interact with people who are in different stages of their life, but community members and grad students come to the garden. Gardening is a lot of work with your hands so there’s plenty of time to chat.”

Inspiring others

During her own undergraduate career at Carolina, Eskew — a first-generation college student — never knew about research opportunities until her adviser suggested she pursue it one summer. She didn’t have any family or friends who were chemists, nor did she understand what chemists did outside the academic environment. This meant graduate school wasn’t originally in the cards for her either, Eskew admits, but that same adviser encouraged her to apply.

“By the end of that summer doing research, I was hooked with discovery and learning something new — and realizing that other people had never made the compounds I did or seen their reactions,” she says. “That’s why I think this class is a great opportunity to give students a small introduction into what research is, especially for those who are first-generation or have never been exposed to research.”

“Dr. Eskew is a really special person here at Carolina,” Cooke adds. “It’s admirable that she put so much time into creating this class, and how dedicated she is to her students. I think getting research experience is one of the most important things during your undergraduate career. It’s changed the way I think. To be put in a setting where no one in the room really knows the answer — and it’s okay to not know the answer — that’s great.”

Nita Eskew is the director of undergraduate laboratories in the Department of Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Service-Learning Course Development Grant recipient through the Carolina Center for Public Service. She is also an alumnus, having received both her bachelor’s and PhD degrees in chemistry at Carolina.

Madeline Cooke is a senior majoring in chemistry within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. She is also the teaching assistant for Eskew’s “Chemistry of Purslane” class.

Claire Lorch manages the Carolina Campus Community Garden, a program of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. To partner with Lorch or learn more about the garden, email her at clorch@email.unc.edu.

The Carolina Campus Community Garden makes use of volunteer support to provide UNC housekeepers with fresh, local, sustainably-grown produce for free. The garden strives to connect students, community members, UNC employees, and gardeners.