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

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.

One year after Hurricane Matthew, UNC’s work in the community continues

One of the most destructive hurricanes in the past decade, Hurricane Matthew delivered more than 13 inches of rain in North Carolina over the course of 24 hours. It caused $1.5 billion in flood damage to 100,000 houses, businesses and government buildings, took the lives of 28 North Carolinians, forced more than 4,000 people to evacuate, and slammed into 50 counties across the state, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. One year later, North Carolina is still recovering and UNC continues to help those affected – first in the recovery process and now assisting with rebuilding.


Hurricane Matthew disaster relief trip to FayettevilleThe Carolina Center for Public Service has pledged $5,000 for building materials to the Adopt-A-Home program founded by the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (NCCUMC). Adopt-A-Home completely rebuilds and furnishes houses for displaced Lumberton residents. The Center will work with the Employee Forum, the Carolina Hazards Resilience Planners and other campus partners to provide volunteer labor to repair roofs, install walls and flooring, paint and more.

More than 1,000 Lumberton homes were damaged by Hurricane Matthew and for many residents not yet back in their homes, insurance and FEMA checks do not cover the full cost of repairs. Help from the UNC community ensures that another family will return to their home. In Lumberton, 176 houses are either finished or are currently being rebuilt.

Gary Locklear, regional director of Disaster Response for NCCUMC and a Pembroke, North Carolina native, witnessed his neighbors’ heartbreak as they looked at the remains of what used to be their homes.

“That was my first dose of reality,” Locklear said. “To watch this elderly woman asking ‘what can I keep.’”

Each home adopted through the program will be handicap accessible and will have new appliances. For homes that are beyond repair and must be rebuilt, there are two, three and four bedroom floorplan options to ensure each home is tailored to each family’s needs.

“I’m so passionate because Lumberton is home for me,” Locklear said. “I was there; I sat through all that rain. So many of these clients of ours, I know them… It makes them feel so good when I know someone they know or they recognize my name, and they feel they can trust me.”

Because the program relies on free labor, each house takes several months to build. The primary needs are for carpentry and construction volunteers, and money to meet the shortfall between the actual cost to rebuild or repair and insurance and FEMA funds.

Disaster Relief Trips

In the weeks and months after Hurricane Matthew, groups of UNC students, faculty and staff traveled to Lumberton, Garland, Princeville and Fayetteville, North Carolina to help with recovery efforts. Their work included mucking out buildings, tearing down water-logged walls and cabinetry, pulling up floors and removing debris. The next phase in the relief effort focuses on rebuilding. This semester, the Carolina Center for Public Service is sponsoring rebuilding trips to Lumberton on Oct. 6 and Dec. 1. These day trips are open to the campus community — faculty, staff and students. Work includes installing floors, walls and cabinets, painting and roof repair. While no experience is required, those with building skills are encouraged to volunteer. With supervisor approval, staff and faculty can use community service leave to participate in a relief trip.

Darrell Kidd on a disaster relief trip to LumbertonDarrell Kidd, exercise and sport science utility crew supervisor, has worked in construction for many years. He and his wife, Teresa, who is an accounting tech in the School of Social Work, participated in a disaster relief trip last December and plan to work in disaster rebuilding when they retire from UNC.

“I believe our trip helped people see that there are those who care – [from] those who are older to those who are young,” Kidd said. “We had a great mixed group that worked hard together and I am interested in going down again with UNC. I have many talents in the construction area and believe that I could be of help to those who are working hard to restore the homes that were damaged.”

To learn more about UNC disaster relief trips, visit Hurricane Matthew Disaster Relief efforts.


Researchers across UNC-Chapel Hill are also working on projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. More than sixteen teams are working on storm-related projects on topics such as water quality, buy-out programs and coastal resilience.

Mark Little, director of NC Growth, is helping to coordinate a corporate community investment project and other UNC system resources to address Princeville’s challenges and needs around rebuilding nearly the entire town, much of which sits in a floodplain.

Larry Engle, an epidemiology professor, is developing a web-based tool to help local public health professionals and state decision-makers prioritize and target community-level interventions for areas impacted by hurricanes.

Gavin Smith, Coastal Resilience Center director and head of the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative, and his team are working with city officials and local residents in six priority communities across eastern North Carolina to assist them in developing post-disaster recovery plans.

To learn more about UNC research on Hurricane Matthew, see the Hurricane Matthew infographic.

If you would like to get involved in any of these efforts or know of other projects to share, contact

– Carolina –

Public service trainings connect students to community organizations

By Becca Kronebusch

The Buckley Public Service Scholars program (BPSS) strives to provide students with various diverse, specialized training opportunities within the community. One recent training partnership between BPSS and the YMCA of the Triangle taught students on how to effectively protect children from abuse through the Stewards of Children program.

Ryan Nilsen, program officer for the Carolina Center for Public Service, said there was a great deal of interest in training programs promoting child safety.

“It was a great fit because we have so many students looking for trainings and so many of those students are working directly with children,” Nilsen said.

Meredith Stewart, YMCA Child Safety and Program Risk Meredith Stewart, director of Child Safety and Program Risk at the YMCA, is a passionate advocate for Stewards of Children and leads most training sessions. In her training sessions, Stewart shares that one out of every 10 children is sexually assaulted in the United States. Learning about how to protect children in our community is paramount to ending child abuse.

“The sexual abuse of children is preventable, and I might have some information… that, if shared with other adults, can save a child,” Stewart said. “It is my responsibility to share this education with others so that children are protected and cared for and we, as a community, grow the next generation of healthy adults.”

Training sessions cover the five steps of protecting children: learning the facts, minimizing the opportunity, talking about it, recognizing the signs and reacting responsibly.

BPSS student Julia Corbett, a junior public policy and economics major from Somers, New York, said she participated in the training because as a camp counselor and babysitter, she cares about the children she interacts with.

“The most beneficial part of the training for me was the video interviews with survivors of child sexual abuse,” Corbett said. “Their stories were revealing and informative, and it helped me understand how abuse happens, what it looks like and its impact on children and survivors.”

Stewart also said she values the partnership between BPSS and Stewards of Children. One of her favorite parts about these sessions is meeting different people and learning from them.

“The story of child sexual abuse is not mine alone to tell,” she said. “I am just a messenger and teacher of prevention and awareness. I always say the best way to learn something is to teach it so I will keep teaching and learning… to change the statistics on child abuse.”

Stewards of Children will continue to partner with BPSS to train more students to successfully advocate for all children. The program also has community training sessions in various locations across the Triangle. Visit the YMCA of the Triangle to learn more or register for a community training session.


Public Service Fair connects campus to community

By Becca Kronebusch

2016 Public Service FairFinding and connecting with local organizations is the first step in making a meaningful difference in the community. The 18th annual Public Service Fair, set for 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20 in the Pit, will help the UNC community do just that. More than 35 organizations will table in the Pit to share information with students, faculty and staff interested in getting involved in the community.

“UNC is enthusiastic about giving Tar Heels an easy way to serve in and with the community,” said Heather Sieber, a senior exercise and sport science major from Winchester, Virginia who is helping to organize the event. “Seeing people find their passion with an organization and connect with the community in such a meaningful way is what this fair is all about.”

Organizations participating this year include Piedmont Wildlife Center, the American Red Cross, Carolina Swim Clinic, Inter-Faith Council and The Arc of the Triangle. “There really is something for everyone,” Sieber added. “This year’s fair features organizations that address a wide variety of issues, from homelessness, hunger and mental health to the environment, hospice and aging.”

Susan Chandler, assistant director of volunteer services for The Arc, added, “Today’s students are the tolerant teachers, doctors, lawyers and business people of tomorrow. There is nothing more important than connecting and engaging our youth. Participating in UNC’s Public Service Fair puts us in direct contact with that audience so that we can directly engage students in our efforts.”

Hunger Lunch will also join these organizations in the Pit, selling all-you-can-eat beans, rice and cornbread for $5.

Each day, members of the Carolina community go above and beyond engaging in public service on campus, in the community and beyond. The Public Service Fair, organized by the Carolina Center for Public Service and Student Government, makes organizations accessible to students, faculty and staff.


First-year students launch into community service

By Becca Kronebusch

SLI Launch 2017 at Heavenly GrocriesAs the heat of summer is in full swing and UNC students begin to fill the quad, many ambitious first-years stepped into the local community for three days of service through the APPLES Service-Learning Initiative: Launch, or SLI. For these students, service was the most meaningful way to get to know and give back to their neighbors in the Chapel Hill community.

SLI is a student-led program that introduces incoming first-year and transfer students to service in the local Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. This year, 64 SLI participants focused on sustainability and gave more than 576 service hours to eight community partners. Each student was assigned to three different sites over the course of three days.

Will Melfi, a first-year student at UNC, was one of many SLI participants who promoted sustainability by cleaning up Carrboro High School’s garden.

“I joined SLI because during high school I never found enough time to give back to the community,” Melfi said. “It’s really been a great experience and opportunity to get a jumpstart into giving back to this community that I’m invested in.”

At East Chapel Hill High School, students set up and decorated teachers’ classrooms to make the school year transition seamless. Teachers shared that they felt a weight lifted off of their shoulders with every desk, chair and poster in place. For participants, SLI is not a one-time event; they plan to continue serving the community through more organizations on campus.

“I’ve had such a great time, and I love this program and can’t wait to be more involved,” Melfi said.

SLI Launch 2017 school groupIn addition to giving back to the community, SLI help participants develop leadership skills. The program is entirely student-led to help empower and inspire students to become better, forward-thinking leaders. Abby Gostling, a junior global studies and economics double major from Raleigh, began as a participant in SLI and worked her way up to become one of this year’s co-chairs.

“I have really been able to gain a comprehensive view of what it takes to make a three-day service program like this happen,” Gostling said. “I have grown immensely in my ability to think through all of the details of a situation to make sure everything is addressed and to be a better problem solver on the spot.”

Gostling added that she is thankful that SLI gave her the opportunity and passion to become a leader in the Carolina community. She added that she is confident that this year’s SLI participants will go on to become resilient future leaders.


Impact through Upward Bound

Griffin Smith is a rising senior majoring in mathematics and history and is considering a career in education.

This summer, he has spent a lot of time teaching and mentoring with the Upward Bound Program at Central Carolina Community College. Upward Bound prepares recent graduates for college.

“The kids I work with are first-generation college students, so any way that I can give back and shrink the income gap is something that I think is important,” Smith said. “It’s really been amazing to see what a little bit of effort and my time can do in terms of impacting kids’ lives.”

The internship was part of the APPLES Service-Learning program based out of the Carolina Center for Public Service. The student-led program pairs Carolina students with community or governmental organizations for a variety of internships in either the spring semester or during the summer.

To learn about becoming or hosting an intern, visit APPLES Service-Learning.

Service through technology

Zareen Farooqui is a junior studying business administration and computer science at UNC-Chapel Hill. This summer, she’s using the knowledge she gained in her classes to revamp United Way of the Greater Triangle’s Teaming for Technology Program. That program refurbishes used computer equipment and makes it available to North Carolina schools, students and nonprofit organizations at greatly reduced prices.

“We work to provide refurbished computers to underserved communities,” said Farooqui. “In school, I’m doing a lot of coding but I’m not getting my hands dirty in the actual hardware which I was able to do here.”

Farooqui’s internship was part of the APPLES Service-Learning program based out of the Carolina Center for Public Service. The student-led program pairs Carolina students with community or governmental organizations for a variety of internships in either the spring semester or during the summer.

Learn more about the APPLES Service-Learning program by visiting APPLES online.

This week, we’ll profile three Carolina students participating in the program. Watch a video about Carolina student and APPLES Service-learning intern Jennifer Barber.

By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications
Published August 2, 2017,

Learning through summer service

Tar Heels do not stop learning when the academic year breaks for the summer.

For nearly 30 years, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students have found a way to continue learning throughout the summer with APPLES Service-Learning based out of the Carolina Center for Public Service. The student-led program pairs Carolina students with community or governmental organizations for internships in either the spring semester or during the summer.

Through this program, rising senior Jennifer Barber of Waxhaw, North Carolina, a public relations major, spent her summer as a paid intern at the North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center, working with children of all abilities during summer camp sessions.

“People usually say, ‘What does therapeutic horse summer camp have to do with a major in public relations?’ But I really get to use those skills here,” explained Barber. “I am working with campers of all abilities, but I’m also writing press releases, sending those out and doing professional communications. I can take these examples, a portfolio, to an employer.”

This week, we’ll profile three Carolina students participating in the program.

Learn more about the APPLES Service-Learning program by visiting the APPLES online.

By Carly Swain, University Communications
Published Aug. 1, 2017,

Ami Patel goes outward bound to build leadership skills

WAmi Patel Outward Bound 2017hen Ami Patel ’18, APPLES Service-Learning president, agreed to spend four days in the North Carolina wilderness with fellow Tar Heels during a North Carolina Outward Bound experience, she didn’t realize how much the outdoors would challenge her. After four days of dehydrated meals and no bath, three nights sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag (one night sleeping in a cave) and 89 mosquito bites later, she says she would do it all again.

“When my friends and family asked me what I would be doing during this four-day Outward Bound program, I consistently ended with a shrug of the shoulders saying it won’t be that bad,” Patel said. “While I was not wrong, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I could not have imagined the challenges I would face within those few days; physical challenges, mental challenges and emotional challenges.”

Each year, the Carolina Center for Public Service sends UNC student leaders to the North Carolina Outward Bound School in the Blue Ridge Mountains where they work together on wilderness survival and grow as leaders. The 10 participants experienced backpacking, caving, mountaineering, rock climbing, rappelling and a ropes course.

Patel joined Stephen Buys, Student Government deputy chief of staff; Hope Gehle, SMART Mentoring co-chair; Laura Gerlach, Newman Center president; Simran Khadka, APPLES alternative fall break co-chair; Taylor Newsome, APPLES 2017 Outward Bound UNC student leadersexecutive committee member; Anna Silver, APPLES alternative fall break co-chair; Leah Simon, a Buckley Public Service Scholar and First-Year Service Corps participant; Courtney Staton, Campus Y co-president; and Zachary Walker, APO secretary and pledge master.

During the Outward Bound experience, these students were immersed in a wilderness environment while they learned more about their leadership roles on campus and about themselves. Outward Bound’s four pillars of physical fitness, self-reliance, craftsmanship and compassion were stressed through the different activities and tasks the students tackled each day.

“As I was struggling to complete the four-mile run on the last day of this experience, I recall a conversation with fellow participant Taylor Newsome during the last mile,” Patel explained. “In an effort to motivate her, as well as myself, I cheered that we could get through this last mile. Her response was simply, ‘well, we have to.’ This conversation summed up one of my takeaways from this experience: it is surprising what you can do when you don’t have a choice but to do it. The only way to join the rest of the group was to finish the run.”

During the course, Patel said one of the Outward Bound instructors suggested that four days doesn’t seem like enough time to make a change or allow students to feel different than the first day. At the end of the course, the instructor followed up on the comment saying she admired the students for proving her wrong. Patel agrees.

“I didn’t know many of my fellow participants before we travelled to the Pisgah National Forest together,” Patel said. “But it is clear that in just four days, this experience changed our outlook on life and service.”