Giving Back to North Carolina

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student rebuilding house affected by hurricaneService-learning students spent their spring breaks providing community service throughout the state and the region.

Story by Emilie Poplett, University Communications
Video by Rob Holliday, University Communications

While many Carolina students spent spring break traveling to tropical destinations for a week of well-deserved leisure, others used the time off to serve the state and region they call home.

Through the APPLES Service-Learning program’s Alternative Spring Break course, five groups of students traveled across North Carolina and Alabama to help address social issues impacting communities firsthand.

Their projects ranged from assisting with hurricane relief in Belhaven to serving at a food pantry in Lumberton, but Robert Pleasants said all students should take away an understanding of how to help their communities effectively.

“The Alternative Spring Break course is designed so that students can really have a chance to reflect on what service means to them, and also to help them think about what effective service is, what good service is,” said Pleasants, who teaches the course at the Carolina Center for Public Service.

Throughout the semester, Pleasants guides students on how to build meaningful relationships with the communities they serve.

Jeremy Baslious, a junior business administration major who is co-leading a trip to Robeson County, North Carolina, said the Alternative Spring Break class has given him insight into the mutually beneficial nature of service.

“I’ve come to realize that genuine community service often serves those who do the service more than the people being served,” Baslious said. “It’s so interesting being able to look locally and say, ‘Wow, I’m an hour away from here by car, and there’s this entire world that I haven’t been exposed to and could really benefit from learning a lot about.’”

group of students waving to camera from work siteDuring the trip to Robeson County, Baslious’s group met with members of the Lumbee Native American tribe to learn about challenges they face as a community, including environmental degradation in the area and misrepresentations of their culture in the news media.

Another group visited Belhaven, North Carolina, to help homeowners who were affected by hurricane Florence. The team worked to stabilize homes’ foundations to prevent future damage.

“We hope that if future flooding comes, [the homeowners] are not going to have to go through this process again,” said Carol-Ann Smith, a junior economics major and co-leader of the trip.

While Baslious’s and Smith’s groups became acquainted with rural parts of the state, another group visited Charlotte — the most populous city in North Carolina and one of the fastest growing cities in America.

Erin Ansbro, a senior biology and environmental studies major and co-leader of the Charlotte trip, said the trip focused on some of the socioeconomic challenges Charlotte faces and allowed students to learn from the nonprofits that have risen to combat those challenges.

Ansbro said she hopes her classmates will learn how to build on a community’s strengths to help address widespread issues like poverty and domestic violence.

“I think the most successful nonprofits are the ones that are based in the community and created by local community members,” she said. “Those are the organizations that are most sustainable. You can feel the difference — you can tell they care. They see people suffering in their community, and they want to make a change.”

She also hopes the trip showed students another side of the state they love, giving them the opportunity to experience and learn from communities different from their own.

Pleasants believes the class will inspire students to continue participating in community service in some way throughout their lives.

“[The class] really helps them think about what service means to them and find ways to then live a life of integrity where they can put that into practice,” he said.