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.”
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.
Participating 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.
– Carolina –