Service-Learning Initiative – engaging first-year students through service to local nonprofits
By Karen Obando ‘13
Before beginning their first semester at UNC, a group of incoming first-year students arrived to participate in this year’s APPLES Service-Learning Initiative (SLI), a pre-college experience that allows students an opportunity to explore and serve a variety of community needs. SLI offers participants a chance to understand the importance of service, reflection and maintaining sustainable partnerships in our local community in hopes of encouraging students to remain actively engaged in their community throughout their time at Carolina. This year, 48 participants and 14 site leaders took part in this unique, three-day experience before classes began in August.
SLI participants visited a total of 10 sites this year, including the Ronald McDonald House and El Centro Hispano, where the participants learned the importance of indirect service. Students worked outdoors to clear the walking path and patio area at the Ronald McDonald House, and helped with survey calls and research for a cultural event at El Centro Hispano. However, one of the most important aspects of the students’ service was their interaction with residents at both of the sites. Through conversations with clients of these nonprofits, students gained a clear understanding of who is affected by their service and how much their efforts mean to those clients. “[There was] a transformation of perspectives on service, an understanding of indirect service, an exploration of interests and critical thinking about communities and social justice issues. That just made me overwhelmingly proud of our site leaders and the amazing job they did as facilitators of a service-learning experience,” said SLI co-chair Grace Hatcher ‘13.
Aside from working with these community partners, participants also interacted with site leaders much more this year. During the three days of SLI, specific blocks of time were set aside to facilitate participant-site leader communication, giving participants the opportunity to hear and ask questions about these leaders’ past experiences as well as their outlook on public service after completing the program. “After SLI, I viewed service differently than I had in high school. [SLI had] more emphasis on reflection, which has helped me both in my service endeavors and in my studies at Carolina,” said site leader Lexi Sydow ‘12, a junior Public Policy and Journalism and Mass Communication double major.
SLI continues to expand in order to keep students engaged in public service throughout the year, beyond this three-day experience. With the help of the APPLES’ Treasurer Annual Reinvestment Pledge (TARP), participants had a successful first alternative spring break experience last year in Johnson City, Tenn. The program encouraged SLI leaders to move forward with a new, alternative fall break experience that just took place in Madison County, N.C., where SLI participants worked closely with the Community Housing Coalition. “It’s been a recurring suggestion from participants that SLI be expanded – by accepting more participants or adding another day of service,” said Hatcher. Though SLI continues to grow, the program also works to ensure that students gain a quality experience that can truly impact the way they view and perform public service during the rest of their years at Carolina.
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SLI site leaders and participants
spend time working with community partner HOPE Gardens.
SLI participant Cayce Dorrier ‘15
plays Chinese checkers with children
at the Boys and Girls Club of Durham.
SLI participant Daniel Gehle ‘15 does landscaping work at Central
2011 SLI participants at the