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April 2009

Students make this a better place

I couldn't imagine Carolina without Chapel Hill or the town without the university. And Chapel Hill wouldn't be the same place without our students. I'm not talking about conveniences for local residents: less time spent looking for a parking place or waiting for a table at a restaurant. I'm referring to how remarkably involved Carolina students are in the community where they live and how they make this an even better place for all of us -- now more than ever.

The latest example of this spirit is a new student-led initiative called Tar Heel Treasure (tarheeltreasure.unc.edu). Each year, valuable items -- including furniture, microwave ovens and clothing -- get left behind when our students move out of campus residence halls. Normally, these items wind up in a landfill. But this year students and staff have banded together to create a giant yard sale called Tar Heel Treasure. On Saturday, May 16, community members will get the chance to buy these discarded items for bargain prices, with the proceeds going to the Eve Marie Carson Scholarship Fund. Any remaining items will be donated to the North Carolina Children's Hospital.

But Tar Heel Treasure is just one example. There are countless others.

One is the HOPE Garden. In this partnership of Carolina students, the Town of Chapel Hill and the N.C. State University department of landscape architecture, homeless people will train and work alongside volunteers and mentors in a community garden, with land donated by the town. The workers will gain valuable job skills and income, while the organic produce they grow will be sold on the UNC campus and given to disadvantaged families, who could not otherwise afford to buy this fresh, high-quality and nutritious food.

When Carolina students see a problem in their neighborhood, they are willing to roll up their sleeves and work through the system to get the problem solved. I'm thinking in particular of the students who went to the Town Council in the past year to seek improved lighting in certain Chapel Hill neighborhoods as part of a safety and crime prevention push. They learned firsthand about democracy and citizenship in action.

Earlier this month, we recognized several UNC students and student-led groups with public service awards for their efforts within the neighboring communities. Scholars Latino Initiative forges long-term relationships between Latino high school students and UNC undergraduates, helping these promising Latino high school students achieve their dream of higher education. Individual students were honored for work with the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service's Project Rush Hour, a program for working adults who are in need of food, prescription assistance and other vital resources, and with Missions of Mercy, which provides dental treatment for those who could not otherwise afford care.

On campus, we have so many organized efforts that connect students who want to serve with the community -- working through our Center for Public Service, the Campus Y, the a.p.p.l.e.s. program and other campus offices and organizations -- that it would be impossible to name them all.

Likewise, there are many students who volunteer in ways that may go uncounted and unrecognized but are nonetheless performing valuable service for the community. These include fraternity and sorority members who pick up litter in town, individuals who volunteer to become Big Brothers or Big Sisters, students who tutor elementary schoolchildren and adults who are illiterate, student-athletes who reach out to local residents in need during the holidays, as well as clubs and teams that adopt a stretch of highway to keep clean.

It's clear that Carolina students don't see Chapel Hill or Carrboro as just a bedroom for four years. They are carrying out their ideals in the streets, in the churches, in the schools and in the neighborhoods where they live. We all benefit from their generosity and enthusiasm.


 

Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers can contact him at holden_thorp@unc.edu.





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