Building community

A member of the first cohort of the Carolina Center for Public Service’s MacDonald Community Service Scholars program, graduating senior Hanan Alazzam has spent more than 1,000 hours over the past three years putting others before herself.

Hanan Alazzam sits on a stone wall.
(Photo by Emily Sullivan)

Hanan Alazzam’s time at Carolina has never been solely about her.

It’s been about the 6-year-olds she has tutored for hours at the Hargraves Community Center. It’s been about setting an example for her sister by becoming the first person in their family to graduate from college. It’s been about all the children she plans to help as a pediatrician.

Alazzam has spent more than 1,000 hours over the past three years putting others before herself.

But for one day this weekend, it’ll be all about her. On Sunday morning, Alazzam will celebrate her own successes as she graduates from Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in biology and minors in chemistry and Spanish for the profession.

“I feel so accomplished,” Alazzam said. “My parents worked so much to get this for me. I will be the first person in my family to have a college degree, and it’s from the University of North Carolina. That’s crazy.”

Graduation will also be a celebration of all the ways Alazzam has given back to the Chapel Hill community during her time at Carolina.

She is part of the first cohort of the Carolina Center for Public Service’s MacDonald Community Service Scholars program, which helps students increase their commitment, knowledge and skills related to community service. As a MacDonald Scholar, Alazzam engaged in more than 1,000 hours of community service, including building a literacy program at a community center and providing Spanish translation services for local nonprofits.

“It was such a great experience,” she said. “It definitely defined my experience here at Carolina. It changed me into the person I am. I’m not the same person I was when I was in high school. All of the mentorship and assistance I received from the program was incredible.”

MacDonald Scholars enroll in various courses on leadership and service and are required to conduct 1,000 hours of community service while in college. Alazzam had already completed her general education requirements before she enrolled at Carolina so she had just three years to complete her service hours.

“A thousand hours of community [service] is very daunting at first,” she said. “I really needed to hit the ground running.”

With aspirations of becoming a pediatrician in her hometown of Asheboro, Alazzam knew she wanted to spend her time volunteering with children, gaining experience communicating with her future patients.

Her service-based work in the Chapel Hill community began through the Campus Y’s Helping Youth by Providing Enrichment program, which connects UNC-Chapel Hill students with underserved community centers throughout the area.

Alazzam was assigned to the Hargraves Community Center, where she tutored elementary school students. Those hours each week, she said, were her “time to let loose” and step away from her coursework.

“Through this fellowship and all the community service, I got to see the true heart of the Chapel Hill community,” she said. “It helped me be a part of something bigger than myself.”

When she learned the center lacked the necessary reading materials to support the students who attend programs there, Alazzam launched a project to provide audio players, audiobooks and physical books for the center, giving young students access to challenging books and making literacy materials more accessible.

Over her three years at Carolina, she picked up other service projects including volunteering at a pediatrician’s office and working as a Spanish specialist and translator with Volunteers for Youth in Carrboro.

“There’s always room for improvement anywhere you go,” she said. “Even if something is fine and good, you can always do something to help make it better. It makes me feel incredible that one person can make a big difference.”

As she prepares to graduate this week and looks toward medical school, Alazzam is also saying goodbye to the community that has helped shape her for the past three years.

“I’m so excited to see what it is they’re going to do and who they’re going to become,” she said of the students she’s tutored. “I’m so sad to see them go because I feel like they’re my little siblings.

“I really built my small community and my family here.”