A spring break of service

More than a dozen students from Carolina's physical therapy, nursing and public health departments traveled east to Tyrrell County, one of the state's poorest and most sparsely populated areas, to do a week of health-related service projects.

The beach is a popular spring break destination, but a group of Carolina students stopped just short of the ocean for their week away from campus.

More than a dozen students and faculty members from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s physical therapy, nursing and public health programs spent the week in Tyrrell County doing health-related community service projects.

About 45 minutes from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Tyrrell County is among the poorest and most rural counties in North Carolina.

“There are needs in health care. There are needs related to foods,” said Vicki Mercer, an associate professor of physical therapy in the UNC School of Medicine, who has helped organize the service trip every year since 2009. “There is only one nurse practitioner. There is no physician in Tyrrell County.”

Throughout the week, the group from Carolina worked to offset the shortage of medical resources available in the county by teaching elementary school students about the importance of exercise and heart strength, and conducting fall prevention exercises with older adults at the Tyrrell County Senior Center.

“Realizing that we can make a difference in a whole county was the big takeaway for me,” said Ben Carrion, a third-year student in Carolina’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. “It made me extremely happy just to see the smiles on everyone’s faces and just be in this community working. It made my heart full.”

The volunteers saw the public service trip as a reflection of Carolina’s overall mission of serving the state.

“Because we are a public university, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our state is taken care of,” said Candace Beddard, a student in Carolina’s Nurse Practitioner program.