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A week of giving back

From collecting dog food and human food for charity to refurbishing rooms at local preschools, Tar Heels will be taking opportunities to serve.

When Carolina graduate Mike Markels first left Washington, D.C., to manage financial crises in emerging markets — first to Slovenia, then Bosnia and Thailand — he thought he’d keep traveling east until he ended up back in the United States.

But Markels, who earned a Master’s of Business Administration at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1985, ultimately settled in Bangkok. There, the husband and father of two works as the co-founder of ASEAN LIFE Fund and enjoys serving as the co-chair of the Thailand Indochina Carolina Club – which beginning next week, will take part in the Tar Heel Day of Service by refurbishing rooms at local preschools.

Markels said the project is important to the club — which was formed last year — for reaching out to alumni in the area to connect with each other and give back to their community.

“Last year was the kick-off of our alumni club, so we put lots of effort into planning,” he said. “This year, we’ve met new alumni and hope they will participate as well.”

Tar Heel Service Day, during which Carolina alumni volunteer for projects all over the world in honor of University Day, was first organized by the General Alumni Association in 2001. Since then, the service day has steadily grown in area and participants. This year, it will run for a week — from Oct. 8 to Oct. 16 — to give people more opportunities to serve.

“Service is part of Carolina’s DNA,” said Doug Dibbert, president and director of alumni affairs for the GAA. “The GAA’s mission is to inform and involve Carolina’s former students, and there’s no better way to do so than to provide our alumni with opportunities to serve.”

Roughly 90 events have been planned this year across North Carolina, the country and the world.

In Chapel Hill, volunteers will collect pet food and human food to deliver to shelters throughout the week. Oct. 8 in Durham, volunteers will read books to refugees in the local community. Oct. 12 in Holly Springs, volunteers will provide dinner and a note of thanks for the Holly Springs Fire Department.

In Minneapolis, volunteers will serve meals at a local homeless shelter. In Pittsburgh, the local Carolina Club will pick up trash, scrub graffiti and remove invasive species of plants along the waterfront.

And then there’s Thailand, where Markels, alumni and members of the community will help refurbish rooms at the HDF Mercy Centre, which runs 23 preschools in the slums of Bangkok. The Thailand Indochina Carolina Club also worked with the Centre during last year’s Tar Heel Day of Service.

“Sustained assistance is key,” Markels said. “It’s not a one-off.”

Kristine Stenbeck, volunteer coordinator for HDF Mercy Centre, said the Club’s work is vital for local children and the community.

“The refurbishing will give a sustainable educational opportunity to current and future children,’’ she said. “The leaders and elders will still have somewhere to meet, and during emergencies, these schools will continue to be the first place everyone gathers to mobilize and provide aid. Their work will give these slum communities the bright, welcoming schools they deserve.”

Markels said the local Carolina Club would like to do more—and will look for ways to do more. He’s glad Tar Heel Service Day gives him the opportunity to give back, on behalf of Carolina.

“Our communities, our nation and the world will forever need and value service,” Dibbert said.

Learn more about volunteering during Tar Heel Service Day.