As the university for the people, public service is at the core of Carolina’s mission. It’s a value that shapes our research, teaching and outreach.
It has also been a driving force that has shaped the Carolina experience for the 260 Tar Heels who are part of the Buckley Public Service Scholars Class of 2021. The scholars have each dedicated at least 300 hours of their time to serving communities throughout North Carolina.
In all, this graduating class of Buckley Public Services Scholars has combined for 131,750 community service hours over the past four years. That’s the equivalent to watching every show and movie on Netflix three times over.
Over the past four years, the scholars volunteered with local medical clinics, served in community centers, assisted social justice groups, interned with nonprofits and lent a hand in the local response to the pandemic.
“This group is such a compassionate group in how they care about folks and think about the community around them at a time when it’s just difficult to be a student, to be in school, to be taking classes, still trying to maintain some semblance of a social life and then still being involved in this type of work when it’s not always easy,” said Kate Palmer, the program officer for community engagement at the Carolina Center for Public Service.
Based out of the Carolina Center for Public Service and funded by the Walter White Buckley Jr. Endowment, the Buckley Public Service Scholars program provides undergraduate students with the framework to engage with local communities through service and connect their academics to giving back to North Carolina. By offering training, resources and structured opportunities for reflection, the program helps Tar Heels make a direct impact.
“The program is really meant to think about the breadth and depth of service a little bit more,” Palmer said.
The Buckley Public Service Scholars program opened up the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community for graduating senior Ricardo Crespo-Regalado. After rarely leaving the campus bubble during his first year at Carolina, he joined the program as a sophomore.
Community service quickly became a crucial aspect of his college life. He spent a lot of time volunteering as an interpreter at the Student Health Action Coalition’s community clinic. Most recently, he’s been serving as the coalition’s director of interpreting.
“Over that first year, everything changed with me starting to immerse myself more, and it became something that I needed to do. Volunteering became a hobby — something that makes me incredibly happy,” said Crespo-Regalado, who recently received the University’s Robert E. Bryan Public Service Award. “If it hadn’t been for the program, I wouldn’t have developed that passion that I have for community service that I have now.”
Crespo-Regalado has dedicated nearly 700 hours of his time at Carolina to service and is grateful to the community for the experiences and insight he has gained through that work. Volunteering at the SHAC clinic, he said, changed the direction of his future medical career to be more community-oriented.
“It’s incredible to see the ways that you can get immersed in the community,” said Crespo-Regalado, who will be attending the UNC School of Medicine in the fall. “It’s been so cyclical. I’m proud of the impact I’ve been able to have, but at the same time, I’m glad the opportunities were there.”
Given the ongoing pandemic, Palmer said this class of scholars had to be more creative in finding ways to serve when they couldn’t physically be with the community. Whether it was bringing smiles to hospice centers through art or delivering food to neighbors, Palmer said the scholars found a way to help.
“I’m very proud of this class,” she said. “I commend them on the dedication to being involved in this type of work in a time like this. It does take extra thought to be creative and think of the type of work that you can do.”
Crespo-Regalado and his fellow scholars recently celebrated their accomplishments with a drive-thru graduation ceremony outside the Carolina Center for Public Service office, where they received their certificates and graduation cords. Those collective 131,750 hours worth of community service conducted by the class, Palmer said, are a lot for the students and the University to be proud of.
“Oftentimes, we celebrate the academic part of things that happen at UNC and the research part, but when we really look at the mission of UNC, that service and the public good is a part of that mission,” she said. “It’s important to honor that and celebrate it.”