Spring break reflections

Carolina junior Sarah Lamb spent her spring break in Robeson County, straightening shelves at a thrift store, helping at a community fundraiser and packaging and freezing dozens of cases of fresh chicken for a food pantry.

While other students went home to relax or took a trip to the beach, she was volunteering through UNC’s APPLES Service-Learning Alternative Spring Break program, part of the the Carolina Center for Public Service. The Dayton, Ohio, native says her trip is exactly what she wanted to do.

“Service trips have been my only interest and passion because I love hearing other people’s stories and trying to relate to others,” Lamb says.

Lamb was among 60 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students who participated in the APPLES alternative spring break program this year. Some of the students traveled to Atlanta or Birmingham, while others stayed in North Carolina. Lamb and eleven other Carolina students spent their break in Robeson County.

During their eight-day trip, they read to students at an elementary school in Pembroke and spoke to high school juniors about why higher education is important and provided them with information on the application process and university insights. The Carolina students now stay in touch with some of the high schoolers they met.

The UNC students also sold tickets and helped serve food at the Taste of Robeson County fundraiser that benefited the Robeson County Church and Community Center, Inc., in Lumberton, N.C. Some of the group helped build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly couple who lives about 30 minutes outside Lumberton.  Another group of students worked in the Robeson County Church and Community Center’s thrift store and food pantry.

A nearby chicken slaughterhouse donated 40 cases of chicken to the food bank where Lamb was working one day. She and the other volunteers packaged all of the chicken so that it could be frozen and then distributed to families. As she was working, Lamb said that one community member who was also volunteering asked her: “Have you ever been without food?”

“It made me speechless because I have honestly never gone hungry in my life. I’ve had enough blessings in my life that I’ve never gone hungry,” Lamb said. “That was really a big reality check for me. It was really meaningful.”

Beyond volunteering, the students also met with community members to learn more about the area. For instance, a pediatrician spoke to the students about the county’s health care needs. An elderly couple active in the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina talked about the pine needle baskets they make.

Ishna Koul, a junior biology and anthropology major, said the physical labor needed to build the wheel chair ramp was intense, but the trip itself was rewarding.

“It was definitely a good experience with the sort of mixture we had of learning and direct service,” Koul said. “It was quite a big shock for most of us to go there to see the degree of economic disparity.”

The students who participated in the program are part of the two-credit hour course, Critical Approaches to Service-Learning. Before the spring break trip, the students learned about theories and experiences relevant to social action and community development. Koul said that in the class, students were taught to approach service with an open mind and a willingness to collaborate with local leaders, rather than come into each project with predetermined ideas about how to make improvements.

Lamb has participated in four other service-learning trips that were more faith-based through the Newman Center. This was the first one that she took that had an academic approach.

“We were taught that it is important to learn and listen to other people’s stories before making assumptions and suggestions on how to improve a community,” Lamb says. “Having it emphasized before the trip and be able to see it happen during the trip was really eye opening.”

Story by Natalie Vizuete, UNC University Relations.

Published March 25, 2014.