Serving Others

Service-minded students from East Carolina University spent part of their spring break on a blustery, overcast Monday cleaning up Old River Road north of the Tar River.

Students picked up cigarette butts, beer bottles, plastic bags and other litter as part of the university’s Alternative Break Experience (ABE). ECU partnered with AMEXCAN, a Greenville-based group that serves the Latino community across North Carolina, on the cleanup project.

“Overall, it’s a motivator to be nicer to the environment,” said sophomore Kayla Jones from Winston-Salem, looking at the trash still to be picked up. Last year, Jones participated in an ABE trip to Columbia, South Carolina, where students worked with the juvenile justice system. That trip has inspired her to become an attorney specializing in family or immigration law.

Jones is one of nine students who opted for a Greenville “staycation” instead of traveling or going home for spring break. The students – who all live in the Leadership Living Learning Community in Jarvis Residence Hall – have worked in local community gardens, and will be working with youth at the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastal Plain and at a local elementary school.

“It’s a really good opportunity for anyone,” said Deonna Brown, a freshman from Suitland, Maryland. “I’m really enjoying this. It’s a good opportunity to network and get some service hours but more importantly to give back to the community and help.”

Perpetual Sowah, a freshman from Charlotte, said the cleanup was eye opening. “People throw a lot of trash out and don’t think about it,” she said.

Samantha Miller, assistant director of AMEXCAN, said the organization has a long-standing relationship with ECU. They recently did a joint cleanup project with ECU students on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when 21 bags of trash were collected. “It’s great having the ECU students out in the community,” she said. “You have to know your community in order to serve it.”

Devin Sims, a freshman from Shelby, said Monday’s activity showed him how much trash is actually on the side of the road. “When you’re driving around, you don’t really realize it, but when you’re standing there, you see it,” he said.

With temperatures feeling more like winter than spring, Sims enjoyed working close to campus. “It’s always better to serve,” he said.

Almost 80 students and staff from ECU are volunteering in local communities across three states. ECU’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and partnering departments are providing opportunities for students to address a variety of social causes through the ABE program.

Other students are in: Wilson to address access to healthy foods and health care; Carteret County and Atlantic Beach with the N.C. Coastal Federation on oyster habitat restoration and project maintenance; Asheville to learn about Appalachian culture and serve with RiverLink, a nonprofit environmental group; Atlanta, Georgia, to work with the LGBTQ community and homeless youth; Columbia, South Carolina, to work with youth in the juvenile justice system; and Washington, North Carolina, where students planned to paint at a local shelter.

“Alternative break experiences are offered throughout the year to create student learning opportunities in diverse environments that address social, economic, political, environmental, spiritual and cultural issues. These experiences allow students to connect with their peers and learn through the exchange of ideas, personal reflection and active service,” said Tara Kermiet, associate director in the ECU Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement.