Campus organizations like APPLES, a student-led service organization, are adapting this semester's projects to allow for virtual participation, following UNC’s transition to fully-remote learning.
APPLES is known for holding alternative service breaks, initiatives and courses. This year, the Carolina Center for Public Service encourages APPLES to employ virtual service opportunities.
CCPS will not be sponsoring any in-person group activities for the duration of the semester, and all APPLES meetings and service events will be conducted virtually.
CCPS does, however, encourage any student participating in an individual service project to adhere to local social distancing guidelines to ensure that they work to meet the needs of the individual community.
This semester, APPLES will offer virtual programming, including training courses and movie nights, to help students gain a strong foundation of advocacy and reflection in hopes that students will be better equipped to offer in-person support once it is safe to do so, said Becca Bender, APPLES Senior Program Officer for Community Engagement Adviser. The new virtual programming will aim to help students stay informed and elevate the work of community partners through workshops, panels and distribution of information about individual volunteer opportunities.
“Break experiences will now take place between Oct. 9-11 and Oct. 16-18, and they have different focuses than previous years,” Chetan Singlereddy, the APPLES alternative fall break co-chairperson said. "Previously, the alternative breaks were a way to engage with the greater North Carolina community, but now the focus has moved to more immediate needs in the Triangle region."
Singlereddy said COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and the upcoming election are providing renewed focus for students' service with APPLES.
During a typical year, UNC students would be able to apply for the four-day alternative fall break trip aimed at engaging with a local community through acts of service and advocacy. Many students enjoy the program because of the lasting bonds and friendships formed with other students and community members during the trip.
“It was wonderful to meet such invigorating and welcoming people and witness the strong ties of the community. It was truly educational and transformative,” UNC junior Juhi Modi said about her experience on the 2019 APPLES alternative winter break in Pembroke.
Modi said she is concerned about how effective and meaningful virtual service may be. Now that all UNC classes are virtual, students may face fatigue from sitting behind a computer all day.
“A drawback would be the issue of accessibility to virtual opportunities, and the question if all those who hope to participate have access to reliable internet and technology — and even the mental capacity to be online for an extended amount of time,” Modi said. “While another likely drawback is that a virtual experience would lack human connection and the opportunity to visit meaningful spaces and engage with others.”
Although APPLES may look different this semester, APPLES and CCPS have no intention of stopping their efforts to serve local communities, and they encourage community partners to submit a request for remote-based support.
“A large part of APPLES programs is visiting communities and engaging in direct service, but we also value and focus on education, advocacy, reflection and connection with peers, all of which can happen remotely,” Bender said.
Singlereddy also encourages students to look deeply into the needs of their home communities to determine where they may be able to provide service that meets their community’s individual needs.
“Housing insecurity, food security and domestic abuse are two issues that are on the rise in communities across the country, and I believe that organizations that work in those scopes are a good place to start helping,” Singlereddy said.
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