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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Department of Environmental Affairs hosts 5k for SolarEquity project

Photo illustration by Heather Diehl.

When the Undergraduate Student Government's Department of Environmental Affairs started planning one of their final events, they wanted something that would energize both students and the greater community. 

So, they decided to host a 5k. 

During 2023-2024 Student Body President Christopher Everett’s term, the department aimed to promote sustainability through hosting events and uplifting environmental student organizations. For one of the Everett administration's final events, they are hosting the Solar Strides 5k to support and raise funds for UNC organization SolarEquity as the sole beneficiary.

The event will be held on Saturday, May 4 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. throughout campus. There is a $15 registration fee, and participants can register until the morning of the 5k.

SolarEquity is dedicated to providing sustainable and equitable solar energy to North Carolina communities. As a student-run nonprofit, the organization is well known in the environmental circle but sometimes struggles with on-campus involvement, Kaya Johnson, SolarEquity’s upcoming president, said.

However, their recent collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs could be a great opportunity, Caroline White, SolarEquity's upcoming director of networking and impact, said.

To accomplish its goal of mitigating energy burdens on low-income residents and the effects of climate change, SolarEquity works with local solar partners, donors and grant organizations to facilitate the installation of solar panels on affordable housing projects.

Some members of the environmental affairs department were already passionate about renewable energy and familiar with SolarEquity’s work before planning the event.

“The work that they're doing is just outstanding,” Tyra Rubin, co-director of the Department of Environmental Affairs, said. “I think that any way that we could help or bring awareness to what they're doing, and really propel their cause – they’re an exemplary organization for what Environmental Affairs and Student Government is trying to advocate for and help students achieve.”

Once the department members established the 5k idea, they got to work last October planning the event and searching for sponsors to help mitigate funding costs. After they secured Fleet Feet in Carrboro and UNC Campus Recreation as sponsors, they reached out to SolarEquity with their plan in November.

“It was such a confidence moment for us in terms of like, 'Okay, we aren't necessarily the most well-known on campus, but we know that the work we do is so impactful,'” White said. “And that's why we're all so committed within SolarEquity.”

The department had originally planned the 5k for April, but with the end of the Everett Administration on April 2, they pushed the date back and passed the torch to SolarEquity to finish the last stretch of planning and marketing.

“The 5k — it’s sort of an awesome story because I feel like it's a true testament to the collaboration between UNC organizations and students,” Johnson said.

White said SolarEquity is particularly important because conversations surrounding renewable energy often neglect the importance of establishing equitable solutions, ultimately excluding numerous groups of people.

All proceeds of the event will fund the organization’s newest solar panel project at St. Joseph Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in the Northside neighborhood — the largest Black community in Chapel Hill. This project will help lower the church's energy bills, which members of the congregation currently pay 100 percent of.

For several decades, the Northside community has been negatively impacted by the increasing demand for student housing rentals, taking away homes from long-term residents.

Previously, SolarEquity focused primarily on housing-based projects. However, they decided to partner with the church because they wanted to help uplift the neighborhood and believed the church, which serves as a community center itself, would be the best way, Johnson said.

White said especially in the climate space, it is easy to lose hope. Nevertheless, seeing “a random group of students” with a shared goal come together and make an impact is inspiring, she said.

“I think it's such a good story about the impact that students can have when all of us just are committed together in unison for this cause,” White said.

Anyone interested in learning more about SolarEquity's work is encouraged to visit their website.

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