Spring break service trips taking students to Outer Banks, summit of WNC granite dome

WCU students (from left) Julia Riddle, Melanie Vick and Jermois Morris sort through food donations at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The three were among a group of 12 students who participated in a service trip to that city over the weekend of Feb. 16-18. (Photo courtesy of Matt Fitzgerald)

With the arrival of Western Carolina University’s spring break week, some students will seek out warm and sandy locations or return to their hometowns for family visits, but others will be heading out on ventures to provide much-needed services for a variety of organizations and to expand their personal limits.

For some students, that will include scaling rock faces while tied to a rope.

Eleven students will be traveling to the Outer Banks for spring break, which is March 5-9 at WCU, to undertake service projects for three organizations – the Outer Banks chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the N.C. Coastal Reserve and the Roanoke Island Historical Association, said Jennifer Cooper, associate director for WCU’s Center for Service Learning.

The work with the ASPCA group will include tasks such as painting, cleaning and making repairs around an animal shelter, while activities at the Coastal Reserve’s Kitty Hawk Woods site will involve the students in trail maintenance and the installation of game cameras. In their work for the historical association, the students will engage in a variety of projects to help the group get ready for its new season of the production “The Lost Colony.”

The students also will take time to explore attractions such as the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Bodie Island lighthouse during the trip.

Jessica Olshefski, a student enrolled in WCU’s master’s degree program in higher education student affairs, will be leading the Outer Banks trip. Olshefski said she is a strong believer in the idea that a student’s development through college can be positively impacted as a result of being active in various activities and organizations. “It is amazing to watch students develop relationships and skills on these trips,” she said. “The overall purpose is to bring students together to provide service, but the program provides so much more than that to the students.”

As the WCU students prepare to head to the Outer Banks, members of another WCU contingent are reflecting back on a recent service trip to Atlanta. A dozen students spent the weekend of Feb. 16-18 in that city, where they sorted food donations at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and assisted the City of Refuge, an organization that helps people transition out of homelessness, in its relocation to a new facility.

WCU students (from left) Michelle Powers, Xaviera Watkins and Isabel Couture clear brush during a service trip to the Outer Banks in spring 2017. (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Woodford)

The students participating in the Atlanta trip also had an opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The trips allow students to have an intensive service experience in a new place, learn about issues in the communities they visit, and develop leadership and communication skills as well as project-specific competence, Cooper said.

“We rely on student leadership for most of our service trips,” she said. “Our professional staff assists with planning and marketing the trips, selecting participants and other behind-the-scenes logistics, but over the past few years we’ve been moving toward student leadership for the on-site portion of the trips. Student leaders are able to hone their ability to problem-solve, lead their peers and work with multiple groups.”

While some WCU students will be traveling to the Outer Banks to do service work over spring break, others will be staying much closer to campus to participate in a combination service-and-adventure trip sponsored by Base Camp Cullowhee, WCU’s outdoor programming organization.

At least a half dozen students will be heading to Big Rock Mountain, a new rock climbing area located near Pickens, South Carolina, to work on trails and “landing zones” at the base of climbing routes, said Jeremiah Haas, WCU associate director for outdoor programs. After a day of service work and a day of climbing at Big Rock Mountain, the group will return to Western North Carolina for three days of climbing in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. During the course of the week, participants will learn the basics of rock climbing such as equipment and technique, and then end the week with a multipitch climb of a granite dome.

Base Camp Cullowhee also offered combination service and adventure trips in 2015 and 2016 – both to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. “I love the idea of combining service and adventure,” Haas said. “For participants, it really connects them with the land and the resource, and it highlights the importance of giving back to your local community.”