APPLES celebrates 10 years of service, growth

As Carolina junior Sarah Kocz discussed her day's work with supervisor Charles Graves of the West End Revitalization Association in Mebane, she stressed the need for members of the low-income, minority community to group together and help themselves.

Kocz has volunteered this spring at the nonprofit community development corporation, developing a survey with the help of the School of Social Work to gather information about the community's residents. "This neighborhood has historically been cut off," she said. "I'm here to link this place to the resources at UNC."

Kocz's work has been part of the APPLES -- Assisting People in Planning Learning Experiences in Service -- program at Carolina, which helps students combine classroom learning and real-world service opportunities.

The program, which celebrated its 10th anniversary March 3, was founded by five University undergraduates and became the nation's first student-run service organization. In 1991, students voted to fund the program by raising student fees.

This semester APPLES offers 16 courses that incorporate service-learning in their curricula. About 320 students volunteer up to five hours a week at Triangle schools, nonprofit agencies and government offices to explore the impact of service on the community and in their academic course work.

Mary Morrison, director of APPLES, said the program has grown substantially since it began in 1990.

"We've tripled the size of the program, and we've added new programs," she said. "I feel like we have more visibility and credibility on campus."

Programs added

Since its founding, APPLES has added paid internships during the year and in the summer, as well as the Alternative Spring Break program. School-year interns receive three hours of credit and a $1,200 stipend, while summer interns receive three hours of credit and a $2,500 stipend.

In the spring break program, students enroll in a one-hour-credit course to prepare for intensive community service during the week of their spring break. This year, besides the regular program, 14 APPLES students will travel over spring break with Environmental Resources Program staff to Edgecombe County for community service in that Hurricane Floyd-ravaged area.

APPLES also sponsors the social entrepreneurship program, in which students work for a full academic year to assess community needs and design service projects that address those needs. They then submit a proposal for review by students, faculty and community representatives.

Morrison said the Carolina Center for Public Service, which kicked off in September, is further strengthening APPLES. The center provides administrative support and aids in programming for service-learning courses, summer internships and the Alternative Spring Break program.

"I think it just helps all of us by increasing the visibility of service on this campus and encouraging people to collaborate with each other," Morrison said.

Rachel Willis, associate professor of American studies and adjunct associate professor of economics, has been involved with the APPLES program since its founders asked her to teach a service-learning course in 1989. She said APPLES has enhanced both her own teaching and the University community as a whole.

"APPLES is the very best of University life -- internally and externally," Willis said. "It permits students to develop an appreciation for all the challenges faced by the citizens of North Carolina -- the very same people that pay for their education."

Willis also said student participants and APPLES leaders are more likely to get better jobs and be accepted to graduate schools. "I think it motivates a lot of people to find out what they want to do."

`I have someone'

Kocz said she is excited about working with APPLES and the West End revitalization program. She said that while tutoring homeless children in Durham last year, she grew frustrated by society's large-scale problems and wanted to help.

"I've done tutoring before, but I feel like there will always be college students to help tutor," she said. "This was something I felt I could really sink my teeth into."

Kocz volunteers at West End through her culture, gender and participatory development class, taught by Ann Dunbar, associate professor of African and Afro-American studies. Dunbar said the class explores how culture and gender affect social change and that, by working at West End, Kocz has an opportunity to bring about that change and a "chance to look at a community as a whole."

Founded in 1994 as a way to improve the economic and social status of the community's residents, West End Revitalization has since become an advocate in a variety of areas.

"People were starting to come in for all reasons, so we refer them to those who can help them do things low-income people often neglect to do for themselves," Graves said.

The group was at the forefront of a conflict with the N.C. Department of Transportation last year over a proposed bypass that would have cut through the middle of the community, Graves said. But after negotiations with the DOT, the bypass route was moved to the outskirts of West End, saving about 26 houses.

Graves and Kocz said the greatest challenge West End Revitalization faces is bringing needed money into the community, instead of allowing development to spring up around the area.

"We don't want to be surrounded like a doughnut," Graves said. "If we don't do anything, they'll let us become an island of poverty."

He said he is excited about working with APPLES and Carolina, adding that Kocz has been a welcome addition to his small, overworked staff.

"At least now I can say, `I have someone working on that right now.'"