UNC Students Coming to Columbia

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An estimated group of  20 volunteers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who will be in Columbia for various service projects from March 9 to March 13.

“We chose Tyrrell County as an area for a service project because it is the most sparsely populated county in the state. Given the demographics of having a more aging population it has the vulnerable population that we wanted to help,” said Sonda Oppewal.

Oppewal noticed that the county health rankings show some disparities.

“It seems to be one of the more vulnerable counties where we could help students explore a broad focus of health and how environment, social, education, and employment issues impact health,” said Oppewal.

Some of the community members that group will working with include officials from Columbia High School, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, and the Tyrrell County Senior Center.

“We value this opportunity to work with area partners on activities to help promote the health of residents in the county. Midge Ogletree has helped us identify various people to work with and we have been coming to the county for several spring breaks over the years.There will be nursing, physical therapy, public health, and social work students and faculty,” said Oppewal.

 The group has conducted service learning trips in Tyrrell County beginning in 2009 when they spent two and a half days there primarily working with the Conservation Fund on various projects.

Then beginning spring break 2010 they spent five days in Tyrrell County and again in 2011 and 2013.

The group has a mission statement for their 2014 trip which includes the goals:

“of working with community partners in Tyrrell County to provide health education for local middle and high school students, painting paw prints on a one mile path around Columbia, NC, working with the Columbia Medical Center to assist as needed, provide assistance at the Senior Center to help promote the health of older adults, assist with painting and other projects at the US Fish and Wildlife Office in Columbia, NC, help conduct a door to door survey of residents for the Martin-Tyrrell- Washington 2014 Community Health Assessment, and  provide any other assistance identified by our community partners to help improve the health of area residents”

The group’s Vision Statement states:

“We will work to contribute to the greater good of the communities we are serving while simultaneously improving understanding of social, cultural, and environmental determinants of health.  We aim to provide practical experiences so that students will be better prepared to fulfill future public health and health care responsibilities.”

Oppewal noted that prior to coming to Tyrrell County, the service group spent three spring breaks in Biloxi Mississippi. There they provided disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina.

“In 2009,we realized there are lot of vulnerable populations here in North Carolina. Then we did a partial week helping out at the Guilford County Health Department doing a community health assessment. Then half of that week was in Tyrrell County,” said Oppewal.

Faculty and staff from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be conducting home interviews with randomly selected residents living in or near Columbia and Travis to learn about the community’s opinions on health in Tyrell County.  This community health opinions survey is part of the Martin-Tyrell-Washington Counties Public Health Department’s efforts to learn about residents’ perspectives and beliefs about their health and the health of their communities.  These home interviews will take place from Monday, March 10th, through Thursday, March 13th. UNC students and faculty will be wearing official UNC identification cards.

Join the visiting group on Sunday, March 9, from 3 – 5 pm,in a community-wide trash pickup event along the Columbia Boardwalk. Meet at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Visitor’s Center in Columbia at 3:00 pm and join efforts to beautify the Tyrrell County area while having the chance to get to know some UNC students and faculty.

Would you like to be part of starting a Children’s Nature Program in our  county that will help kids and families get exercise and learn about nature? Email soppewal@unc.edu if you are interested in learning about this program.