An Unconventional Spring Break

Published 4:57 pm Monday, March 17, 2014

By: Samantha Whiteside, Daria Lewis and contributions from other UNC Students and Faculty

The words “Spring Break” may elicit images of white beaches, bathing suits, and tropical paradise for many, but not for some students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  From March 9 to March 13, a total of 22 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and faculty in the programs of public health, physical therapy, social work, and nursing spent their spring breaks in Tyrrell County, NC completing various community health projects. Service work ranged from community health assessments to environmental clean-up to health promotion in homes and at Columbia Middle and High Schools.

All counties in North Carolina are required to complete a Community Health Assessment every four years to examine factors affecting the health of the population.  Faculty and students from UNC interviewed residents at 114 homes in Tyrrell County using a health opinion survey created by the Public Health Department.  Residents’ responses to survey questions will help to increase understanding of issues that affect quality of life in the county.  The Public Health agency will complete the rest of the required 210 interviews and will prepare a summary of the findings as part of their Community Health Assessment Report that will be due in the next few months.

Community clean-up activities began immediately upon arrival in Columbia on Sunday, March 9.  Students teamed up with local community members to help with trash pick-up near the boardwalk, and with raking out the invasive Alligator weed from the Scuppernong River.  Other members applied a slip-resistant paint on two ramps at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office to improve safety. Environmental work continued on Tuesday at Jockey’s Ridge State Park with removal of Love grass from a parking lot and trailhead area and along part of the trail.

On Monday, Columbia High School and Middle School students interacted with UNC students at an educational health fair focused on nutrition, substance abuse prevention, tobacco use and side effects, healthy relationships, and overuse injuries and concussions. On Wednesday, the UNC students concentrated on mentoring, college preparation, bullying and positive self-image, and exercise via a relay-style boot camp.  With the help of Terry Donoghue, physical education teacher, some UNC members painted yellow and blue Wildcat tracks in front of the school to aid in traffic flow, and also re-painted the smaller Wildcat tracks that mark the one-mile loop around Columbia. This one-mile route is intended to encourage increased physical activity within the community.

Another focus of service learning activities for the UNC group was the Tyrrell County Senior Center. Senior Center Director Dee Dee Bullock worked with the Department of Health and Human Services and Meals on Wheels to identify residents who were interested in receiving home visits by the team from UNC.  During each home visit, an interdisciplinary team of students (with faculty supervision) assessed the resident’s strength, balance, mobility, and blood pressure, and evaluated home safety.  Additional services completed by students included the installation of smoke detectors and night-lights and help with reviewing and organizing medications.

At the Columbia Medical Center, UNC students helped Sue Griffin, RN, with patient education materials and chart review organization.  Outdated patient follow-up documents were removed from current files to help manage patient data. Diabetic education materials and supplies stored at the clinic were arranged and properly labeled for staff use.

Throughout their stay in Tyrrell County, UNC team members found county residents to be very welcoming.  “Residents were so gracious and kind to let us into their lives and homes”, stated Meg Mangus, a graduate student in public health.  Students learned a lot about how the challenges and joys of living in rural areas like Tyrrell County and how health is impacted by not only access to health services but to good jobs and education, clean water and air, nutritious food, and safe housing and environments.

The UNC group send their thanks to all community partners, including Midge Ogletree, Terry Donoghue, Dee Dee Bullock, Justin Boner, Ed Christopher, Billie Patrick, Irene Cavall, Sue Griffin, the Columbia Rotary Club, the Columbia Police Department and Tyrrell County Sheriff’s Office, the Eastern 4-H Environmental and Education Conference Center, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Center, and The Scuppernong Reminder. Without the help of these community partners, the service work completed in Tyrrell County which totaled slightly more than 650 hours could not have taken place.