Students give back during alternative spring break

Gusty winds blew across the Making Pitt Fit Community Garden off County Home Road south of Greenville in March as ECU students Tasha Spencer and Garrett Hope prepped planting beds for growing season.

Spencer and Hope were among more than 75 ECU students who signed up for alternative spring break experiences to make a difference at home and in communities across three states.

Kindergartners from nearby Wintergreen Elementary School then planted sugar snap peas and transplanted strawberries, kale, collards and kohlrabi in the raised beds as part of the county’s children’s gardening program, and coordinator Joni Torres appreciated the helping hands.

ECU students contribute 200-300 volunteer hours each year in the garden. “In terms of physical labor, they are young, strong and energetic,” said Torres, who leads the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service community garden program in Pitt County.

“Usually by the end, they say, ‘I’ve enjoyed being outside,’” she said. “It’s therapeutic because we spend so much time staring at screens.”

Students also worked with children at the Boys and Girls Club and Police Athletic League. This is Spencer’s first time participating in alternative spring break. “Since it’s my senior year, I wanted to try something new, and I wanted to help the community,” she said.

In addition to the Greenville staycation, students worked in Atlantic Beach with the N.C. Coastal Federation; Asheville and Atlanta with the LGBTQ community; Columbia, South Carolina, with youth in the juvenile justice system; Raleigh, to explore citizenship; Washington with women leading change; Washington, D.C., to address youth empowerment and urban development; and Wilmington, on homelessness and hunger. Honors College students went to Asheville to participate in cleanups and maintenance with RiverLink, a nonprofit environmental group.