Making a Difference | Eastern North Carolina Now

Publisher's note: The author of this post, Crystal Baity, is a contributor to ECU News Services.

Tasha Spencer, left, and Lekisha Pittman work with community garden coordinator Joni Torres, center, at the Making Pitt Fit Community Garden on March 7. | Photo: Rhett Butler

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

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

Garrett Hope works on a plant bed in the Making Pitt Fit Community Garden. | Photo: Rhett Butler
    Soon, kindergartners from nearby Wintergreen Elementary School will plant carrots, radishes, sugar snap peas and other cool season vegetables 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, Torres said. "In terms of physical labor, they are young, strong and energetic," said Torres, who regularly educates new volunteers about the benefits of community gardening. Growers can apply for a plot in the fenced space next to Alice F. Keene District Park's walking trail.

    "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."

ECU students visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. | Photo: Contributed
    ECU students also planned a second workday in the Greenville Community Garden, said Lekisha Pittman, the AmeriCorps Vista mentor at ECU leading the Greenville trip. By midweek, students will work with children at the Boys and Girls Club and Police Athletic League and, if the weather holds, paint at Operation Sunshine. They also planned tours with Plant and See Nursery and the chamber of commerce.

    "We're making sure that the students learn about the community they're in," Pittman said.

    Spencer, who grew up in nearby Washington, North Carolina, said she didn't know about the Making Pitt Fit garden or the Leroy James Farmers' Market just across the street.

    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.

    Hope, a freshman from Winston-Salem, is fulfilling volunteer service hours for his on-campus living learning community. Back home, he was part of Community Roots Day, a community-wide event that planted hundreds of trees in neighborhoods. "It's a nice way to experience the Greenville area," Hope said.

    ECU's Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement partnered with community organizations to provide opportunities for students to address a variety of social causes through the alternative break program.

    In addition to the Greenville stay-cation, students are working 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, North Carolina, with women leading change; Washington, D.C., to address youth empowerment and urban development; and Wilmington, on homelessness and hunger. Honors College students also are in Asheville to participate in cleanups and maintenance with RiverLink, a nonprofit environmental group.
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