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UNC students, faculty using Spring Break to help rural N.C. county

By Susan White

For a third year, students and faculty from UNC-Chapel Hill will head east next month to assist residents in need in eastern North Carolina as part of an alternative spring break trip. Nearly two dozen participants — mainly students from physical therapy, public health, and nursing — are expected to travel to Tyrrell County for the March 6-10 event.

Joanne Caye, a School of Social Work clinical associate professor, is helping to organize this year’s plans, which will focus heavily on assessing the medical and physical health of the elderly.

“We’ll be doing things like fall prevention assessments in people’s houses, and we’ll be talking to residents about nutrition,” Caye said.
Such assistance, she said, is vital for the state’s least populated county, which has only 5,000 residents, and no hospital or practicing physicians. This year, the UNC team will work alongside the county’s only family nurse practitioner to provide health services to residents.

Caye said students and faculty are also planning to partner with the Tyrrell County Health Department to heighten awareness around a new initiative called, “Eat Smart, Move More,” a statewide movement that promotes increased opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity.

“Part of what we’ll be doing is helping to clean trails in the county and then planning for an event that would bring people out to walk those trails,” Caye said.

During the trip, the spring breakers will also likely assist with yard work and some home repair, pitch-in on a green-friendly cause at the Outer Banks, and relax a bit.

In years past, similar trips have taken students and faculty out of the state and in some cases, out of the country, to help rebuild communities. Travel to eastern North Carolina not only offers an affordable option to participants but enables the UNC students to see up close the economic, physical and medical challenges that some of the state’s rural residents face.

“One of the reasons we’re returning to Tyrrell County is that we feel so strongly about wanting to give back to the state,” Caye said. “We’re a public university, and we want to be available and to provide a response to the people of North Carolina. And Tyrrell County is so underserved. So, for me, this trip is about helping your neighbor.”