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Students spend fall break helping communities recover

IMPACT Service Break students used their fall break to serve their fellow Georgians who are recovering from back-to-back natural disasters.

During the Nov. 1-3 weekend, students traveled to Cairo, Georgia, less than an hour north of Tallahassee with a population of fewer than 10,000 people. The community experienced damage from Hurricane Michael a year ago, followed by a tornado about five months later in March 2019.

“Cairo has one emergency social services organization, The Help Agency, serving all of Grady County,” said Sharon Liggett, operations coordinator for the Grady County Archway Partnership, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit. “It was devastating for them to be wiped out twice and have limited means to restock on goods and supplies needed in the community. The agency provides food, medical, rent, utilities, clothing as well as other needs not otherwise covered.”

The collaboration between the Center for Leadership and Service and the Archway Partnership leveraged the existing IMPACT program to make a positive mark in the state of Georgia in line with the University’s Great Commitments recommendation.

A learning experience

“Participants worked alongside the Cairo community to learn about their relief services and resource access challenges,” said Ashley Kalinda, student lead for the Cairo trip. “The community identified how we could help, and we grew by learning from them.”

“Students began with a community tour to orient themselves and witnessed the damage,” said Liggett. “They saw homes, now one year later, with blue tarps still on the roof and the twisted off tops of trees.”

From there, students worked at the Help Agency to clean, organize donations, install shelving units, and restock items.

“We talked about what emergency relief means for a community, the dissemination of resources in these situations, and the importance of listening to what a community tells us they need,” said Kalinda.

UGA IMPACT students unloading new shelves for the Grady County Family Learning Center Building.

UGA IMPACT students unloading new shelves for the Grady County Family Learning Center Building. (Photo by Sharon Liggett)

The trip also allowed students to experience rural south Georgia culture. They enjoyed home-cooked meals with team members from the Help Agency, and attended the 47th annual Mule Day in Calvary, Georgia, celebrating the mule’s historic role in the local agriculture.

Kalinda explained how each day, participants reflected on their personal identities and how they affect their perceptions of disaster relief issues.

“This gives us a better understanding of how we can go about addressing these things going forward in our own hometowns,” said Kalinda.

Amanda Torrence, senior coordinator for IMPACT Service Breaks at CLS, said the reflection helped students learn from the community members and partners, and also consider their own experiences and identities related to the trip.

“I believe that you cannot fully engage in service-learning without considering your own personal development and growth,” said Torrence.

A history of service

IMPACT Service Breaks began in 1994 with a group of UGA students interested in spending the week of spring break engaged in community service as opposed to the more traditional past-times of college spring break. Administered by the Center for Leadership and Service, a department within the Division of Student Affairs, the program has engaged more than 3,000 students in service to dozens of communities across the United States.

Torrence explained that an IMPACT trip does not end when the trip ends. She hopes students bring back what they have learned to the UGA and Athens community.

“Whether that is getting involved with service, advocacy, or just being a more critical consumer, we want this positive social change to continue long after this trip,” said Torrence.


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