Eleven students from UNG’s Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville, and Oconee campuses plus a couple of UNG staff members participated in an Alternative Service Break at Foxfire in Mountain City.
Launched in 2017 through a Presidential Incentive Award, the Alternative Service Break is designed to provide students an immersive service-learning experience, said Lindsay Bailey, director of student involvement at UNG. During a single week, students work together on a service-based project and reflect on their experience.
“We try to teach students to be active citizens,” Bailey said.
Together, the UNG crew cut a few trails among the historically accurate log cabins, added log steps to one area and cleared out a cabin to be used for woodstove cooking demonstrations.
“They were going to have a wild garden area. So we picked up the brush and weeds and made it a flat area,” said Noah Steffey, one of the team leaders who is in the Corps of Cadets at UNG and a sophomore majoring in English education from Marietta. “After that we rebuilt trails that had become impassable.”
Renee Clement, a non-traditional student from Watkinsville, majoring in psychology, said the manual labor left her exhausted, but “it was a good tired.”
Castiel Dixon, a senior majoring in literature from Buford, said the reflection time at the end of the day was meaningful to him.
“The reflections were great because usually in class people don’t talk a lot,” he said. “But here, we had to take turns because people wanted to talk about the experience.”
North Georgia junior Walker Boswell of Greensboro spent some time at Foxfire as a child when he visited his grandparents, who had vacation home of sorts nearby. Boswell said he enjoyed visiting the Appalachian heritage center with its museum, hands-on classroom and an artifact repository on 106 acres. This fueled his love of history.
“When I saw opportunity to give back and do some historical preservation, which is part of my major, I jumped at the opportunity to do my part,” Boswell said.
Paul Shorter, a sophomore from Lawrenceville, majoring in communications with a concentration in organization leadership, said the team only experienced one surprise during the trip.
“It snowed and sleeted on us on the second work day,” said Shorter, who was a second student team leader. “We knew it was going to be cold and a chance of snow, but we weren’t expecting it.”
The team soldiered on, working through the cold conditions. The end result was worth it.
“The staff, curator and director were impressed,” Clement said. “They said what we did in three days of service would have taken them six months to do.”
The students, however, did not work the entire time. One day was geared toward exploring the area, visiting shops in downtown Clayton and sightseeing at nearby waterfalls.
Because of the experience, many participants plan to return to Foxfire in the summer or next year to help and meet more UNG students.
“I think I found a brother,” Clement said, referring to Steffey. “He and I teased each other like a brother and sister. We hit it off.”
Boswell said he wants to see how the work helped Foxfire, which is geared toward educating the public about the Appalachian culture.
“History is one of my passions, and I loved the chance to give back to a place that meant a lot to me as a kid,” he said.