Members of Class of 2023 ‘Engage’ with Elon and surrounding areas through service

More than two dozen incoming first-year students will spend the week performing community service and learning about Alamance County as part of the First-Year Summer Experience Engage program.

For incoming Elon first-year students, the opportunity to learn about their new home and give back to their new neighbors was too important to pass up.

“I just want to see what’s new and explore,” said Wyatt Payne ’23 of Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Payne joined two dozen fellow members of Elon's Class of 2023 for "Engage," a week-long summer experience for incoming first-year students. The group will spend a week living in a residence hall and exploring campus and the surrounding community. The program also includes volunteering with community organizations to get to know the area through service projects.

"Engage" is coordinated by the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement and is one of seven programs available to incoming first-year students during the summer leading up to Move-In Day for the Class of 2023 on Aug. 23. 

Elon’s First-Year Summer Experience (FSE) programs are designed to help incoming students feel confident and prepared as they enroll at Elon. The FSE programs embrace the university’s commitment to experiential learning and use this guiding philosophy to help students develop self-awareness, enhance relationships, and define community in preparation for their Elon experience. While Engage focuses on community service and volunteering, other programs offer experiences like whitewater rafting, mountain biking, sea kayaking and more for students entering their first year of college.

On Monday, Engage participants spent the morning touring nonprofit Peacehaven Community Farm in Whitsett. Peacehaven is an 89-acre sustainable farm and home meant to connect people with special needs to their community.​

Students learned about the farm’s process of growing, harvesting, selling and donating produce to the community. The group also toured the farm’s hydroponic greenhouse, which houses a job-training program for adults with special needs. 

Peacehaven offers Elon students the opportunity to serve their new community and to leave a lasting impact during their four years on campus and beyond.

“I could go to the center of the farm and spin around and point to things that Elon students have been involved in and ideas that they’ve had,” said Peacehaven Executive Director Buck Cochran. “We deeply value not only the work they give us, but also the ideas and the ways that they kind of help us connect different things while they’re here, so it’s just invaluable. We’re so thankful.”

Following their trip to Peacehaven, students traveled to downtown Burlington to learn about the community from someone who knows it well. Mayor Ian Baltutis ’08 took students on a tour of the historic downtown district and explained his vision for the city.

Baltutis told students, “As an Elon alum who loved the community that you’re getting into, loved the relationships, loved walking across campus, running into students, brainstorming ideas, coming up with new things to do, we tried to say, ‘What if we took that same atmosphere and put it into a community of 57,000 people?’”

For students, the vision was clear as they toured City Hall, walked by the Paramount Theater and visited the co-op brewery and restaurant Burlington Beer Works.

“I can see myself going to the Paramount Theater with my friends and going to see a movie," said Carson Pridgen '23, of Roxboro, North Carolina. "And, I can definitely see myself doing that for the next four years."

For other students, the tour offered a connection to home.

​“I work at a bookstore myself at home, and [Mayor Baltutis] owns a used bookstore, so it really kind of shows how this is a community that I can fit into because of how similar the community is to things I know and the things I value,” said Payne.

Students continued their service tour of the county on Tuesday, performing projects with Habitat for Humanity of Alamance County and the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Alamance County.

"While you're here, embrace it," Boys & Girls Club Unit Director Robby Burnette '91 told Engage participants. "You're going to impact somebody today."

​Students like Grace Wainwright '23 of Poughkeepsie, New York, spent the morning playing dodgeball and on the jungle gym with children from the Boys & Girls Club. It was a chance to get to know some of the people who will soon become their neighbors. 

"They're just the kindest kids I've ever met," she said. "I just really enjoyed my time with them, and they definitely made my day, and I hope I made their day too."

Engage student leaders, one year removed from their own experience with the program, now have the opportunity to introduce a new class of students to the Elon community. For them, the program is more than just a week of college preparation.

“I think I deepened my love for service, and I learned my love for Elon because when I came to this, I just knew I was in the right place,” said Claire Aft ’22.

Jake Brewster ’22 added, “Coming into the program, I kind of took service for granted, but coming down here and getting involved with things like Peacehaven and the Boys & Girls Club showed me that one person can make a difference.”

Engage participants will continue touring and serving Elon and the surrounding communities for the remainder of the week.