Six new fellows prepare for year of service with Alamance County organizations

During an online ceremony, these six new Elon alumni formalized their participation in service-year programs offered by Elon in partnership with local organizations. Six fellows who have completed their year of service were also recognized.

Six Elon seniors were joined by friends and family online on Wednesday as they officially began what will be a year of service in health, wellness and education in Alamance County in partnership with local organizations.

These graduates will spend the next year as Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellows who in their new roles will focus on the health and well-being of Alamance County residents and furthering educational success in partnership with five community organizations. This is the sixth cohort of Elon alumni to participate in the unique collaboration that supports the mission of these community partners while providing new Elon graduates with valuable professional experience.

These new service-year fellow begin their work when Alamance County like so many communities is responding to a global pandemic that has taxed the health system, threatened public health and disrupted the educational system.

Kathy Coville of Cone Health is co-director of the program with Tom Brinkley, executive director of the Student Professional Development Center, and she explained Wednesday the impact these service year fellows have within the organizations they will serve as they are called upon to be leaders. Each will be supported and encouraged while being given the freedom to take on and overcome new challenges during the coming year.

“We throw then into real meaningful and consequential work where there’s no one right answer,” Coville told the crowd gathered in Clohan Theatre in the Inman Admissions Welcome Center. “We tell them that there is a community of mentors standing alongside you saying, ‘Yes, you’re the leader here. This is your job. You can do this.’ Each of you has made your mark.”

The ceremony offered the opportunity to celebrate those accomplishments of the cohort of fellows who are now completing their year of service at Alamance Regional Medical Center, the Alamance County Health Department, Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance and Alamance Achieves. Finishing their year of service were Bridgette Agbozo, Katie Davin, Taylor Jones, Mariatu Okonofua, Lexy Roberts, and Chelsea Thomas.

Running through the comments by the fellows concluding their service was how much they had grown and developed working side-by-side with their mentors during the past year. They reflected on how they had been able to accomplish much more than they would have thought possible, and were able to step into leadership roles during challenging times.

Offering advice to the new fellows, Lexy Roberts ’19 encouraged them to believe in themselves as they begin this journey. “You are exactly where you need to be and you have all the tools you need to be successful,” Roberts said. “Don’t question yourself and your surroundings.”

Mariatu Okonofua ’19, who worked with Alamance Achieves during the past year, said she pursued the service-year fellows program because she wanted “to learn what I couldn’t learn in a college textbook.” As she prepares to attend Boston College School of Law, she thanked those she has worked side-by-side with since graduating last spring.

“I am so proud of where this journey has led me,” Okonofua said. “I am so grateful for the unwavering support and trust you have always placed in me. You have always seen in me what I cannot and known better what I was capable of.”

Each of the new fellows will work with one of five Alamance County agencies: Alamance Achieves, Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance, the Alamance County Health Department and Alamance Regional Medical Center. Elon University and the four partner agencies are funding the program.

Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellows

Colin Deutsch, Alamance County Health Department

A recipient of the Presidential Scholarship, a Lumen Scholar and a Provost Scholar at Elon, Deutsch majored in biochemistry and served in leadership roles with Elon Volunteers!, the President’s Student Leadership Advisory Council, the Student Union Board and the Service Learning Community.

Deutsch is motivated to learn from different members of the community and their experiences as he continues to develop his own path forward. “I have great admiration for the people who wake up every morning and put their beliefs into practice to make sustainable changes in the community,” Deutsch said in his application. “In Alamance County, there are countless community members I have met who take these ideals and use them to create a place that provides equitable, affordable and appropriate access to resources.”

Deutsch said that during his time at Elon, he learned to critically examine problems by thinking about root causes and breaking down each step of a process. These are skills he’s applied in his undergraduate research, as well as his work with Elon Volunteers! and service-learning. “Through my service-learning with the community during college, I have come to share the same vision as many of the community partners in Alamance County, and I want to work alongside them to enhance the well-being of the community,” Deutsch said.

Sylvia Ellington, Alamance Achieves

Ellington, an Odyssey Scholar, majored in psychology and studied in Australia during her time at Elon, with her academic performance earning her spots in the Psi Chi and Pi Gamma Mu honor societies. Since 2015 she worked as an administrative assistant at LabCorp, and on campus was involved with the Elon Academy as a peer mentor and was a member of the senior class giving committee, as well as serving as a member of the Morrow Town Task Force with the Alamance NAACP.

Originally from Graham in Alamance County, Ellington views the service-year fellows program as an opportunity to address issues she is passionate about. A first-generation college student, she’s focused on examining barriers and opportunities for educational access and success. “Alamance County is my community and this fellowship is a chance to make a positive impact that affects people I know and love,” Ellington said in her application to the program.

Ellington notes that communities that offer social support and foster trust help their residents feel safe, happy and satisfied. ” All community members should feel like they are treated justly and fairly,” she said. “Basic needs like housing, food, and safety should be met for people all of incomes. Members should also feel empowered to be engaged and participate in their community.”

Yasmeen Lee, Healthy Alamance

A public health studies major, Lee is an Odyssey Scholar, an Honors Fellow, a Lumen Scholar and a Presidential Scholar who has focused her undergraduate research on understanding the impact of social media on breastfeeding black millennials. She has worked with the Office of Admissions, the Office of the President and the Student Professional Development Center while volunteering with The Village Project and the Open Door Clinic in Burlington. She studied in Australia in 2018 and this year completed an internship with the North Carolina Perinatal Association.

She viewed partnership, cohesion and multi-step intervention as key elements to improving community health outcomes. She looks forward to working with a variety of community organizations and the opportunity to put her academic knowledge into practice within the community. “Just as Elon University focuses on the importance of interdisciplinary learning, I know that working in Alamance County will focus on understanding interconnections of health and well-being,” Lee said in her application.

She views her selection as an Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellow as bringing her experience at Elon full circle. “In the Public Health Studies Department, we often apply what we learn to the surrounding community, county, and state,” she said. “I want the opportunity to really put my learning into practice by working and living in the community I’ve learned so much about over my four years. I also feel that the opportunity would give me the time to assess my career aspirations.”

Sydney Simmons, Impact Alamance

Simmons, an Odyssey Scholar, majored in sociology at Elon and was a recipient of the George McClendon Community Service Award and the Student Leadership and Community Development Award. She participated in the Semester at Sea program, was a resident assistant with the Office of Residence Life, and served as a mentor for the Odyssey Scholar program and Elon Academy.

Her childhood and her experience at Elon provided the two main motivations to pursue the Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellow opportunity. “From an early age, I have known the value of education and have had a fire in me to explore the issues of social justice, but it was a lack of knowledge that often stopped me,” she said in her application. “That was until I had the opportunity to attend Elon University and become involved in programs such as the Odyssey Program, Elon Academy, and the “It Takes A Village” project. These programs are solely centered on improving the quality of life and well-being for individuals in the Alamance County and beyond.”

She looks ahead at the experience she will gain during the next year as contributing to her further personal and professional development. “I know I want to work in areas centered on access to resources, education, and social justice, but I am unsure as to which path is best for me and my desires,” Simmons said. “Thus, to have the opportunity to continue the work I have started during my time at Elon will not only allow me to forge new connections and relationships, but I believe as a result, I will be even more confident and secure in my career plans.”

Lily Sobalvarro, Alamance Regional Medical Center

Sobalvarro majored in public health studies and Spanish as an Odyssey Scholar at Elon while volunteering as a tutor for The Village Project and working as student coordinator for the university’s El Centro de Español.

Sobalvarro studied community health issues through her public health practicum that took her to India, where she and her cohort focused on diabetes. She looks forward to applying some of those skills she learned through that experience to her work with the community as an Elon Service-Year Graduate Fellow. “When considering community work, I am inspired by the power of community collaboration and the agency that a community has on its well-being,” Sobalvarro said in her application. “My public health practicum has shown me the ability of an empowered community to uplift itself and improve its well-being and has motivated me to continue working closely with communities.”

Sobalvarro views the diversity of a community as something that should be celebrated for how it enriches culture and society. “However, historically our country has battled with inequality and discrimination since before its foundation and this struggle continues,” she said. “Disparities in health outcomes, education, and opportunity are detrimental to quality of life and well-being of a community, which demonstrates the strong impact of equity.”

Lallo Yadeta, Alamance Achieves

Yadeta majored in international and global studies as well as public health studies at Elon as a recipient of the Presidential and Elon Engagement scholarships. She served as co-president of the newly established Community Service, Outreach and Activism division of the Black Student Union at Elon as well as serving as a tutor for AmericaReads.

Yadeta believes in the role that Elon University can play in Alamance County, and looks forward to assisting with that mission. “Motivated by working in collaboration with partners, the opportunity to support efforts in Alamance County that cultivate community would be invaluable in supporting my long-term career aspirations,” Yadeta said in her application. “I am excited to work with the community partners of Alamance who value and uplift the community voice in a collaborative effort to improve the quality of life for members of the county.”

She looks ahead at the coming year as a chance to pursue her passion for community development while advancing her career goals. “Community development is my foremost passion and is the work I want to do for the rest of my life,” Yadeta said.  “I feel very strongly that all too often the communities that contribute the most to societies are those that are left most at risk and am passionate about working to eliminate this disparity. The opportunity to participate in this experience would provide a hands-on, immersive foundation for me to begin a career in the field.”