New fellows prepare for year of service with Alamance County organizations

Six members of the Class of 2022 participated in a signing ceremony in Clohan Theatre in the Inman Admissions Welcome Center to formalize their participation in the service-year program offered by Elon in partnership with local organizations. Six fellows who have completed their year of service were also recognized.

Six members of the Class of 2022 gathered with friends and family in Clohan Theatre in the Inman Admissions Welcome Center to formally begin what will be a year of service working in organizations that support the residents of Alamance County.

These new Elon graduates will spend the coming year as Elon Year of Service Fellows with roles that will focus on the health and well-being of Alamance County as well as furthering educational success and economic opportunity in partnership with six community organizations. This is the eighth cohort of Elon alumni to participate in the unique collaboration that is designed to lend support to these community partners while delivering valuable professional experience to the fellows. The program is jointly funded by the university and the community partners and is co-chaired by Laurie Judge, senior associate director of career services in Elon’s Student Professional Development Center, and Ann Meletzke, executive director of Healthy Alamance.

Members of the new cohort of Year of Service Graduate Fellows sign their commitment to the year-long program.

The gathering also offered an opportunity to celebrate the work of the program’s seventh cohort — Caren Aveldañez, Daniel Bascunan-Wiley, Adbul-Malik Harrison, Lucia Lozano Robledo, Jewel Tillman and Chandler Vaughan. Fellows from the Class of 2021 completed their Elon educations during the disruptions caused by a global pandemic and went right to work with Alamance Achieves, Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance, the Alamance County Health Department, the City of Burlington’s Economic Development Department and Alamance Regional Medical Center in their efforts to assist countless Alamance County residents in a wide range of ways.

Jeff Stein, vice president for strategic partnerships, shared that Elon initially partnered with Cone Health to launch the fellows program as a way to provide a service experience for new graduates while providing the surrounding community the support it needed to tackle a number of health and societal challenges. “The notions of these partnerships was really at the core of what we could do together that we weren’t able to do separately, and how graduates could be key to that work,” Stein said.

Preston Hammock, now president of Cone Health’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, helped co-found the fellows program and told those gathered Wednesday that he is impressed that each cohort feels enough of a connection to the Alamance County community that they want to remain in the community following graduation to serve its residents.

“To hear the stories year after year around the fellows who have completed the program … it just fills me with such excitement and pride,” Hammock said. “I hear about a difference being made, and this community is going to benefit for years to come.”

The program’s seventh cohort is unique in that five of the six fellows will continue to work in Alamance County, several with their partner organizations, following the conclusion of their year of service.

Each of the six fellows concluding their service shared about the work they’ve done, the lessons they’ve learned, the friendships gained and their mentorship experiences at Tuesday’s ceremony. Those gathered heard about programs launched, grant funding obtained, strategic plans developed and data gathered and processed by the fellows in the variety of roles they grew into during the past year. They adapted to the changing demands of their jobs and the shifting needs of their organizations while moving into leadership roles and growing closer to mentors.

Several fellows also shared about their initial reservations in pursuing the fellowship, and how that shifted during the year into solid confidence in what this experience will mean to them over the long term. Malik Harrison, who majored in strategic communications at Elon, shared that following last year’s signing ceremony for the program, he was initially feeling anxiety and hesitancy about the decision he made to participate as a fellow with the Alamance County Health Department.

“Honestly, it was the best decision of my life,” said Harrison, who will begin a new job as a community health worker and public information officer with the health department. “Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to have the pleasure of getting to know and shadow the heroes that work at the Department of Social Services and the health department. … Over the past year, I have undergone more personal and professional development than I ever thought was possible.”

Following a presentation of gifts to the outgoing fellows, the new fellows joined their new mentors in signing the commitment agreement to close the ceremony. They will begin their new roles following Commencement.

2022-23 Elon Year of Service Graduate Fellows

Jazmin Campbell, Alamance Achieves

Majoring in anthropology and creative writing, Jazmin Campbell has been an Odyssey Scholar at Elon and has served in a variety of roles including as a student coordinator for the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education and as a student coordinator in the Sisterhood Circle. She has volunteered for the It Takes a Village Project, has served as a resident assistant and apartment manager with Residence Life and has worked as a student assistant in the Provost’s Office. She’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies and has received multiple Phillips-Perry Black Excellence Awards during her time at Elon.

In her application to become a graduate fellow, Campbell said that she believes that “equity is the framework through which community-oriented work must be viewed in order to best serve its purpose and create pathways that inequity often bars.” In particular, she notes that access to health care and education have the most impact on quality of life and well-being and can lay the foundation for success in a community. “I believe that in actually giving people what they need to flourish, as opposed to simply giving everyone the same things, you build a community that is founded on the belief that every member of it is worthy of success.”

She notes that she has always been drawn to service-oriented work, which helped impact her decision of an academic major that taught her that by becoming part of a community, you can better understand those you serve. “I believe that service-learning allows me to focus less on what we are made to believe people need to succeed in life and more on what they actually need to build a foundation for success. To me, service-learning is necessary in order to truly understand the disparities that exist in the communities I inhabit.”

Isabella DeLaGarza, City of Burlington Economic Development Department

Isabella DeLaGarza, an international and global studies and political science double-major, is a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship, has been named to the Dean’s List and is a member of the Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Honors Society. She studied in the United Kingdom and Argentina while an Elon student, and has worked in the Registrar’s Office. She also conducted research into the 2001 Argentine financial crisis and how it impacted human rights and politics in that country that she presented at the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum.

In her application to be a fellow, DeLaGarza points to her experience in the Place and Placemaking course as enhancing her connection to the surrounding community. Through the course, she was involved in interviewing members of the community to help them tell their personal story as it relates to community-building. “This project made me realize how close Elon University is to Alamance — not just by physical proximity, but by the opportunity students have to get involved in the greater Alamance community, and how we have the ability to impact the world, even as undergraduates,” DeLaGarza said. “I discovered that I am fulfilled by seeing how my actions can impact those around me, and service-learning not only helps those I interact with but helps me learn and reflect on those I serve within the community.”

Grace Holmes, Alamance Regional Medical Center

An exercise science major at Elon, Grace Holmes served as a research assistant and communications coordinator for a National Institutes of Health grant and as a lecture tutor for anatomy and physiology courses at Elon. She participated in the service-learning class “Malawi: The Heart of Africa” that traveled to the country to engage in discussions with residents about cultural practices and community needs. She was president of the Exercise Science Society and was a student volunteer coordinator at the Open Door Clinic, which offers free health care services to Alamance County residents.

Holmes pointed to her course in Malawi when applying to be a fellow, noting how her experience there helped her rethink how she would approach a career in medicine. “After speaking with a local Malawian woman, I realized that to me, medicine had always been the end, the goal, the finish line,” Holmes said. “But it was at this moment that I realized that medicine is not the end, but rather a means to the end. The end, for me, is service.”

Holmes notes that she wants service to be “wholeheartedly” a part of her life. “It is something that I know I am being called to do,” she said.

Toni Parker, Alamance County Health Department

Toni Parker is an Honors Fellow who has majored in public health studies and policy studies while at Elon. She’s a member of the Kappa Omicron Nu, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Eta Sigma and Psi Chi honor societies and was named to the President’s List multiple times for her academic performance. She has served as a practicum intern with Family Abuse Services in Burlington and a peer mentor with Disabilities Resources at Elon. She was a co-head writer with the Elon Tonight television program and also served as health and safety manager after the start of the pandemic.

As a fellow, Parker is looking forward to putting much of what she’s learned while a student at Elon into practice in service to the community. Her public health studies practicum with Family Abuse Services helped solidify many of the concepts she had been learning. “I found that I really enjoyed learning through a more ‘hands-on’ approach,” Parker said in her application to be a fellow. “It was interesting to see where there was consensus or disagreement between what I had learned in the classroom and what I was learning through practice.”

She is excited about more fully immersing herself in Alamance County as a year of service fellow. “This area has shaped my college experience, and I look forward to the opportunity to give back to this community and keep learning from all it has to offer,” Parker said.

Sarah Peake, Healthy Alamance

A biology major who minored in religious studies and women’s, gender and sexualities studies, Sarah Peake is an Honors Fellow whose undergraduate research focused on immunotherapy treatment for breast cancer. She was a recipient of the Asa Liggett Pre-Health Scholarship, the Robert Charles Beisinger Scholarship and the Presidential Scholarship. She has worked as a certified nursing assistant at the Open Door Clinic in Burlington and at the Williamsport Retirement Village in Hagerstown, Maryland, and was a teaching assistant in the Chemistry and Biology departments. Peake was vice president of the Beta Beta Beta Honors Society and was concertmaster for the Elon University Community Orchestra.

Peake points to her work at the Open Door Clinic, which provides free health care services to Alamance County residents, as essential to cultivating her passion for health care. “The Open Door Clinic has shown me the importance of vulnerability in medicine from both the patient trusting the provider and the provider relaying meaningful and sometimes difficult news to the patient,” Peake said in her application to become a fellow. “My time at the clinic has taught me that health care is a universal human right and as a future provider, my mission has developed into one that prioritizes equity and understanding.”

She anticipates that service-learning experiences will provide an ideal start to her career in health care. “Service-learning will allow me to go beyond the texts in the classroom, as learning can only go so far without application,” she said. “I am eager to get to work and put my talents into meaningful and transformative action.”

Taylor Russ, Impact Alamance

Taylor Russ majored in political science and minored in African & African American Studies and Classical Studies while earning a spot on the President’s List and Dean’s List multiple times. She is a member of the Phi Alpha Theta honor society and she studied abroad in France during her senior year at Elon. She was extensively involved in the Office of Residence Life, serving as an apartment manager, resident assistant and senior resident assistant, and also served as a club sports assistant with Campus Recreation and Wellness. Russ was a SMART mentor, the fundraising chair of the ALANAM Women’s Institute, treasurer and president of Elon’s chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Asked about service-learning, Russ defines it as “an educational opportunity combined with community service to fulfill societal needs while also incorporating empathy and dedication.” She views it as vital in addressing the problems that appear in certain communities. Russ is seeking to become a lawyer specializing in civil rights and constitutional law, and says the life of a lawyer focuses on serving the people and fighting the battles they are not able to fight themselves.

“I want to gain more experience in service and help communities and people that do not have the same opportunities as others,” Russ said in her application. “Service leads to personal reflection and understanding, which is important for a person to do for themself. Service is what creates change within a community, which will allow me to become part of that change everyone should be fighting for.”