Alternative Service Experience

Senior Tatiana Miller was excited to be heading to the North Carolina beach for her 2017 spring break. Of course, she wasn’t heading to the coast to play in the waves or walk on the sand—instead, she spent her week helping to create a pollinator garden and build a fence with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as part of UNC Asheville’s Alternative Spring Break.

Another team of UNC Asheville students spent the week volunteering at the Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, Alabama, working in community gardens. For Miller, however, it was important to head towards the coast for her week of service.

“I’m from the beach, and that’s something that’s been really important to me,” Miller said. She and her classmates tackled the daunting task of building a mile-long fence between one of The Nature Conservancy’s trails and a police firing range.

“Even though it’s building a fence where not a lot of people will see it, it’s just as important,” Miller said, noting that the TNC office only had two staff members, which would have made the fence project difficult without the help of volunteers. “It’s saving lives, of course, and also it’s giving you this grit, this hard-earned work, which gives you the warm-and-fuzzies on the inside.”

For Miller, the volunteer work was not only physically challenging, (“I don’t build fences on the daily [basis],” she said, “it was a lot of working out in ways we weren’t used to.”), but also was a challenge to her comfort zone.

“I’m not the super nature-y, outdoorsy type person that Asheville often attracts, but I did want to go outside of my comfort zone and try something different,” Miller said. “I wanted to do something that would help the environment and help nature, and to make baby steps into nature.

“It was a week in the woods, but it was alright. I even held a legless lizard.”

For more information on Alternative Service Experience trips, which take place in the spring and fall, visit the Key Center website.