Durham Tech students serve on the wild side, help animal rescue organizations

Shawn Hewitt pets a rescued sheep named Luther at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge.

It was an early morning on Hux Family Farm when 15 Durham Tech students rolled out their yoga mats, extended their hands to the sky, and mindfully breathed their way into sun salutation poses – with the occasional cuddle from a furry friend.

“A goat fell asleep on top of me. I never thought that would happen to me in my life,” said 22-year-old Zhane Strachan.

Goat yoga kicked off Durham Tech students’ first overnight Alternative Service Break trip to serve animal rescue organizations in Pittsboro.

For three days during fall break, students helped improve the quality of life of rescue animals like Coconut, a visually impaired sheep that resides at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge, and Sage, a calico cat at The Goathouse Refuge awaiting her day to be adopted.

“Students have been asking for animal-related service opportunities for the past couple of years,” said Jes Dormady, Volunteer Services Coordinator at the Center for College and Community Service at Durham Tech. “For our very first overnight trip, we wanted something that had a strong student buy-in and I knew there was a desire to work with animals.”

Rajah at Carolina Tiger Rescue.

The first stop was Carolina Tiger Rescue, where students were scheduled to prep the facility for winter. Severe weather slowed the volunteers, but students enjoyed a brief tour and said the takeaway was significant.

“This trip has given me a new perspective,” said Shawn Hewitt, 22. “Everyone wants a cool animal, but there’s a difference between the needs of a person and the needs of a living thing. Sure you want a tiger, but you can’t care for a tiger. There’s a line you have to draw.”

The next day was spent at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge, a sanctuary for rescued farm animals to live out their full lives in a safe place. Students spent two hours creating space for a herd of rescued goats to graze by removing overgrown brush and weeds.

Lenore Braford, Founder and Shelter Manager at the refuge, said she was grateful for the students’ help.

“We love when groups like this come out to volunteer because we’re excited about making connections in our community and having diverse groups of people come out to farm,” Braford said. “It’s a great opportunity to get larger projects done that we can’t do on our own.”

“My cats came from here so it’s important for me to be able to give back because they did so much for me,” Cantwell said. “I think service should be a part of what everybody does. This trip is a great opportunity for us to provide services for others, which is really empowering.”

After the volunteer shifts, students spent their evenings at Camp Royall participating in team building exercises, reflection activities and of course – campfires.

“This trip was a great way to meet other students at Durham Tech and broaden my circle of friends, which is awesome,” said Cedric Ngbichi, 21. “I’m so happy I did this.”

Getting to know the students and learning their interests and stories has been Cantwell’s favorite part of the trip.

Mari-Faythe Myers removes overgrown weeds from the goat pasture at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge.

“These students are really fascinating,” Cantwell said. “I would have thought there’d be a certain type of student to want to do an activity like this, but these students are so different from each other. They’re coming here from different places, with different attitudes and what they want to get out of it is different as well.”

Dormady said it’s important to make these opportunities available at a community college.

“Since we don’t have dorms, this was a great overnight experience for students to bond,” Dormady said. “I’m pretty sure students are leaving here with a lot of new friends. For some students this is there first opportunity volunteering so this also serves as a gateway to larger civic duties and community engagement.”

For many students, this service trip played a role in helping them decide their career pathway.

“I wanted to come on this trip because I plan on doing something with animals in the future,” said Mari-Faythe Myers, 20. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and scope everything out to see where I could get an internship or where I could volunteer to gain experience. I now have a better idea of what I want to do with my life and I definitely want to help animals.”

Hewitt is thankful the College offered this volunteer opportunity and his greatest takeaway goes beyond the animals.

“I think it’s important for Durham Tech to provide opportunities like this for holistic development,” Hewitt said. “I think volunteer service encompasses everything that you’re going to encounter in life. Whether it’s planning the trip or leading the team, I think Durham Tech does a good job at providing these opportunities for holistic growth.”

The Center for College and Community Service at Durham Tech will host another Alternative Service Break opportunity during the 2018 spring semester. If you’re interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities available at Durham Tech, please contact Jes Dormady 919-536-7200, ext. 8194 or dormadyj@durhamtech.edu.

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