My name is Zach Carr, and I serve as the Associate Director for the brand new Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism at the University of Memphis. In my role, I oversee all of our student volunteerism efforts to connect our students to community needs in the city of Memphis. Additionally, I serve as a conduit between our faculty/staff and the overall community to find community-based projects to integrate into existing or new courses for a service learning/engaged scholarship experience that simultaneously develops tangible skills for our students while meeting a great community need. This mutually beneficial relationship serves as a great opportunity for student development while solving community issues at a low cost!
What led you to this position?
My first experience with the city of Memphis was actually during my first interview with the University in 2015. As soon as I arrived I felt a different energy and passion in this city than I had in any other community. While I had opportunities in other major metropolitan cities, Memphis grabbed a hold of my heart and pulled me in with the passion and sense of community that you don’t often find in cities of this size. Memphians want to be part of the solution, and that mentality is infectious! After interviewing and instantly falling in love with the city, I decided Memphis is where I want to be and where I want to invest my life. The added bonus was the community work that is part of the position that ingrained me into the community at an even higher level.
Describe the giving back experience/what does it mean to you to “be part of the village”:
When I think of giving back to my community, one quote always comes to mind:
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to
serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace.
A soul generated by love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
My first experience with Agape North was through community contacts when seeking a mission driven company to do some design and apparel orders for a scholarship program that I used to manage in another role. The connection with the mission and the Agape North team was instantaneous. Hearing and seeing how my purchase of apparel could have a much greater impact than I originally thought was a major driving force in continuing to develop this relationship. The added bonus of the “giving back experience” is getting to meet and interact with the community members and children you’re impacting and developing those relationships has enabled me to further connect with Memphis and learn all of the ins and outs of how this city works and where you can have an impact!
What does it mean to you to “be part of the village”?
For many reasons that I’ve already mentioned, the Memphis community is so unique in how they approach cultivating “the village.” To me, this village means that everyone is loved by many and has relationships that span across the entire city and are interconnected on all levels. When I relate this mentality to the mission of Agape North, I immediately think of the children that are impacted by the daily work of the organization. Agape North creates the opportunity for children from all different backgrounds to simultaneously have a need met, while also having the opportunity and experience to interact with a diverse group of individuals so that they learn and explore more about themselves and the world around them. These experiences are essential to their growth as they develop relationships characterized by a real caring for one another that leads to a feeling of trust and security. Having the opportunity to have a hand in cultivating the village is something I seek out and will never take for granted!
From your perspective as a higher education/student involvement advocate, how does this change or further develop this idea?
As a higher education professional, I see every day how difficult it is settling into a new environment and see the reality that new students may only know one or two people, or no one at all when they arrive to campus. While our new generation of students want to feel interconnected to their community more than ever before, they also want to make an impact. Engaging with the community outside of campus energizes students and motivates them to apply knowledge they learn in class to new co-curricular opportunities. This also connects them and makes them feel part of the “village” of Memphis. When a student finds this type of engagement they invest their time, resources, and energy into their adopted community and that sense of belonging can make them want to plant roots and be part of the solution that so many Memphians are dedicated to!
Why do you think student involvement is important? How do your goals with student involvement affect the greater Memphis community?
Getting and staying involved is one of the most important things you can do while in college. “Involvement” is defined as any activity outside the classroom which enhances and contributes to student learning. Being involved can take many forms, from being a member of a registered student organization (RSO), or fraternity or sorority, to conducting research with a faculty member; going on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip, or volunteering at a local social service agency. It does not matter how you are involved, it only matters that you are!
Research shows that students that become engaged within their own community experience not just a higher rate of academic success, but overall satisfaction and development in their life moving forward. Here at the University of Memphis that community building starts as soon as students arrive on campus through a Day of Service to welcome students back and re-connect them to the city and all they can be doing to create a positive impact. Learning to be an engaged citizen is central to all we do at the UofM and our mission to constantly connect our students to how they can give back and contribute to needs in the City gives students context and a stepping stone to a deeper, sustained involvement in all things Memphis.
How does/could your partnership with Agape North impact "your village"?
As we seek to bridge our students to needs in the community, Agape North creates an amazingly easy way to get started simply by purchasing apparel, which in turn creates uniform donation opportunities for local children and schools. As we continue to deepen our partnership, it’s very important for our students to be involved with give back days and getting into local schools. Being able to reflect on their own experiences while sharing with children is a very powerful tool to create opportunities for relationship building, mentorship, and gives a greater overall context to how they can serve and impact their own community!