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Warren Wilson students give back during Spring Break

Groups of Warren Wilson College students spent their Spring Break making a difference in the community.

Their volunteer work included building houses for Habitat for Humanity, food justice work in community gardens across Buncombe County with Bountiful Cities, cleaning up a watershed with A Clean Wilson Creek and flood relief in Letcher County, Kentucky.

Community engagement is a graduation requirement at Warren Wilson. That means students work to build a just, equitable and sustainable world before they even graduate.

These projects fulfill their community engagement requirement and prepare students for lives of social and civic involvement.

Building Homes with Habitat for Humanity

One group of students spent the week building houses across Buncombe County for Habitat for Humanity. Their work included leveling land to prep for a foundation, rebuilding a wall, framing, building a new foundation and painting. The houses they built provide affordable housing to those in need.

Habitat for Humanity of Asheville seeks to address the housing crisis by empowering homeowners to save more, invest in education, pursue opportunities and have greater financial stability.

“As someone who lives out of state, I think it’s really important to get involved in the local community,” said Warren Wilson student Sophia Rowe, a senior biology major. “I haven’t been able to immerse myself in the town with new people in the community in the way this is giving me. We’ve met some characters and done some great work.”

To purchase a Habitat for Humanity home, qualified homeowners pay an affordable monthly mortgage that is equal to or less than 30% of their gross monthly income. To learn more about Asheville Habitat, visit

Working for Food Justice with Bountiful Cities

Bountiful Cities is an Asheville-based nonprofit organization that works for long-term food security. The organization teaches sustainable agriculture skills and shares resources to promote social justice, economic viability and community resilience.

The Warren Wilson students worked on projects at multiple schools and Bountiful Cities garden sites, including the Lucy S. Herring Elementary Peace Garden, Pearson Garden and Southside Community Farm.

They cleared out weeds, prepped the garden beds for spring planting, saved seeds, built garden beds, planted potatoes and did general garden and food forest maintenance.

“I’ve been joking that three Warren Wilson students is like eight to 10 people, because of the work ethic and because people come in gung-ho ready to go,” said Kelly Applegate, the FEAST program assistant and social media manager for Bountiful Cities. Applegate is also a nontraditional student at Warren Wilson College. “We’re thankful that students were able to come out this week, it’s always a big help.”

Environmental Justice Work with A Clean Wilson Creek

Another group of students worked all week with A Clean Wilson Creek, an organization that dedicated to cleaning the watershed and protect the creek.

They stayed on Wilson Creek, near old lumber processing town Mortimore. They had many educational opportunities over the week, including learning from a USDA Forester about keeping their parts of the watershed clean. They also met with a biology professor at Appalachian State University at cabin that A Clean Wilson Creek and Foothill Conservation are renovating for volunteer groups. The professor showed the group how to catch fish and macroinvertebrates, identify them, and detect creek health on these factors.  In addition they met a local fisherman, and practiced live staking at a historical dump site near the river where A Clean Wilson Creek removed over 250 tires and thousands of pounds of trash. They learned about the history of the area and did landscaping around the store.

“We got to show the community and the founders of Clean Wilson Creek that students, younger people, care for their river and their cause,” said Marren Doughtery, a Warren Wilson student who led the trip. “We helped clean parts of their river, learned skills to perpetuate creek conservation and education to others.”

The group worked extensively with Bruce, who owns the Ole Country Store across from Wilson Creek and started the efforts to clean the creek when it was still a grassroots effort. Now he is in a motorized wheelchair.

“We were all ecstatic to help Bruce out because he was the driving force in cleaning up the creek for many years before A Clean Wilson Creek was created,” Doughtery said. “To help someone who had so much drive to clean up an entire creek pretty much on his own while struggling through growing physical disability was very inspiring to hear. So we were so excited to give back and help him improve his property not only for the community but for him and his safety.”

Flood Relief in Letcher County, Kentucky

Ten Warren Wilson students arrived in a small town in East Kentucky ready to learn and to work. The students were spending their Spring Break helping a community that was devastated by catastrophic flooding two years ago.

The group partnered with nonprofit organization Conscious Alliance (led by Warren Wilson Alum Justin Levy ’08) to give away more than 19,000 pounds of food, 7,000 packets of laundry detergent and 800 light bulbs to the people of Letcher County.

Over the course of the week, the students also cleared garden beds that had been polluted by coal mining runoff during the flood, repaired homes, organized a warehouse, ventured into an underground coal mine, and facilitated a ceramics workshop.

“We made a difference, and I think everyone grew as a result of the experience,” said Dr. Jeffrey Keith, one of the two professors at Warren Wilson College who led the trip. “I’m honored to have spent the majority of my spring break with people willing to work hard for others, and I’m happy to share that the people of East Kentucky with whom I spoke were quick to celebrate Warren Wilson College students for their positive attitudes and solid work ethics.”

Read more about the trip to Kentucky.

See a news story about the trip here.