We Also Serve Who Dare to Dream Big
by Megan Jones ’10
“Take a chance on me, Carolina.”
Click. I remember submitting my online application like it was yesterday – one eye shut, the corner of my mouth cocked to one side as if I had eaten a sour lemon drop and hands shaking so badly that I couldn’t have drawn a straight line if my life depended on it. I muttered, “Take a chance on me Carolina.”
According to high school rumor, the majority of students who apply to the University all have an average GPA of 4.0 or higher, have listed extracurricular activities that exceed three pages and rock star SAT scores which bump up the average score for an entire county. No wonder UNC is recognized as a top university. The odds, I knew, were completely against me. But, I wanted so baldy for Carolina to take a chance on me.
To this day I have no idea how I squeaked in to be a member of the Class of 2010, but I’m grateful that Carolina took that risk. My first few months as a freshman, I quickly realized that I may never in my life write a greatest hits album, retire my college basketball jersey before I turn 25 or become a popular film star (yes, fellow Tar Heels have done such things). However, I also realized that though I may not be fit for leading breakthrough research, I was a member of a Carolina family so steeped in a spirit of service, I would do myself an injustice to not get involved in community outreach.
As a junior in the fall of 2008, I started to look for a way I could make an impact. Alec Brinn, former UNC Habitat co-president and member of the Class of 2009, took a chance on me. Alec encouraged me to apply for the co-president position of his organization. Until then I had not been involved with Habitat for Humanity at Carolina. Dr. Jean DeSaix, faculty advisor for UNC Habitat, was incredibly wary of this stranger to take the place of Alec – a student who, with his dedication and leadership, had taken the club, home to hundreds of students, to a new level. Sure enough, Alec saw something in me that no one saw; he took a chance and allowed me to rekindle my greatest passion – to serve.
In September of 2009, sitting in Foster’s Market with bags under my eyes from lack of sleep and plans for Habitat’s 1st annual benefit concert under way, I listened to Susan Bourner, the director of Partner Relations of Orange County Habitat for Humanity, tell me about the new Habitat community called Phoenix Place. She began to tell me that Phoenix Place, an affordable, green-certified subdivision under construction in Chapel Hill, would be the future home of some UNC and hospital employees. Of the already approved eighteen families, fourteen of the families are employed by the University. Susan and her team anticipate another influx of UNC employee home applications in the second and third phases.
“We’ve got to do something,” came out of my mouth before Susan even finished explaining the need. I don’t know what it was in that moment – maybe my “what do we have to lose?” attitude or my strong faith in the Carolina community – that propelled me to want to enlist the entire University to help our fellow Tar Heels. Susan and I brainstormed and decided that UNC Build a Block: Ten in Ten would be our initiative’s name.
The goal of the Build a Block initiative is to construct ten Habitat homes for UNC families within ten months – an academic school year. The entire effort will be the responsibility of the University system, with individual commitments coming from departments and people groups all throughout campus and beyond.
I couldn’t help but envision ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover Edition but Tar Heel-style. I imagined a block of ten homes, with a hundred people standing on each home site. Each person proudly wears a Carolina blue t-shirt and Rameses cheers on the block with our fight song. In front of each home the homeowners can’t help by smile with gratitude as they are surrounded by fellow Heels and know that more than 2,000 hours of volunteer labor has been put into each home. Each person standing on the block forgets about his years of academia, homework to-do lists or athletic practices and simply recognizes himself as a Tar Heel – one who has an innate desire to serve.
Needless to say, brainstorming with Susan lasted well over three hours and by the end I had developed such a passion to see this project come to fruition that I was ready to scream it at the top of the Bell Tower.
The next thing I knew, I had the opportunity to share Build a Block with Patti Thorp. Let’s just say, Mrs. Thorp willingly took a chance on me. I shared with her my Power Point and she offered that I present the vision to University leaders.
In January of this year, Chancellor and Mrs. Thorp hosted a visioning session where I proposed that the University, again, take a chance on me. Yes, I am just a 21-year-old student and yes, I realized that asking for people to raise over $350,000 is difficult, especially in our economy today. But to me, the ability to be the voice and advocate for ten of our families who would otherwise go unseen overpowered any doubt that I had. My nerves quickly turned into the energy I needed to reveal such a rich opportunity we have as a community.
I knew that every leader sitting in Alumni Hall that January evening was the “right stuff” to turn this vision into a reality. My exposure to the resources we all have as students – loving faculty, accomplished alumni and the network we have in North Carolina – have allowed me to unlock my imagination, loose any bolt that holds my creativity captive. It has given me the ability and support to dream big.
As a result, the UNC community has committed to invest in this chance to give back to those we call family. In addition to serving those who serve us, Build a Block is an opportunity that will build bridges across our campus. From librarians to nurses to students to administration, Build a Block will provide a way for everyone to work side by side for the benefit of our own family.
In my final proposal, I ask for another chance. At the end of the day, every person desires to leave an impact. Be a part of the greatest legacy of Carolina – our ability to proudly give back to those who serve us. Take a chance, Carolina, and dare to dream big.
My Carolina story, simply put is, it’s not about me. My story is part of the greater legacy of Carolina, a legacy wrapped in spirited tradition, rewarding relationships and a willingness to take chances. But even beyond the icon of Carolina, there lies an intricately threaded attitude of service that weaves our Tar Heel family together. It is within this pattern our most telling story lies.
And, of course I would dare to dream big. I’m a Tar Heel.
Megan Jones ’10, of Charlotte, majored in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in entrepreneurship. She will be join fellow Tar Heels at EMC Consulting in June, and plans to carry UNC’s legacy of service with her to the corporate world.