June 02, 2016
The students removed invasive species of privet and mimosa trees from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest
One of the memorable moments was chopping firewood as a group.
As soon as the spring semester ended, a group of UT students headed to Maryville, TN, where they spent about two weeks in the mountains focusing on environmental preservation and cultural education by working with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
They entertained the residents at Snowbird Senior Center and helped build a hiking trail nearby. They removed invasive species of privet and mimosa trees from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest, which helps allow the native trees to thrive, and cleared a massive creek for a Cherokee elder.
“He was so incredibly happy when he saw all the work we did and a true difference was seen and heard,” said Jennifer Sanchez ’17, explaining they could hear the water flow faster after their effort in removing the debris.
Sanchez, a double major in philosophy and government and world affairs, was a site leader for the trip. Despite earning the group award for “most likely to fall every single day while having a smile on her face," she had a memorable trip.
Some of her highlights included chopping firewood as a group, which was part of the effort in living simply on the homestead where they spent the weeks.
“Everyone was able to wield an axe, many for the first time,” Sanchez said. “We were able to help each other chop tougher logs, like hickory, and encourage one another all throughout the service project.”
Every morning before the group headed off to do their service for the day, they sang a traditional Cherokee morning song.
“We used traditional Cherokee instruments to keep a heartbeat for the song,” said Khadijah Khan ’17, a journalism major with a leadership minor. “There is no direct translation for this because it means something different to every person. Every morning after we sung this song, we knew it was going to be a good day of service.”
The group also walked part of the original Trail of Tears. The students reflected in silence as they walked in the rain.
“Getting the opportunity to see a part of that history was moving,” Khan said. “I was humbled that our hosts gave us that opportunity.”
Khan, who recently won Student Volunteer of the Year at Leadership Awards Night, said service has been second nature to her since she was a kid.
“I strive to incorporate the community into my values and all life choices, but there is also something heartwarming that comes from helping others and giving back to a community that has given you so much,” Khan said. “I think that everyone should have that feeling. I firmly believe that success doesn't come from what you do for yourself, but it is what you do for others.”