ECU intern partners with NC CIVIL to support West Greenville community

In its unassuming headquarters just a mile from East Carolina University’s main campus, the nonprofit community action group NC CIVIL plans big things for the West Greenville community.

Specializing in outreach, citizen engagement and partnership development for community-based initiatives, NC CIVIL found a perfect partner to help advance its work — the Public Fellows Internship (PFI) program at ECU.

Rising senior Emma Kemp, a political science major in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, was nervous about finding her role with the organization. But, as the summer progressed, her passion for community engagement was stoked by NC CIVIL and its director Jermaine McNair.

NC CIVIL serves Pitt County’s West Greenville community. Kemp worked with volunteers to help support nonprofits in the region.

“It was completely out of my comfort zone,” Kemp said. “I could have picked an internship site where I just sat in the office and did the same things I’d do in class. But I wouldn’t have grown as much as I’ve done with NC CIVIL.”

During her internship, Kemp has learned the ins and outs of what gives a community its identity and how economic and political decisions affect communities.

“It’s been eye opening,” Kemp said. “A specific example is how I first viewed the new 10th Street Connector that bridges main campus and the health sciences campus. When it first went in, I thought, ‘Oh great, this will make traveling faster!’

“I didn’t realize that it would isolate the community I’m working in now,. Traffic goes over West Greenville instead of through it. It made me investigate how the decisions our local government makes affect us.”

An eye-opening experience was just what Kemp wanted when she applied for the internship.

“A few of the internship sites aligned with my major, but a lot of them were data management focused,” Kemp said. “NC CIVIL stood out because I was going to get involved with a community. In the future, if I decide to go into local government work, I’d rather be in the community working and interacting than stuck behind a desk.”

The Morehead City native received plenty of experience with the West Greenville community over her three months in the PFI program. She’s worked directly with community members at events hosted by partner nonprofits and manages volunteers directed to NC CIVIL from outside groups. Her work with the organization’s volunteers ensures that other regional nonprofits have the workforce to staff their events.

“I’ve lived in Greenville for a few years now, but I now feel like I really know Greenville,” Kemp said.

McNair, who earned his graduate and undergraduate degrees from ECU, said having the university’s knowledge and talent available at NC CIVIL’s doorstep is a resource he doesn’t take for granted.

“When you go into any city in America, you find that most underserved communities are the older, more historic communities,” McNair said. “As cities grow, the wealth moves out. One of the things that typically does not shift outward are universities — it’s hard for them to just pack up and leave like a retail company.

Coming here to NC CIVIL is not just a crash course in nonprofit community development, it’s a study in the science of community organizing. You learn the approaches, the strategies, the philosophies and the critiques of local systems.
- Jermaine McNair, NC CIVIL Director

“The relationship between these communities and their universities aren’t always there. The ability to connect the skills and learning that take place at a university and apply it to its local communities is super important. It’s not only important for organizations like NC CIVIL, but it’s important to the development of the students. ECU has been able to forge that relationship through its service and scholarship.”

Kemp realized that to affect change, you don’t have to move a mountain.

“It doesn’t have to be big,” she said. “It begins with kids coming in to get help with their resumes or hosting coding camps to get students interested in the STEM field. All of the little things that organizations like NC CIVIL do add up and make a significant difference.”

McNair believes Kemp has taken away a sturdy foundation for how community-oriented nonprofits operate.

“Coming here to NC CIVIL is not just a crash course in nonprofit community development, it’s a study in the science of community organizing,” McNair said. “You learn the approaches, the strategies, the philosophies and the critiques of local systems.

“Emma’s not just learning to feed the hungry or house the homeless. She’s learning how local systems work and best practices for engaging with them to produce outcomes that are effective, equitable and sustainable for marginalized and vulnerable communities.”

Along with the PFI program, Kemp is a member of ECU’s Innovation Living Learning Community. The LLC is focused on developing innovative entrepreneurial responses to community issues.

Administered by the Office of Community Engagement and Research, the SECU Public Fellows Internship program at ECU connects the university and regional communities through projects that address community-identified priorities. Students are placed in government and nonprofit positions that allow them to develop leadership, analytical, problem-solving, communication and project management skills. Learn more about the program online.