2012-2013 Excellence in Community Engagement Award: Karin Abell

The annual Excellence in Community Engagement Award is bestowed upon the employee demonstrating exemplary leadership and dedication to serving the community. Qualifying activities can include participating in, developing, or promoting volunteerism, service leadership, campus outreach, community service, civic participation, and service-learning. This year’s Excellence in Community Engagement Award recipient has modeled excellence in community engagement through several different roles. Karin Abell, Program Director for English as a Second Language in the Center for the Global Learner, received this well-deserved honor.

As an individual, Karin has delivered over 7,000 books as a volunteer with Book Harvest, which provides new and gently used children’s books to children who would not otherwise have their own. Weekly, she shuttles about 350 books to a local clinic, where she’s become known as “the book lady.”

Through her innovative program outreach, Karin has coordinated one-day and multi-week trainings for over 230 area parents to learn to support their children’s educations and to minimize gaps in knowledge of the U.S. educational system, especially around college planning and financing. After securing grant funding for the project, she and her team built new relationships and enhanced existing partnerships with nine schools in all three of the school systems in Durham Tech’s service area to provide this critical training. Additionally, she incorporated service into a recent visit from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages in Japan. Inspired by a student’s idea to provide activities for children staying at the Ronald McDonald House while undergoing medical treatments, Karin organized an activity with these international visitors that not only provided 40 craft kits, but also allowed  the international visitors to learn about the Ronald McDonald House and its role in the City of Medicine.

Finally, as a club advisor, Karin has promoted service with students in the International Students Club.  After participation in several Habitat for Humanity and campus service events, she encouraged and supported the club in collecting books for Worldwide Book Drive, which distributes books to domestic and international literacy organizations. She challenged students to collect 400 books. In March 2013, the International Students Club received the organization’s Gold Award for the number of books collected—1,600, four times the initial goal!

Karin said that she thinks of herself as both a participant and promoter of service, and enjoys service because of its sense of accomplishment. She says, “Even though my job at Durham Tech provides a valuable service to the community, on a day-to-day basis it is overwhelmingly administrative, and it takes time to see the results of our work…[but with service,] I really feel like I did something that day. I feel a sense of immediate accomplishment.” She credits her dedication to service with finding the best activity to fit her interests: “In my case, the difference between thinking about serving and actually serving came down to finding the right opportunity.