Winter graduate Elliot Carey found his true passion for social work by serving his local community through volunteering with the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem program. Carey has also enjoyed working as a residential adviser and writing poetry. We asked him to reflect back on his time at Carolina as he prepares to graduate on Dec. 12. Carey also agreed to share a poem with us (see end of Q&A).
Q: Tell us about your journey to get to Carolina. Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but I went to high school in Colchester, Vermont. After high school, I returned to North Carolina and enrolled at UNC-Asheville. I transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill in fall 2018, and I do not regret it. My major has always been English with a creative writing focus. My ability to be analytical and approach challenges from multiple angles — acknowledging many different perspectives — are all skills that I attribute to my time at UNC in the department of English and comparative literature.
Q: Can you tell us more about your work with Guardian ad Litem?
A: I began volunteering with GAL in February 2021. At the time I was taking online classes for the spring semester, and I was looking for an opportunity to get involved in the community. As a GAL volunteer, I work alongside social workers and the court systems with children who have suffered neglect or abuse. My role is providing resources and support to the children in these affected families. Through visitation and my work alongside both the Department of Social Services as well as the local court system, I can see a difference being made in the lives of the children I serve. For me, that has not only been empowering, but it has allowed me to understand fully what I want to do after I graduate.
Q: You are a resident adviser. Could you share more about that experience?
A: Working as an RA has had both its struggles and triumphs for me, especially in the circumstances coming out of COVID-19. Because of this, there have been some unique challenges that I and other staff members have had to resolve. At the same time, I’ve had the privilege of having a great residence hall with a caring and kind community, as well as making a few lifelong friendships within Carolina Housing. In my role, I have been able to resolve a lot of issues simply by implementing the idea of mindfulness. Through this one-on-one work that I have done with residents, I have seen drastic changes for the better in the community as a whole.
Q: The Cellar Door is UNC-Chapel Hill’s oldest undergraduate literary magazine. Tell us about your poem featured in the fall 2021 edition.
A: At the beginning of COVID, I wasn’t sure how much time I would spend in quarantine. It ended up being about a year and a half. During that time, I was on my mother’s pine tree farm, and I was very much isolated from a larger community. I was out in Western North Carolina, a place I didn’t grow up in, and I didn’t know many people. I really had only my family and my dog. My poem is a lot about that experience — observing the animals, the world around me, and using those devices to reflect an inner feeling of loneliness and wanting more that I think a lot of people could relate to given the isolation that quarantine and moving can bring.
Q: Tell us about your post-graduation plans — what’s next for you?
During the pandemic, I learned a lot about mechanics, bought a motorcycle, and I hope to go on a little road trip, perhaps the Trans-America Trail. I also have a few jobs lined up, including continuing the work that I do with GAL. I’m also planning to get my Dutch passport because I am a dual citizen and once I do that, I’m going to visit my Dutch family that I have not seen in over eight years. I also have applied to the UNC School of Social Work for fall 2022, and I’m excited to hear whether or not I will be returning to Carolina.
Interview by Lauren Mobley ’22
Read Elliot Carey’s poem:
A year and a half alone on the pine tree farm
days of nothing
tomorrow: the evening sun will pull itself from the treetops,
light stabbed over huddled loblollies.
every night the moon cuts from itself.
cicadas hum in revelry,
frogs drown themselves in the pool ceremony.
the next morning I come to fish them out with a net, later:
a black well where the moon sleeps,
tomorrow: a fingernail clipping names itself the moon.
every passing night the fingernail grows fatter,
the birds that visit each other say the moon loves the sun
and from a whippoorwill hearsay is that’s where it goes, but
birds, like cicadas, will say anything because they like to be heard.
old trees know the moon is a lonely creature,
why else would it stand up higher than them?
the moon has a fat belly now,
an old flat turtle digging a nest
said the moon will soon lay an egg, another star,
still, the moon becomes whole and then leaves.
the moon is on a journey and it cannot decide
if it is better to travel or arrive.
every night it gains a bit of itself back until it realizes what is lost,
then returns little by little to the company it forgot.
the moths are knocking at the window
desperate to say something,
but I cannot be pulled from the thought:
is the moon happy?
lying down on the futon, looking at the bed
cold white sheets are empty.