By Remy Adams
Carrboro, N.C. — Seven years ago, a small group of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill formed an organization to be a strong voice for progressive change.
Today, that organization has grown into a network of hundreds of people, primarily students, working to achieve social, economic, political and environmental justice.
Known as SURGE, short for Students United for a Responsible Global Environment, the group reaches 65 campuses throughout North Carolina.
“SURGE set out to serve young people and students all over North Carolina to give them the tools to make civic engagement successful,” says Dennis Markatos-Soriano, a founder and staff member.
The tools SURGE provides involve information and connection.
Any organization or individual use the SURGE network to find others to help their cause.
Network members, for example, can post contact information on their websites or look for network members to give them advice on raising money or awareness, holding events or building their own network.
Markatos-Soriano says he is proud of the growing diversity of the SURGE statewide board.
Marcus Rountree, president of the Environmental Student Awareness Effort at N.C. Central University in Durham and a SURGE board member, says networking has been the most helpful aspect of his involvement with SURGE, letting members get help from like-minded organizations.
He also says SURGE produces results.
“A lot of people talk about environmental issues but SURGE actually does something about them,” he says.
Bob Phillips, executive director for the N.C. Common Cause Education Fund, says SURGE offers the kind of strategy the nonprofit community is looking for to connect young people.
“Our connection to SURGE is through the activists and showing them that helping us is helping their cause,” he says.
For each of the past six years, SURGE has held an annual conference.
The last one, at UNC-CH, attracted 300 people from over 20 different campuses, as well as 125 co-sponsors.
The conferences help strengthen the network, says Markatos-Soriano.
This year, SURGE also held an Earth Day fundraising event that raised $2,000 raise awareness about environmental issues among students in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school systems.
“The way we can make change, Markatos-Soriano says, “is to bring as many organizations together to make changes.”