Villanova honors Martin Luther King Jr.

Kyrie Hupka

For most University students, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a welcome break after the first full week of spring semester classes. But for approximately 200 students, faculty and community members, Jan. 19 was an opportunity to kickoff the celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by volunteering at one of nine service sites in the Philadelphia-area.   

Although this program is only in its second year, improvements have already been made. To create a more cohesive Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, the Center for Multicultural Affairs and the Center for Peace and Justice Education has teamed up to bring activities like the Day of Service, Inauguration Panel, Freedom School, and a keynote address to the University.  

This year marks the 14th annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day Jr. of Service. This event is the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in the nation and is organized by Global Citizen, a non-partisan volunteer organization.  

Last year, the Center for Multicultural Affairs brought the MLK Day of Service to University’s campus for the first time by offering students a variety of service sites at which to volunteer their time.  

Junior Shreya Trivedi participated in last year’s Day of Service and has become an instrumental part of planning this year’s activities.

“If not for [Trivedi’s] persistence and commitment to service, this day would not be taking place in its second year,” said Charisma Presley, assistant director of Student Outreach and Diversity Programming in the Center for Multicultural Affairs. “It’s an idea I feel very strongly about and I want people at Villanova to engage in the Day of Service as both a symbolic celebration of the work that Martin Luther King Jr., did and an opportunity to maybe do a little bit more for our community as well.”

“Since the [presidential] inauguration is taking place on Jan 20, and the Peace and Justice Center’s Freedom School is on Jan 21, this was the perfect year to establish the Day of Service as a kickoff event for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration that lasts several days,” Trivedi said.  

This year’s service sites included elementary schools in Philadelphia (Hartranft Elementary, Alexander Wilson Elementary and E. Heston School), Camden Neighborhood Renaissance, Tabor Children’s House, Resources for Human Development (RHD) Ridge Center, Overbrook Athletic Association and Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Volunteers spent the day cleaning, painting, carpeting, preparing food and collecting donations. 

“This year we tried to pick service sites that are really in need of help,” Trivedi said. “When we were choosing the schools, we researched statistics and tried to choose schools that were falling below the national reading and writing levels.”

At 8 a.m., all volunteers met in the IK where they listened to speeches by Congressman Joe Sestak and Noreen Cameron, director of Service Learning. Congressman Sestak applauded the volunteers for participating and emphasized the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr.  

“Tomorrow we all know what’s going to happen at twelve o’clock,” Sestak said. “A man who, on his own, achieved the presidency of the United States will be sworn in. And although he achieved it on his own the last couple of miles, there is not a question in anyone’s mind that the first couple of miles of that road were paved by individuals … like Martin Luther King.” 

Cameron spoke about the difference between helping a stranger and helping a loved one. She said that many people feel happy after helping a stranger in need, but that happiness should be tempered by the same type of pain that accompanies helping a loved one in need.

“Open yourself to the love that will make you feel the pain, because that is the risk that you take when you serve,” Cameron said.

After Cameron’s speech, the groups departed to their service sites. At Tabor Children’s House in Doylestown, student and community volunteers primed and painted two classrooms and an activity room.

In addition to painting, volunteers removed furniture and refuse from a room in need of remodeling.

Tabor Children’s Services provides childcare, special needs adoption, adolescent life skills training and independent and supported living service.

A staff member at Tabor House explained that the classrooms had not been painted in over eight years and that once they were painted and cleaned, they hoped to make better use of these spaces.

Before returning to the University Campus, the volunteers at Tabor Children’s House gathered together and reflected on their experiences.

“It was good to get up and get motivated and doing something for the community rather than sitting at home today,” Matt Pinnel said. “Even though there’s a lot more work to be done, I’m glad that we were able to help them get started revamping the facility. That’s what today is supposed to be about.”

Trivedi emphasizes the value of every effort that students put forth, even if it is just one single day of service.

“A lot of people hesitate to participate in the day of service because it is only one day, and people wonder what they can accomplish in one day,” Trivedi said. “But I feel that, although you might not be able to do everything in one day, you can at least do a little more than you would otherwise.”  

Students who are looking for service opportunities on campus are encouraged to contact Rays of Sunshine, Campus Ministry, the Center for Multicultural Affairs or Health Promotions.

Students are also encouraged to become part of Global Citizen’s new program titled MLK365 which they launched on Monday. Through MLK365, Global Citizen aims to encourage year-round civic involvement by focusing on community concerns such as literacy, homelessness, poverty and the environment.          

“My biggest message is to remind students that charity begins at home,” Presley said.  “So often we go off to serve and help others but when we are here in the University community we don’t speak to others while walking around campus, we rarely come out of our rooms for gatherings or community builders that our RAs sponsors, we stand by or remain silent when a bias related incident happens, or we immediately leave after a speaker finishes his/her lecture before the Q&A portion begins. We need to realize that we all can serve 365 days a year and 24 hours a day by saying ‘hello’ and moving outside our comfort zones.”  

“The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a great event because those who volunteer are doing so by choice,” Trivedi said. “Service should be sincere and from the heart, and those who participate in the Day of Service are choosing to sacrifice sleeping in or resting on that day because they want to.”