MLK Day of Service
January in Vermont means negative temperatures, blistering wind chills, unexpected snows, and messy roads. In my words, bunker down, bundle up, and only step outside when you have to.
January in AmeriCorps means celebrating Martin Luther King Day by honoring his commitment to service. In the words of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), Martin Luther King Day is 'a day on, not a day off!"
When I was asked to organize the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) AmeriCorps MLK Day of Service, my first thought was of the CNCS slogan, and how daunting it sounded to find a service project in the freezing cold for more than 35 people to take part in. What was more daunting was not simply finding projects, but finding meaning in those projects, meaning that related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his life's work.
As many know, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality and service: we are to serve one another equally; we are to work in order to ensure the happiness of others. As I began to plan the day, I grabbed a legal pad and wrote down, "What are you doing for others?” After I wrote this in as many creative ways as I could, I thought of Vermont communities that could benefit from a helping hand. These thoughts eventually landed me in Waterbury, VT, attending a Waterbury Winterfest committee meeting, proposing to run a Day of Service for their week-long winter celebration. That night, as I drove away from Waterbury in a November storm, I felt happy to have committed to a town but wondered what exactly I had committed to.
Come Monday, January 20th, I was still wondering the same thing yet driving the opposite direction. This time, I was driving towards the Waterbury Area Senior Center in a January storm, silently panicking as I questioned a friend in rapid-fire fashion in attempt to avoid any questions about what was to come of the day. We arrived on time, however these snowy conditions proved to be a challenge for others, and with more people calling and e-mailing me every other minute, I began to wonder and worry how many people were actually going to show. We had ten projects to work on, and a whole town was expecting this day; I needed all the hands I could get. Come nine o'clock, I indeed had all the hands I needed, many of whom were Crossett Brook Middle School students. The idea of putting these kids to work no longer worried me, I was simply happy to see such an awesome turn-out from such a young crowd. I looked at the VHCB AmeriCorps members, and then back at the middle school students, and thought, that was us! Then I looked at the senior citizens who we were helping, and saw all their smiles as they sat back and let us get to work, doing the work they would've had to do if we hadn't shown up.
On Monday, January 20th, approximately 50 MLK Day of Service participants took part in 10 projects. The basement of the senior center was cleared of all debris, the beginnings of a shelving unit was built in the back corner of this newly cleared basement, more than 100 meals for Meals on Wheels were prepared and packaged, 5 canvasses were painted for a mobile mural, books were packed at both the Children's Literacy Foundation and the Moretown Memorial Library, debris was removed and water was moved for the Wesley United Methodist Church, food was collected for both the Waterbury Food Shelf and the Mad River Valley Food Shelf and finally a lunch was prepared for all volunteers and visiting senior citizens. Believe it or not, all of this was done by noon. Participants were able to relax during lunch, while watching a short film on the importance of Martin Luther King Day and listening to two speakers, Bill Minter, the president of the Winterfest committee, and John Sherman, a citizen of Waterbury, VT. Both speakers addressed the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his dedication to service, and how this day should be a lesson for a lifetime of giving to others.
On the outside, January in Vermont means negative temperatures, blistering wind chills, unexpected snows, and messy roads. After digging through the snow and plowing the roads, I found that January in Vermont really serves as a spotlight for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He once said, “Life’s most urgent question is: What’re you doing for others?” and on Monday, January 20th, AmeriCorps members and community members came together in Waterbury, VT to answer that question, while answering my questions of: “What am I to do with 35 people in the freezing cold, and how am I suppose to instill meaning, and inspire others to do similar work as that of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?”
To all who helped organized this day, to all who opened their doors to volunteers, and to all who volunteered: Thank you!