By Leah Jones, Features Editor

 

As women and allies around the country prepared to march in the tradition of the civil rights movement, students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis prepared to celebrate civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with the ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service (MLK DOS).

After legislation made King’s birthday a federal holiday in 1983, Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service in 1994. Hosted by the UMSL Students of Service (SOS), UMSL’s MLK DOS event featured 12 volunteer sites with 212 volunteer slots.

“The goal is really to go out and serve those who are serving the community on a regular basis; a lot of non-profits and organizations. They are short-staffed and not able to execute everything they need to do to operate at full capacity and so our priority is to serve those who are serving and fulfilling a need,” said Ashlee Roberts, assistant director in the Office of Student Involvement and advisor for the UMSL SOS. “Our driving question [when selecting service sites] is ‘Would this project be able to be completed without volunteers?’”

Students helped a range of St. Louis residents including young children and adolescents, seniors, people with disabilities, and local gardeners. Volunteers at both EarthDance Farm School and Gateway Greening helped prepare the organizations for the upcoming spring growing season. Volunteers at Community Living, Inc., the University Child Development Center, the St. Ann Early Childhood Center, St. Ann Catholic School, Mosaic Community Center, the Pine Lawn senior home, and the Ferguson Youth Initiative helped to spruce up the buildings by organizing, painting, cleaning, assembling furniture, and completing light building projects. Students who volunteered at Junior Achievement of Greater St. Louis, Inc. helped make program kits to help prepare the junior achievers for life after school, while volunteers at Pathways to Independence worked directly with adult residents with complex learning disabilities and associated disorders which impact their social skills in a counter top cooking class. St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center volunteers put on an educational program for residents at the facility.

Roberts emphasized the service the volunteers completed benefited the organizations and fulfilled the needs of those organizations. “We want to make sure that we are going into organizations accommodating their actual needs and not having them accommodate how we want to volunteer. It’s important for students to recognize that when you are helping and serving others, you are doing it for them and not for you,” she said.

Kasey Bastean, senior, philosophy, and chair on the UMSL SOS, expressed enthusiasm for the Juvenile Detention Center site, though as the chair, she had to remain at UMSL for the event. “I’m kind of hoping my career goes that way. I want to help juveniles, especially in St. Louis, so I’m a little disappointed [to not go, but] that’s a really awesome site that they’ve been doing for a while,” she said.

Though many organizations that participated in the event were returning organizations, the University Child Development Center, the Pine Lawn Senior Home, the Ferguson Youth Initiative, and Mosaic Community Center were all new organizations.

Laura Miller, graduate, philosophy, who founded Mosaic Community Center last semester to help feed hungry students on UMSL’s campus, said, “I can’t help but remember how Mosaic was founded out of a desperate desire to help friends, classmates, and peers; a desire for change and a challenge to our institution to actively engage in assistance for our students. Now, five months later, that call has been answered by the volunteers from UMSL who will give of their time to paint Mosaic’s walls and make this community center an integral part of our institution.”

However, Roberts said that male volunteer rates across campus were low. In 2016, she said that only 25 percent of registered volunteers for the MLK DOS were men. So far this year, that number was even lower.

Daniel Pogue, junior, mechanical engineering and newly-elected president of Sigma Tau Gamma, worked with Roberts to help get more men involved with the MLK DOS. He said that he hoped to have 10 to 12 guys from his organization at the event. “If we don’t have a lot of participation in MLK DOS, we will be doing the service day for homecoming…[but] I like MLK DOS a little bit more just because it is giving back to the immediate community,” he said.

Pogue volunteered for the second year in a row with Gateway Greening, and for his third year with the MLK DOS. Last year, Pogue helped to build flower boxes for an urban garden. “Community service is important for any student organization because it shapes you as a person and that’s what all of these organizations are about. They’re about shaping the individual and preparing them for the real world,” Pogue said.

Roberts echoed Pogue’s sentiment and said, “Volunteering in general is just a really great way for students to see what the community needs are and serve something bigger than themselves, but also for them to get some kind of professional experience and some exposure to those things.”

Bastean, who volunteers frequently on her own, spoke about why she chose to volunteer for MLK DOS. “I’m really passionate about community service, especially when it’s dealing with kids in the community…It’s just really important for me. So, I signed up for MLK DOS because I wanted to help out, and not just on my own, but with the university, because I feel like we can do more as a group, as a team, versus just one person going out. It gets a bigger impact,” she said.

While students could volunteer their services on just this one day, Roberts, Bastean, and Pogue all encouraged students to turn their day of service into a year of service. “We hope that this sparks students to be able to continue to be involved in service…We hope that they continue to serve with UMSL SOS, or I can also do one-on-one or organization consulting in my capacity here. We can find ways to help them get connected. We’d love to have them for one day, but we hope that whether they are with UMSL SOS or not, that they continue to implement service as part of their life,” Roberts said.

Bastean agreed. “We [SOS] always have something to fit. We always have stuff throughout the year that if you can’t do this one, you can do the next one. There is something that someone, everyone, can do,” she said.

Pogue said, “Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion for civil rights and he did community service. The greatest community service that you could do [is] helping gain rights for someone. So, anytime that you can do something similar, I feel like you should. MLK DOS, it’s not just the one time that you do it […] It’s a good way to kick off a year of service.”

For more information on UMSL SOS, check out their TritonSync page at orgsync.com/59704/chapter.