On January 13, a group of 200 students gathered to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday by serving those less fortunate in our community. UNCG’s MLK Day of Service is organized each year by the Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement (OLCE).
This was the first of many UNCG events honoring King’s life. A joint celebration with N.C. A&T, Guilford College, Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC), and Greensboro College is planned for January 24 at 7 p.m. in the Elliott University Center. All are invited to participate in an interactive discussion about Black activism entitled “Dream It. Believe It. Do It. Developing Leaders for Tomorrow.”
“The legacy of Dr. King’s work in social justice and service really resonates with our students,” says Kristina Gage, OLCE’s associate director for civic engagement. “It’s something that they want to both act on and reflect on, which is something we provide through MLK Day of Service.”
Many Hands Make Light Work
The OLCE coordinates with campus organizations and community partners to connect students with service opportunities with real impact in the Greensboro community. “Today we have 200 students registered to participate and nine community sites where they will complete their service projects,” Gage explained.
After a welcome session and icebreakers that allowed the volunteers to get to know each other, the students loaded onto buses bound for volunteer work across the county. Some organized food pantries, others helped assemble literacy packets, some gathered donations for family shelters, and others tended community gardens or helped clean up parks and streams. Their work directly served local communities in need such as refugees and immigrants starting a new life in Guilford County, school children experiencing food insecurity, homeless neighbors, and those living with HIV.
Michaela Williams volunteered at New Arrivals Institute with members of the Students of Caribbean Ancestry. There, they worked in the garden that serves as an outdoor learning space for children of refugee and immigrant families. “A lot of us are children of immigrants, so we are happy to serve a community that we feel a connection to.”
New Arrivals Institute’s Community Engagement Coordinator Lynn Thompson was grateful for the quick and energetic work the students completed in just two hours. “Our founding value is empowering women with free childcare, English & acculturation,” Thompson explained. “Naturally, since we have children here, it’s important to us to have a pleasant, inviting, beautiful outdoor space and your student volunteers are helping us with that today.”
Connections Make Service Extra Special
“At MLK Day of Service not only can students get hands-on experiences, but they can also connect with their peers and with their community,” said student leader Tia Johnson.
Johnson has volunteered in the past and now works with OLCE to organize leaders at each volunteer site. “I remember my first experience with MLK Day of Service at Backpack Beginnings. We gathered baby products for young mothers, which was interesting to me since I was drawn to maternal health issues in my public health major. My sister was a teen mom and I could really see how an organization like this would be helpful for young mothers like her.”
This year, the Black Student Union volunteered at Backpack Beginnings. They sorted clothes donations for school children and restocked shelves in the food pantry.
“Service means a lot to me, says Jazz Lynch, who volunteered with Black Student Union members. “Today we’re packing backpacks for school children who need clothes and food. It feels good to serve the community that we’re a part of and really look out for people who look like us.”
A Legacy of Spartan Service
Renny Simpson volunteered with the Linus Project, making no-sew blankets for family shelters. “I think that service brings a community together. So, I am happy to take time out of my day to give back to the community that gives to me.”
It’s a feeling that Rev. King would have agreed with, and a legacy that the UNCG graduating class of 1893 hoped for when they established our one-word motto, “service”.
Over a century later at UNCG’s MLK Day of Service, it was apparent that our one-word motto had stood the test of time. Dr. Cathy Akens, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, addressed the students with a message of gratitude.
“An event like this allows us to shine in our value of service and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said. “At UNCG, you’re not just here to get a degree, you’re here to prepare to serve the community that you’ll be a part of in the future.”
Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications.
Videography by Grant Gilliard and David Lee Row, University Communications.