Monday, Jan. 16 Lawrence students and faculty participated in the Martin Luther King Day of Service sponsored by the Volunteer and Community Service Center, the Office of Engaged Learning and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Since ten Lawrentians came together five years ago on Martin Luther King Day to serve the Appleton community, the attendance of this entirely student-run event has steadily increased. This year, Director of the Volunteer and Community Service Center Kristi Hill registered over 200 Lawrence students and faculty to help with maintenance at Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, work with the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities or teach diversity to over 700 elementary students.
Said Hill, “We wanted to meet the need for Lawrence students to serve all in one day so we started to create a diversity curriculum for [elementary and middle school] students back in September.”
The day was comprised of three components: to learn, serve and celebrate. The day began with a presentation by a representative from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Inc. about the recent results of the Leading Indicators for Excellence Study. The study revealed the overall quality of life in the Fox Cities and opportunities for community engagement projects.
Volunteer orientations and workshops for multiple organizations were held to provide information to students looking to volunteer throughout the school year, during a summer break or through a “gap year” service opportunity after graduation. The event also invited professors to hear Monica Rico, associate professor of history and director of Engaged Learning give a faculty development workshop on how to incorporate service-learning into the course curriculum.
Students then filed into the Esch and Hurvis Rooms to be debriefed by Volunteer Events Coordinator and senior Susannah Maiken. Maiken, who began volunteering her freshman year, said that it was her hope that “[Lawrentians] will become inspired to volunteer not just today, or in the next two days, but in the rest of [their] life at Lawrence and beyond.”
Professor of History and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies Jerald Podair then took the podium to speak of King’s crusade against economic injustice. Though King was well known for fighting for racial equality, he was also persistent towards the end of his life in leading the fight for the rights to “income, education, housing and doctors.”
After Podair, Associate Professor of Psychology Beth Ann Haines revealed the results of research by 25 Lawrentians and 9 other professors in the area on the positive impact after-school programs had on kids’ self-efficacy, problem solving skills, academic achievement and more. Another research project also determined the key elements of any successful after-school programs including strong leadership and staff. Because Lawrentians going to elementary schools to volunteer would be a part of the after-school staff for a day, Haines gave some tips for connecting with young kids, assuring Lawrentians that “enthusiasm is contagious” and “kids think college kids are the coolest people ever.”
After the speakers, everyone headed to their respective volunteer sites to serve. Kohler and Draheim Residence Hall Director Chris Conrad taught diversity programming at Roosevelt Middle School and found the experience to be more enriching than he anticipated. “The kids’ stance against bullying and discrimination were super inspiring,” said Conrad.
Junior Tanner DeBettencourt saw the day as a great opportunity to help out the community, in addition to bonding with his baseball teammates and Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers. “I’m just glad to be making a difference,” he stated.
As Lawrentians returned from their respective volunteer sites, they proceeded to the Lawrence Memorial Chapel to be a part of the 21st annual community celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Dorothy Cotton, the only female member to work alongside King for over a decade during the Civil Rights Movement, delivered a keynote address entitled “Martin Luther King, Jr.: This Life and Legacy.” Cotton enthusiastically encouraged youth to “do something, anything” for their communities because “small acts of kindness add up.”
Sophomore Dana Schot enjoyed the celebration, saying afterwards, “I thought she was fantastic and the most energetic 82-year-old I’ve ever seen.” In addition to the keynote address, the annual Jane LaChapelle McCarty Unity in Diversity Award was presented by Toward Community to an individual in the Appleton community who had made great strides in bring people in the community together.
The Martin Luther King Day of Service was started in 1994 by Congress and has been led by the Corporation for National and Community Service as part of United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative.