Student volunteers celebrate holiday with day of service

Members of GW’s Neighbors Project joined other AmeriCorps volunteers from District organizations to make the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a day on, not a day off.

Fourteen GW volunteers helped dust, garden, paint and replace light bulbs in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at Ninth and G streets. The day of service was part of a national AmeriCorps initiative to celebrate the holiday in a manner King would appreciate, said Suzanne Hechner, an organizer of the event.

If you want to honor (Martin Luther King Jr.’s) day, you don’t make his day a day of television and shopping and lying around, former Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) said in remarks to the group of volunteers.

Secretary of Education Richard Riley discussed the success of AmeriCorps, a volunteer organization created five years ago by President Bill Clinton. He said the strength of D.C.’s volunteer circuit is evidence Clinton is very serious about his commitment.

It’s great to see these young people are turning celebration into service, Riley said.

AmeriCorps volunteers nationwide spent the holiday serving communities in a similar manner. Hechner said the District volunteer organizations chose the MLK Library as the volunteer site because the library was in need of renovation.

With decreased budget allocations from the District during the past few years, the library has not devoted enough money to cleaning the building and making it a welcoming atmosphere for children, Hechner said.

If you walk around on a daily basis, you’ll notice it is really grimy, Hechner said. The repairs have fallen behind and the staff hasn’t been able to catch up.

Juniors Shauna Carter and Alyssa Herschberger, who manage a tutoring program together at Scott Montgomery Elementary School, said their experience prepared them for their day of dusting bookshelves in the library.

We work with children, so we clean a lot, Hershberger said.

Other volunteers said the day of service, which was mandatory for AmeriCorps volunteers, gave them a chance to do something different than their normal volunteer work.

Junior Lauren Rose, who volunteers at the Whitman Walker Clinic, said the day spent dusting was a change of pace from her work at the HIV and AIDS clinic.

Another group of GW volunteers spent the morning replacing light bulbs around the building.

Different organizations around D.C. shared responsibilities putting the event together. GW coordinated media relations for the event, said Melinda Pollack, the coordinator of GW’s Neighbors Project.

The AmeriCorps volunteers helped sign up 500 District public school children for library cards. The initiative tied into the national effort to spend the MLK holiday improving communities, Hechner said.

One way to improve D.C. is to improve its resources, and the library is an important resource to the city, Hechner said.

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