(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Dana Chester, a junior at the George Washington University, braved the low temperatures and snow on Jan. 22, and led a team of 11 of her fraternity brothers in providing groceries to the elderly.
“We saved them a trip to the grocery store,” said Chester the co-service chair of the Phi Sigma Pi fraternity and student leader in the office of community service. “You’re not doing good for yourself unless you’re doing good for others.”
Chester was one of 143 GW volunteers who participated in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Her team delivered 120 members from Emmaus Senior Service groceries that will last two weeks. “Getting Martin Luther King’s face on things is good because it helps bring attention to the need to perform community service,” Chester said. In 1994, President Clinton signed the King Holiday and Service Act to unite the nation and honor King by doing community service on his birthday. This year marked the legislation’s 10 year anniversary. GW students observed the holiday five days after the nationally celebrated date because the actual date fell during winter break.
GW groups volunteered at other sites including: boxing and bagging groceries at the Foggy Bottom Food Pantry, sorting clothes at Goodwill of Greater Washington, and helping to paint the Josephine Butler Building.
“Dr. King once said, ‘Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,'” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a part of USA Freedom Corps for Americans, a White House initiative to get people to serve. “On the King Holiday and every day, we hope all Americans will honor the legacy of this great leader by following his example to serve together to make a better nation.” In a press release, Eisner said that there has been a steady growth in participation of the King Service day over the past decade. While they do not have an exact number, officials at CNCS, which provided 600,000 dollars in grants last year to service projects, estimate that “hundreds of thousands” of participants nationwide.
“MLK Day is a natural fit for service and people are taking to that,” said Siobhan Dugan, a CNCS official who spent the day painting and repairing a pool at a school in her neighborhood. “Taking the day off and going to the department store and getting ten percent off your purchase is not what King would have wanted.”
Dugan also said that many groups and organizations use the day to train and recruit volunteers to help with projects throughout the year.
Some students say performing community service is a great way to learn about the city surrounding their school.
“Participating in community service through GW is a great way to get to know the city, get off campus, and better understand the situations people in the District face and politics of the city,” said GW student Lauren Wilde, who participated in many service events through the GW Office of Community Service before becoming her fraternity’s community service co-chair.
Throughout the year, students and student groups participate in other service events including charity marathons or walks, building homes, helping to refurbish buildings, clean parks, and tutoring children.
“Last year I worked with Jumpstart, and tutored a preschool child one-on-one, twice a week, and a whole class once a week,” Wilde said. Through Jumpstart, I became involved in other community service events. I have done projects varying from painting the interior of a house in a lower-income housing area in Anacostia, to planting vegetables through the Neighbors Project “Community Harvest” for a community that lacked affordable vegetable produce.”
Doing community service in college has helped Dana Chester relate more to the broader community and thinks it is an important part of the nation’s identity.
“It’s like what President Kennedy said: ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.'” She said. “There is no reason if I am able bodied that I cannot help out people who are not able bodied.”