Students join the First Family in Martin Luther King, Jr. day of service

Student volunteers rearrange and organize toys at A Wider Circle, a nonprofit dedicated alleviating poverty. The toys will be donated to underprivileged children as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Olivia Harding | Hatchet Photographer
Student volunteers rearrange and organize toys at A Wider Circle, a nonprofit dedicated alleviating poverty. The toys will be donated to underprivileged children as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Olivia Harding | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Nanami Hirata.

Students spread out across the city to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service Monday – and a few worked side-by-side with members of the First Family.

President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and oldest daughter Malia volunteered at a Boys and Girls Club on Monday with three GW students who were working with Jumpstart, an organization that supports children’s literacy. Over 700 other students, faculty and staff volunteered at different sites throughout the city.

Erin Agnew, a sophomore who was at the Boys and Girls Club with the Obamas, said she spoke briefly with Obama, and that she was impressed with how humble the First Family was when it came to working closely with children at the site.

“They very genuinely worked on projects with the kids,” she said. “We were trying to include the kids as much as possible, so we talked a lot about healthy eating and the Let’s Move campaign.”

Before heading out to the service sites, students gathered in the Marvin Center to hear from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

She told the volunteers that they should understand the balance between the importance of community service and the full meaning behind King’s legacy as a civil rights leader.

“King wanted us to use his life to make our lives better. This means using his life to solve the unsolved issues for which he gave his life,” she said. “King’s admonition that genuine equality means income equality will haunt your generation until those most affected take on income disparity that is consuming the American Dream.”

Participants volunteered at twelve locations both on and off campus, including senior centers, child care centers and a middle school, where they helped restore buildings and worked with children and the elderly.

At A Wider Circle, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, Md., a group of nearly 40 volunteers organized furniture, toys and dishware as part of the neighbor-to-neighbor program, which provides basic household goods and furniture to more than 4,000 families every year.

Volunteers went on a tour of the site, before loading trucks with mattresses and other household items to showrooms, where families can choose different items to bring home. Students packed up donated toys and reminisced over their childhood favorites.

Melissa Erickson, a volunteer coordinator who was at A Wider Circle, said the organization relied on the students to accomplish their goals at this time of year.

“Although we have an amazing dedicated team here. We really can’t do what we do without the help of big groups like the George Washington students, and we really appreciate the work they do for us,” she said.

In D.C.’s Knox Hill neighborhood, the University partnered with the D.C. Office of Aging and ServeDC to send volunteers to visit with the area’s elderly residents.

Bhujit Saini, a freshman site leader, said that visiting with the residents of Knox Hill – one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods – made her realize the importance of human communication.

“The people we talked to really appreciated the fact that there was someone who cared. The small things we do really matter, especially when it comes to the elderly. Giving some time of your day to other people is not only the right thing to do but is also very satisfying,” she said.

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed reporting.

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