Students take lead on upcoming Day of Service

Demetrius Reynolds, Kristin, Wyninegar

UMSL students Demetrius Reynolds and Kristin Wyninegar are co-organizers of the university’s seventh MLK Day of Service on Jan. 19. Part of a national service initiative, the annual effort aims to make the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. “a day on, not a day off.” (Photo by August Jennewein)

A half-day’s work might not sound like much, but University of Missouri–St. Louis students Kristin Wyninegar and Demetrius Reynolds know that seemingly small things can have a big impact.

That’s what the two of them find so motivating about serving as co-organizers of this month’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event, offering a wide range of volunteer opportunities for up to 250 people the morning of Jan. 19.

Wyninegar, who heads up UMSL’s Students of Service, gives the herb garden she and fellow UMSL students planted one day at Earth Dance Farm a couple years ago as an example.

“I remember thinking, ‘This one thing – your four hours of time – can impact someone for years,'” says the junior communication major. “I just think it’s great that so many students get involved in this day and that we can reach 13 different sites across the St. Louis region.”

While 2015 marks the first time she and Reynolds have spearheaded the planning for the annual effort, service has been important to them both for some time.

As an undergraduate business major at UMSL, Reynolds joined Alpha Phi Alpha – a fraternity that counted King and many other civil rights leaders among its membership. Reynolds says he values opportunities to connect with King’s vision and ability to reach people.

“What service is all about is reaching back and helping someone else,” says Reynolds, who is now a graduate student assistant for diversity and service in the Office of Student Life. “Many people are lacking and just don’t have a lot of resources and support. That’s just the bottom line.”

Reynolds remembers being inspired several years ago when his girlfriend, a resident assistant at UMSL at the time, helped build a jungle gym at a local nonprofit during the Day of Service, now in its seventh year.

“That means the world to some kids,” he says. “And now she’s a social worker.”

Reynolds adds that with the recent events that “woke everyone up,” the upcoming service day and remembrance of King is as important as ever.

“It’s a great opportunity to be reminded of how we can come together to accomplish the same goal.”

The atmosphere at UMSL helps make the Day of Service one of the biggest campus events of the year, according to Wyninegar.

“To be honest, I was really shy my first semester and not involved on campus at all,” she says. “But then the former chair of Students of Service reached out to me and I joined the group. I love UMSL now … the welcoming atmosphere, the interaction and community feel. I think students also have an opportunity here to be a big fish in a little pond.”

Reynolds is now approaching his second semester as a graduate student at UMSL, concentrating on higher education administration.

“A lot of minority students come to UMSL and succeed,” Reynolds says. “I was looking for a school like that. Family and community are my top priorities, and UMSL was also close to home. The opportunity for personal growth is just limitless.”

Students, faculty, staff and members of the community interested in participating in the “day on, not a day off” – which includes breakfast and lunch, the student leaders are quick to note – may register here. Guests should contact Assistant Director of Student Life Ashlee Roberts at robertsak@umsl.edu. The deadline to register is 3 p.m. Jan. 9.

Wyninegar said the various service sites and projects were carefully selected through an application process and in partnership with United Way.

“For all the sites, we want to make sure that we are really helpful, doing jobs that wouldn’t be done without volunteers.”

The UMSL community’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day also includes a celebration event that begins at 10 a.m. Jan. 19. Taking place in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, it will feature a presentation by Lani Guinier, the first female, African American, tenured professor at Harvard School of Law.

Other highlights include musical guests “Chris & Kyle with True Spirit,” a dramatic performance by the UMSL Department of Theatre and a special program for children ages 5 to 11. For the latter, College of Education faculty and students have developed a special program of activities based on the values and principles of Dr. King.  Participation in this program will be on a first-come, first-serve basis, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

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