Across St. Louis, student-led effort delivers 782 service hours in single day
Between deployments of paint, ladders, tape and buckets on the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Circle of Light Associates volunteer coordinator Sandra Wood took a moment to reflect.
“They’re working on things that we haven’t been able to pay someone to come in and do,” she said of the roughly 30 University of Missouri–St. Louis students, staff and community members lending a hand at the nonprofit’s Baden, Mo., facility on Jan. 19. “I can’t stress enough how huge of a burden you guys are taking from us. This means a lot, to see all these faces – all these young faces – helping us.”
The small army of volunteers at Circle of Light was one of 13 groups serving across the St. Louis region Monday during UMSL’s seventh annual MLK Day of Service in honor of the civil rights leader. Part of a national initiative, organizers aimed to make the holiday “a day on, not a day off.”
“Since we have so many volunteer sites, we can get a lot of stuff done with big groups of people,” said senior psychology major Rachel Romano as she rolled one of Circle of Light’s stairway walls with a fresh coat of paint.
Completing a grand total of 782 hours of service over the course of the morning, the 252 participants set to work on everything from neighborhood cleanup to interactive programs with children at various local outreach organizations.
“Look at my shoes!” said UMSL junior Dipa Patel, pointing to the dried mud around her toes. She was one of about 40 people who teamed up to prepare a Great Rivers Greenway site for a community garden. “I raked for like three hours. It looked totally different from when we arrived to when we left.”
Jay Fish, program director of the Campus Honors Environmental Research Program at UMSL, guided a handful of volunteers through removal of brush honeysuckle and other invasive species surrounding a large oak tree adjacent to South Campus. It’s a site that students in Fish’s urban ecology course have also been working on, in an ongoing effort to “re-wild” the area, originally named for its resemblance to Normandy, France.
“For this site in particular, even the little we got done is a step in the right direction in restoring this area,” said Michael Deckard, a PhD student in criminology and criminal justice. Fellow volunteer Rodney Whitney, a freshman biology and Spanish major with a concentration in pre-med, said he learned a lot over the course of the morning as well.
At the other end of campus, other UMSL and community members gathered for a public celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The packed event featured a presentation by Harvard School of Law’s Lani Guinier along with dramatic and musical performances and a special program of activities for children.
Assistant Director of Student Life Ashlee Roberts noted that along with getting so many students and fellow community members locally engaged and remembering Dr. King, the Day of Service was an opportunity to interact with new people and build trust.
“The students get to know people they didn’t before,” Roberts said, adding that Monday’s efforts drew the largest number of volunteers in five years.
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