Big turnout for MLK Day of Service
By Bob Okon email@example.com January 21, 2013 4:12PM
Dorothy Vidales, a freshman, from Joliet Central High School, and classmates load their school bus with wreaths from grave sites part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, Monday, January 21, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 23, 2013 6:09AM
About 320 people showed up for the biggest day of volunteering yet in Martin Luther King Day of Service activities in the Joliet area.
The volunteers included about 70 students from Joliet Central High School who picked up wreaths in sub-zero wind chills to help with the post-Christmas cleanup Monday at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
“It’s very cold. It’s freezing,” said Arionna Martin, a senior at Joliet Central.
But, it was worth it, too, she said.
“I thought it would be good to help out,” Martin said. “Dr. King wanted everyone to serve their community, and I should help out rather that just stay home.”
Work at 15 sites
Volunteers cleaned kitchens, washed walls, painted interiors, and did assorted tasks at 15 different places, many of them social service agencies that depend on volunteering.
“Nobody usually does anything on Martin Luther King Day,” said Khaleel Evans. “This is a way to help out because he (King) helped us out.”
Evans and teammates from the Joliet West High School sophomore basketball team cleaned walls to prepare them for a future painting job at Daybreak Shelter in Joliet. The two Joliet high schools contributed 116 volunteers for the day.
A volunteer team from the Joliet Slammers went to a residential house run by Easter Seals to give the insides a new paint job.
“Last year, we cleaned out a basement,” said Ken Miller, director of community relations for the Slammers, as he prepared to head out for the morning of volunteer work. “This year, we’ve got six or seven people, and we’re going to paint some rooms.”
The size of the volunteer force grew as Martin Luther King Jr. Day approached, said Ericka Williams, coordinator for the event.
The Martin Luther King Day of Service Committee counted 160 people registered to volunteer on Friday. The numbers doubled over the weekend. Williams said the turnout of 320 volunteers was the biggest in eight years of the Day of Service in Joliet.
“Saturday and Sunday, I was flooded with calls from people who wanted to volunteer,” she said. “A lot of people I spoke with said, ‘This is a wonderful thing.’”
Volunteers were told it was wonderful for them to help out.
“You’re all fulfilling a part of what Martin Luther King lived for and died for,” Herbert Brooks, a local pastor and speaker of the Will County Board, said during an early morning breakfast at the University of St. Francis that preceded the day’s activities. “Our purpose here today is for everyone of us to keep that dream alive.”
Volunteer activities have become a key part of the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, giving people a unique way of taking a holiday by serving others.
“We should take some pride,” R. Dale Evans, chairman of the Day of Service Planning Committee, told the volunteers, “that all over the country people are gathering in rooms like this to go out and serve their communities.”