Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, April 30, 2017

MLK Day of Service volunteers fight D.C. poverty

MLK Day of Service volunteers fight D.C. poverty
Sophomores Sabrina Shee and Thomas Cheng paint the walls at the Family Health and Birth Center.

For some international students, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service marked their first chance to experience U.S. history.

Over 200 students volunteered across D.C. at 13 non-profits to help combat poverty as part of the Jan. 17 event.

“I've read about and learned about American history and African-American history," said Dursunjemal Halimova of Turkmenistan. "Meeting these people face-to-face and hearing them tell stories about their experiences is amazing and ... learning why they respect and love and follow Dr. King as an example."

Community service isn’t a big thing in Egypt, according to Abdallah el Sayed of Cairo.

El Sayed said the best part of his group's work was the spirit of everyone wanting to help the community, an obligation he said he wouldn't find anywhere at home.

"I did something, every individual did something and the whole group accomplished something big," el Sayed said. "Without others ... nothing would get done."

Although final numbers have not yet been released, AU officials believe results from this year matched those of last year's event, but did not beat their goals of 1,000 hours and 300 participants.

Of the approximately 300 volunteers who signed up, about 220 to 230 showed up, according to Donald Curtis, operations manager at the Center for Community Engagement and Service.

"Each time we do this, it gets bigger and bigger, better and better and our impact on the city gets stronger and stronger," he said.

Curtis believes that though turnout was lower than expected, this year's event was better than in 2010 because it included more sites with different ways of addressing poverty, including prenatal and women's issues.

Both Curtis and Stephen Bronskill, director of the Community Service Coalition, believed the day's operations went smoothly overall.

"The best part is that we can go back to these sites and build a more lasting relationship," said Bronskill, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.

Throughout the day, participants logged service hours by painting murals, serving food, moving furniture and spending time with the elderly. Many volunteers said they were enjoying their work and felt they were making a difference.

"It was cool to be able to express our own creativity and know that it would make a positive impact on someone else's life," said Christine Edmond, a junior in the School of Communication.

Curtis believes this self-reflection is an important aspect of community involvement and says he wants to have reached 20 or 30 volunteers who will continue to serve.

"I hope this event inspires them to engage more with non-profits and to learn more about the issues," Curtis said. "They should look at the theories and then at what happens in the real world."

rkaras@theeagleonline.com