About 110.000 people participated in service projects around this region as part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service.
A group playing African themed music entertained the volunteers who began their day at Girard College for the opening ceremony of the King Day of Service. The region-wide burst of volunteering began 18 years ago as a tribute to Dr Martin Luther King’s legacy of public service.
This year, the day includes about 1,500 separate projects in and around Philadelphia. This region’s Day of Service is generally the biggest and most active in the nation.
“Dr. King was a figure that we can relate to his example,” head organizer Todd Bernstein said. “His legacy is something, while he was engaged decades before, can be applied to the problems we face today.”
Among the service projects was a bid to bridge the digital divide by giving netbook computers to 150 Philadelphia Housing Authority residents. Maria Walker of Drexel University says the goal is to help people gain crucial access to the information superhighway:
“More than 90 percent of job applications are only available on-line, so if you want to get a job you have to have access to the Internet.”
Among those participating in the day was Shannon Drake of the group Thank A Vet, who says there seemed to be more people turning out this year than a year ago, especially younger people.
“I’ve seen them volunteer a lot more than my generation did,” Drake said, so hopefully now the younger generations will volunteer and more and more will volunteer.”
Clay Armbrister, interim President of Girard College, said this spirit of volunteerism needs to be sustained 365 days a year.
“There are many needs in our communities, government cannot solve them all,” Armbrister, a former chief of staff to Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, observed. “The private sector cannot solve them all. It takes, as they say in the African proverb, a village to raise a child. We need a village to do community service and make sure that those of us who are needy get the service that we need. It’s that we all have to take responsibility for.
Ringing from the Hill
At a church in Chestnut Hill, the sounding of a gong meant another thousand meals had been prepared for those who cannot afford to purchase food themselves.
Andrew Sullivan of the group Stop Hunger Now says he has seen more volunteers coming forward this year than ever before and that has helped his organization expand.
“When we first started a Philly location three years ago, I was recruiting constantly,” Sullivan said. “Now I am just trying to keep up with the demand. We actually had 150 events last year. We’re even growing our operations here in Philadelphia. Hiring a larger staff and getting a larger facility.”
Rev. E. Clifford Cutler of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill says families are constantly coming together in his church building to help others.
“It does make you feel good and it gives you a sense of fulfillment, a sense of making a difference,” he said. “That’s important to the adults and the children as well, and they are just starting to learn about this.”
Rev. Cutler says religious values give a push towards volunteerism:
“I think there’s a real sense in the church anyway in trying to mend the things that separate people whether that’s poverty or injustice or whatever. What we’re about is what we would call mending creation. which is another way of saying Kingdom of God.”
Just as the minister finished speaking, the gong sounded again, signaling another thousand meals being packed and taken out to the truck for delivery.