By NEESEY PAYNE
An amazing thing happens when you help others. It’s a spark, a defining moment that captures the essence of the greatest part of human beings. Serving others fills an emptiness that can only be satisfied by doing good works. That amazing thing happened Monday as students followed in the footsteps of a man who believed “no work is insignificant”—aiding in the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is more than a federal holiday. It’s a day to honor a revolutionary vision—the American dream that men and women, boys and girls, those rich and poor, and of all skin colors can sit at the table of brotherhood. It is recognized as a national day of service—“A day on, not a day off” to serve neighbors and communities in helping to make the world a better place.
King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Over 70 students answered that question Monday by joining in doing service projects across Pulaski County.
At Pulaski Middle School, one could picture a scene out of Santa’s workshop, with little elves working their hardest to prepare packages for 20 men and five women serving the country through the Adopt-A-Platoon Project.
“When they open this package they will think of home,” said Kami Taylor. “Helping people makes me happy.”
That feeling of happiness was infectious.
“Serving others makes me feel good,” said Jeanette Reed.
“It means helping people who need it. When I think of service I think of someone serving in the Army, Air Force, or in soup kitchens,” Kyrie Dobie said.
“It’s important because it’s the right thing to do,” added Aries Webb.
Students also visited Pulaski Health and Rehabilitation Center where they accompanied residents in physical therapy activities and played Bingo.
“I’ve got Bingo,” yelled a resident proudly. Kayla Patterson double checks the numbers to find a winner. Patterson and Cheyenne Roope had a ball with residents and other students as they called out numbers for the Bingo game.
What happens when kids and animals collide? Smiles, wagging tails and lots of purring felines. Students who volunteered at Pulaski County Humane Society walked dogs and played with cats and puppies.
“I love animals. I’m so glad we came,” said Aluara Mitchem who dreams of becoming a marine biologist.
Michael Caro enjoyed his experience. “It was fun helping out with the animals. When you’re helping pets that aren’t wanted it’s heartbreaking, but knowing there are ways to help them makes all the difference in the world.”
“You can give them all the love and affection they need,” added Isis Ramirez.
Kids at Dublin Elementary School participated in an afternoon filled with baking, yoga and learning proper nutrition.
Jenna Marcus said her favorite part of the day was helping to bake and decorate over 300 cookies that will be delivered to residents at Highland Ridge Rehab Center in Dublin. “Making cookies was fun because they’ll get to enjoy cookies we made for them,” she said.
For Zach Lovingood, yoga was his favorite part. “It was fun participating in yoga and learning about stretching and healthy eating,” he said.
Students also joined Friends of the Pulaski County Library –boxing surplus books that will be sold to help the library’s funds. Hensel Eckman YMCA in Pulaski received an artists’ touch with the painting of a mural.
At the end of the day, students gathered at Pulaski Middle School to celebrate King’s legacy with a presentation of service posters, a skit, student speaker and a message from keynote speaker Howard Eaves Sr.
Students walked down the aisles of the auditorium waving colorful posters they created honoring the day of service. Each student was recognized for their volunteer efforts with a certificate of participation.
Eric Bucey, executive director, Beans and Rice Inc., said this is the fifth year the community has participated in the nationwide event. “Service learning in the community is just as important as the learning that takes place inside the classroom,” he said. Bucey added that he hopes students in Pulaski County will be able to “work toward becoming the next generation of civil leaders.”
Pulaski Middle School eighth grade student, Merina Nelson, spoke on behalf of the student body –encouraging her peers to do good works not only on a day designated for service, but every day in the community.
“Service means take time out of your day to help others who need help. Martin Luther King Jr. wants everyone to serve. He is passing his legacy down to our generation,” she said. Nelson described past projects students have participated in over the years. She said young people can help by serving their community every day. “(King) wants us to make it a day on, not a day off,” she said.
Meadowview NanoKidz presented a portion of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech through a skit entitled “Dream Cloud.”
Keynote speaker Eaves encouraged students to stay focused and committed to their dreams and to be non-judgmental of people.
Eaves attended Christiansburg Institute until 1959 when his family moved to Alexandria. He graduated from Parker Gray High School in 1961 with honors.
“I always delegated myself to study and do what I had to do. If I said I wanted to be an honor student or make an A on the test, I committed myself to doing it,” he said. “In high school I was committed to making the honor roll and I did.”
After high school, Eaves studied recreation and parks at Northern Virginia Community College and sociology at Marymount University in Arlington. He joined the Air Force, where he was a still photographer. Later in his professional career, he worked as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service and as a correctional officer in North Carolina. He is retired from a law firm in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a facilities manager.
“I’ve been through a lot of things and knew that I was discriminated against, but I am not bitter because of my experience, I am better because of my experience,” said Eaves.
He encouraged students to not pass judgment on others because they may look different or talk different from them. “I know some people who don’t look like me, but I consider them the best friends and the best gift that God has ever given me,” he said.
Eaves said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. My grandmother told me manners will open doors for you that money won’t. I have lived long enough to see these things transpire in my life. We’re different, but we are all people. We hurt, we cry and we do everything the same way underneath.”
He concluded his message with a portion of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Remember when you hear the words of Dr. King’s speech, when you learn about the historical events, that you’re not just learning about events in the past, you’re learning what it means for you in your lives,” said Bucey. “You did extraordinary things today through your acts of service.”
The day of service taught students the importance of helping others, the barriers it breaks and the togetherness it brings.
“Serving others is cool because we get to help people out. It makes me want to do it all the time,” said Amiyah Walls.
“It makes me feel good knowing I’m making a difference,” Alyran Meadows said.
Samone Long summed it up best. “It’s better to give than to receive,” she said. A lifetime lesson that only doing good works can bring.