“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. often appears on social media around the anniversary of the civil rights leader’s birth.
Charlotte Russell, a first-year student at the University of Mary Washington, reflected upon those words, which were also emblazoned on the back of her T-shirt, as she participated in UMW’s MLK Day of Service on Saturday.
“Service is such an important part of Dr. King’s legacy because it honors his life and teachings,” said Russell, who shared her own messages of encouragement with her peers through chalk drawings on Campus Walk. “Volunteering brings together people from diverse backgrounds with the common goal of helping the community.”
Typically held the last weekend in January, the annual celebration was rescheduled because of inclement weather. But neither the threat of rain this weekend nor ongoing precautions due to COVID-19 could dampen the spirit of service shown by dozens of UMW students. They spent the day – organized by UMW’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the student-run Community Outreach and Resources (COAR) and the James Farmer Multicultural Center – engaging in socially distanced volunteering opportunities on campus and in the Fredericksburg community.
Despite the pandemic, “UMW students are still passionate about making the world a better place,” said CCE Associate Director Sarah Dewees. The scope of activities students could participate in was limited, she said, so the Center offered “take and make” kits to create blankets and scarves for Fredericksburg City Public School students and handmade cards for residents of an area nursing home.
As her service project, sophomore Katharine McDaid assembled personal hygiene kits for Empowerhouse, a local nonprofit that supports survivors of domestic violence. “It’s a huge problem in this country,” she said. “People shouldn’t have to worry about grabbing these essentials when they are escaping unsafe situations.”
Others picked up litter and worked on campus and downtown beautification projects. Sophomore Taylor Coleman volunteered with Tree Fredericksburg. “As I worked, I thought about how simple actions can have big impacts,” she said, “like how a tree can be saved just by removing ivy from its trunk.”
In addition to volunteering in person, UMW students had the option of joining a Zoom call from the comfort of their rooms and spending the afternoon listening to music and answering trivia questions about Martin Luther King Jr. Several students joined the call to discuss how to carry on Dr. King’s legacy, as they worked on their projects.
“Dr. King believed it was possible to build a ‘beloved community’ through these acts of goodwill and service,” said Bucky Goforth, a COAR staff member who helped promote the event on social media. “When we stand together, and when we do the work that needs to be done, we are more powerful than we could ever be ourselves.”