By SEAN ROWLEY
Northeastern State University may have dismissed classes for the Jan. 20 observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but students and employees were encouraged to use that time in service to others, whether through organized public school visits or independently.
“We are still figuring up the numbers, but it looks like we have between 400 and 500 volunteers,” said Heather Wallace, a student managing NSU’s site visit to Tahlequah Middle School. “That means we had as many volunteers this year as last year.”
Kyrston Dozier, a junior from Kansas, Okla., said moving the day of service to the late afternoon had no effect on her decision to participate.
“I think it was that way for a lot of people,” she said. “I liked it. Classes were out, and I got to sleep in.”
Work hours for the volunteers are generally set earlier because classes are usually cancelled at local school districts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, a pair of winter storms closed area schools for nearly two weeks, and most districts held classes Monday to recover a lost day.
Organizers decided to make the visits after the school day ended. Volunteers marshaled on the NSU campus and worked at the schools between 3 and 6 p.m.
Volunteers visited Heritage, Greenwood and Cherokee elementary schools, Central Academy and Tahlequah Middle School. Tasks were arranged through suggestions made by school staff and included computer lab dusting, classroom cleanup, window-cleaning, sanitizing and some shovel work.
“We wanted to do some sanitizing since it is flu season,” Wallace said. “We are paying a lot of attention to areas of the school where the kids have to touch a lot of surfaces.”
Wallace said the computer labs were being cleaned at all the schools visited by NSU on Monday.
Alyssa Austin, a sophomore from Verdigris, was among the students cleaning screens and keyboards at the middle school.
“It just makes sense to want to give back on this day,” she said. “Martin Luther King was a person who made such a big difference, and I think I and everyone else here just want to try to make the slightest bit of difference.”
Richie Thao, a junior from Gentry, Ark., was participating in his first Day of Service.
“My girlfriend [Jamie Lee of Westville] had to talk me into it,” Thao said. “But now that I’m out here, I’m actually enjoying it. It is a good way to get out in the community and give back.”
The university’s observation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a collaborative effort between the American Democracy Project at NSU and the Division of Student Affairs.
Nationally, the day is part of United We Serve, President Obama’s call-to-service initiative.
To read an online exclusive outlining Martin Luther King Jr.’s major contributions to the civil rights movement, visit www.tahlequahTDP.com