By TEDDYE SNELL
Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and students, faculty and staff from Northeastern State University could have taken the holiday and slept in, shopped or pursued other recreational activities.
Instead, more than 600 of them showed up in the University Center bright and early, awaiting assignments for work at Tahlequah Public Schools. Volunteers visited Sequoyah, Greenwood, Cherokee and Heritage elementary schools, Tahlequah Middle School and Tahlequah High School throughout the day to help clean, organize and perform other tasks.
In 1994, Congress designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national day of service, and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading the effort. For the past several years, the local effort has been a collaboration between the American Democracy Project at NSU and the Division of Student Affairs.
The event also kicks off NSU’s Be the Change Week, which has different events and activities slated through Jan. 25.
Barbara Fuller, instructor of educational foundations and leadership and chairwoman for the American Democracy Project, is coordinator of the event. Early Monday morning, Fuller said the volunteer response was amazing.
“There are more participants this year than ever,” said Fuller. “We have 609 faculty, staff and students pre-registered, and will not know the final numbers until later. When I set this up with the schools three years ago, I knew there were many who would want to help, but never dreamed we would grow this much every year.”
This year’s motto is “Make it a Day On, Not a Day Off,” and volunteers spent the day cleaning, painting and picking up trash at schools sites, as well as completing other tasks.
NSU student Elaina Ross was site coordinator at Tahlequah Middle School, and was pleased with the number of people who showed up to help.
“We are looking at having about 90 volunteers here today,” said Ross. “Our tasks are to scrub down every single surface - windows, doors, chairs, desks, walls, trophies, everything – painting the [risers] in the choir room, doing some work outside, and picking up trash.”
This is Ross’ third year to participate, and she’s developed an affinity for TMS.
“After the first year [of volunteering at the middle school], they had an assembly for us, and the principal told the students we cared enough about them to come in and scrape gum off the chairs,” said Ross.
“After seeing that and learning how much the kids care about what we do for them, I was all in, and have worked the middle school site ever since.”
Kristal Soderstrom, coordinator at NSU’s Student Academic Success Center, was site coordinator at Sequoyah Elementary, and expected 25-30 volunteers on Monday.
“Most are college students, but we also have two kids from Tahlequah High School,” said Soderstrom. “I think this is the perfect type of thing to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. With the horrible flu season we’ve had, it’s a great idea just to get everything clean and disinfected at one time. We’re also cleaning those hard-to-reach places like the tops of the televisions and the blinds.”
At Sequoyah, teachers left notes on their classroom doors, listing any additional tasks they’d like to have completed.
Tahlequah Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Presley visited sites Monday, and said she really appreciated the volunteers.
“I emailed Barbara Fuller and Chris Adney yesterday, thanking them in advance for the work being done today,” said Presley. “It’s just phenomenal. They’ll be able to provide us with help that we otherwise would not have. They provide a great service to us.”
Presley said sites began submitting job requests in early December.
“We’ve been adding them ever since, because there are so many volunteers,” said Presley. “We appreciate this so much.”
More than 500 NSU volunteers took part in the 2012 Day of Service.
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