It may be a holiday, but for the University of Washington community, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day on and a day of meaning. “It means giving back to the community, getting involved with all types of people, and diversity,” said Allison Borte at the event kick-off rally for the Day of Service held on January 19, 2009. Diversity describes both the crowd of students, staff, faculty, and alumni that gathered and the volunteer projects they signed up for.
A junior majoring in English literature, Borte volunteered to plant trees for the “Keep Interlaken Ravine Native” project. Though not a student herself, Nicole Cabe, 25, heard about the event from a friend attending UW and signed up for a project to aid the foster care system, an issue she is passionate about.
In all, more than 1,400 volunteers committed their day off to some 60 different community projects. After the kick-off rally, volunteers headed off separately, but with one goal: make a difference. “This year in particular this day means a lot,” Cabe said, “because Obama reinstated its meaning: a day to remember what Dr. King stood for as a civil rights leader who wanted to build connections.”
Building connections and giving back
At Garfield High School, people connected with each other through workshops and preparing for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and march. Jessica Salvador, a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D., was happy to see such a diverse crowd rallying together. “We’re all busy throughout the year,” she said, “so it’s nice to see everyone getting involved.”
Kelsey Rounds, a graduate nursing student, chose the project “Aprons for Toymakers” for the “ripple-effect” it will have in the community. Using salvaged fabric donated by Sew-It-Up-Seattle, volunteers made aprons to benefit The Giving Tree, an organization that employs homeless workers to make toys for underprivileged children.
In his chosen profession, Rounds sees the effects of social issues, like unequal access to medical care, firsthand. He urges other students to reach out because it is too “easy to get caught up in a classroom where you intellectualize everything.”
Learning beyond the classroom
As an Ellis Civic Fellow, freshman Cynthia Wainaina is taking full advantage of her education, both within and beyond the classroom. Having immigrated to the United States four years ago, Wainaina found support for her education at UW through the Carlson Center in Undergraduate Academic Affairs. “I feel like so much has been given to me and I have so many more opportunities here than I would have had back in Kenya,” she said. “It’s a way for me to give back.”
Students in this fellowship program receive scholarship support enabling them to make a four-year commitment to community service. Today, they archived stories at the HAAS Foundation, an organization that connects underprivileged youth with sponsors for higher education. Junior Isar Mahanian said, “This project is interesting because you get to see how certain foundations work. Fund-raising is always an issue with companies trying to help others.”
Helping students discover the fullness of their talents is the cornerstone of education at the University of Washington and civic engagement is an essential part of that education. As Mahanian put it: “The learning aspect is just one part of your education. Getting involved in the community is just as valuable.”