UNC Asheville and Mission Health teamed up for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, with volunteers from two of Asheville’s largest institutions working side-by-side to help build homes, work with young people, work with older adults and family caregivers, care for rescued animals, clean up trash, plant trees and more.
With a record number of 260 UNC Asheville students, faculty and staff participating, the line for breakfast and coffee filled quickly Monday morning on Jan. 16 as volunteers met in Alumni Hall in UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Union. By 8:30 a.m., all volunteers were at tables with their group leaders, discussing information about one of the 15 organizations they would be helping during the university’s 10th annual MLK Day of Service.
Chancellor Mary K. Grant was among those who spent the morning at the YWCA, helping young children make signs for the Peace March and Rally that drew thousands of people to Pack Square Park on Monday. “None of us are without the power to make a difference in our own backyards and that’s what we do every day at UNC Asheville and what Mission is doing every day in the is community,” said Chancellor Grant, addressing the volunteers from both institutions before they boarded vans to their work sites. “It’s a natural fit that we should be doing these things together.”
“Today, through your actions, each one of you is standing up and speaking out, and I applaud you for that,” said Dr. Ronald Paulus, CEO of Mission Health, addressing the volunteers and enthusiastically endorsing this first joint UNC Asheville/Mission Health MLK Day of Service.
“Any day is great to give back to the community but this is a special day,” said Fonda Bravo, service day volunteer and an emergency room supervisor at Mission Health. “Martin Luther King Jr. stood for diversity and community outreach, so to give something back is awesome.”
Sarah Angermeyer, a UNC Asheville senior and psychology major, spent the morning planting fruit trees at the Deaverview Community Orchard, calling it “a day on, not a day off. … I’m here with the RAs [resident assistants in student housing] right now and we usually do volunteer stuff for our training and it’s just really fortunate that this fell right at the end of training so that we could do this as well and also honor a great person, as well as help our community.” Asheville GreenWorks organized the tree-planting and a separate effort engaging dozens of volunteers picking up trash in the neighborhood of MLK Park.
While some volunteers were getting down in the dirt, others were getting in touch with their creative sides. After taking a quick tour of the YWCA and learning of the organization’s longstanding work to eliminate racism and empower women, volunteers helped children create signs to hold up as they took part in the annual Peace March and Rally downtown later in the day. The signs included quotes and pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and other designs by the children.
“I really hope that the volunteers and students kind of take away the legacy that MLK left,” Gerry Leonard, volunteer & racial justice coordinator for the YWCA of Asheville said after checking on the artists in each room. “I think in so many ways he is a martyr in the sense that we remember MLK for what he is, what his significance was, and during the Civil Rights movement. But again, I think at the core of who he was, he was an activist. He was an advocate for change. He was sometimes what some would call a trouble-maker.”
Leonard said he thought the interaction of volunteers with children was really important and that he hoped it would make a lasting impression. “I hope that our students can understand that 60-plus years later that racism still exists, both systemically and structurally and that there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Leonard said.
You can see posts by MLK Day of Service volunteers at #uncavlmlk2017.
- by Kari Barrows, Dec. '16 graduate