Even though most college students may shy away from early hours, cold weather and physical labor on a Saturday morning, that’s exactly how Julia Lang wanted to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“People usually think about it as a day off instead of a day on,” she said.
Lang, who is studying student service administration, helped organize Oregon State University’s MLK Day of Service, which connected about 150 student volunteers with community organizations for service projects.
“The point of education is all about educating yourself about the world at large, which includes the community,” Lang said.
She described college as a “bubble” that often is isolated from the community outside. She said the Center for Student Engagement, the department on campus for which she works and which was responsible for organizing the event, works to pop that bubble.
“The privilege of having degrees is giving back to the community,” Lang said.
And most of the volunteers were excited to spend their time honoring the civil rights leader by donating their time.
“I figured Martin Luther King Jr. Day is all about celebrating diversity and taking care of people in the community,” said OSU PhD student Debbie Christel. “My partner and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Saturday.”
Christel spent the frigid morning spreading gravel and bark around the youth healing garden at Trillium Family Services on Highway 20.
Although OSU’s Center for Student Engagement has held events around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday previously, this year the volunteer effort increased more than tenfold.
“Last year, only 10 or 12 folks participated,” said Emily Bowling, civic engagement and service coordinator for the Center for Student Engagement.
The reason for the increase, Bowling said, is that the department got a makeover this past year. This time last year, the office was called the Community Service Center and was completely student-run. Bowling is the first to hold her staff position, which adds consistency for community partners.
“I’m sure it’s been frustrating for community partners to work with us in the past,” she said. “Now we have a stable front door for those who want to recruit student” volunteers.
And community partners noticed the difference.
A few volunteers showed up about 7:30 a.m. Saturday to prepare breakfast at Stone Soup, operating out of First Christian Church.
“They get the superstar badges,” said Tim Stover, a supervisor for Stone Soup and liaison with OSU. “This is extra ... the numbers are better this year.”
Volunteers bustled around the kitchen, helping to make breakfast pizza, roasting potatoes and cutting up fruit for anybody who needed a free meal.
“I did this because I’m a senior and I really want to do something meaningful,” said Susana Rodriguez, 27, as she whisked eggs in a large metal bowl and referred to the work that King did to serve others.
“I had the time and I wanted to do something to connect to what he did. He did a lot of things for other people.”