Volunteers help honor MLK with day of service

January 16, 2012 11:48:26 PM PST
Hundreds of people in the Bay Area paid tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a variety of community service projects.

Instead of seeing patients on Monday, Dr. Raj Bhandari picked up a paintbrush. Every stroke added to the beautification of Ocala Middle School in San Jose.

"I am actually painting a mural here which is giving a healthy message to the children of the cafeteria and the message is eat right, drink water," said Bhandari.

Some 300 employees from Kaiser Permanente painted, scraped and cleaned. It was a team effort on this day of service honoring the civil rights leader.

"Dr. King was the epitome of trying to improve the health of a nation and when we are out here today, we are trying to make a special place for our kids to grow up just like Dr. King would have wanted," said Susan Smarr, M.D., from Kaiser Permanente.

At another gathering in Palo Alto, it was the children themselves who best describe what it is to life a life that celebrates Dr. King's legacy.

"I listen to other people to see what they think about how they feel, like about their opinion," said Dalila Whetstone, 9 years old.

"It's like helping the community, but like also helping yourself become a better person," said Miguel Moreno, 11 years old.

This is the second year Lytton Plaza in Palo Alto has provided a place for families, not just volunteer for a day, but to get involved in a future of doing good.

"When you get sucked into tree planting, you get sucked into actually going out and doing a beach clean-up. That's something that becomes a foundation for a life of community service," said Yaiway Yeh from Palo Alto.

People who have studied the life lessons Dr. King shared with the world, say what happens on this day of service is a slice of his dream come true.

"I think he would be immensely pleased at this gathering and see people going out into the community and trying to help," said Tenisha Armstrong, a Stanford University researcher.

The applause that came at the end of the day was certainly well deserved when you consider about 300 Kaiser employees spent about seven hours at the school helping out. That equals about 2,100 hours of volunteer service at this one location alone.

Service in the East Bay

For many people, the day off was all about hard work. As one person put it, Martin Luther King Day should be about service, not the sales at the local shopping mall. All around the East Bay, the day was a time to give back to the local community. In Oakland, there were several events.

At the gardens at Lake Merritt, 400 volunteers spent the morning doing long-overdue maintenance, like pulling weeds and clearing debris. It was a diverse work force and included members of Occupy Oakland, various service groups and local families with children.

"We're helping for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to get outside and help the community," said Skylar Horiuchi, a kid volunteer.

"It's like everyone coming together to help make the garden better and everyone becoming like a nice, big group of friends," said Sierra Kim, a teen volunteer.

On 31st Street in West Oakland, volunteers planted trees, a project that will not only brighten the neighborhood, but one that doubles as a science experiment.

"What we're doing is we're planting these drought tolerant trees, showing the benefits of water as they relate to drought and particular contaminants," said Kemba Shakur from Urban Releaf.

"I think when people are involved in their communities, that they're safer. And this concept of community service and fighting violence is pretty important for us in this city," said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.

In Richmond, volunteers focused on renovating six homes along the Sixth Street corridor. They are from Lions Clubs all around the East Bay.

"One of the great things about this neighborhood is you have people of a variety of ethnic groups and they're talking together about how they can make their own neighborhood better," said Michael McDowell from the Berkeley Lions Club.

Cheryl Vaughn's home is one of those getting a facelift, she thinks Dr. King would approve.

"His heart would leap. It would be like 'Yeah, this is the dream. This is what I see,'" said Vaughn.

The numbers of volunteers were up dramatically this year in many of the places we visited, such as in Oakland. They had 100 more volunteers in the gardens this year than they did last year. It's an effort that's clearly growing.