Middlebury students celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, Jan. 22 with the College’s annual MLK Day of Service. For more than 15 years, the event, organized by the Community Engagement Office and Anderson Freeman Resource Center, has provided students with the opportunity to participate in service that addresses community-identified needs.
Service projects are designed to make students think critically about their role in the local and global communities. This year, volunteers partook in four different community engagement programs that reflected the College’s desire to spark social change.
“Students who participate in the day of service learn about their community beyond campus, and reflect on how their volunteering experience plays a part in both limiting and enhancing structural change,” said Elle Bacon, the College’s AmeriCorps VISTA member and the coordinator of this year’s event.
One group of students visited Project Independence, a care center for elderly adults in Middlebury, where they discussed Dr. King and shared memories of the Civil Rights movement. Students also conducted an activity using Google Earth to locate places that center residents had lived and been. The exercise afforded volunteers the opportunity to spend time conversing with the adults, who shared stories that ranged from visiting churches in Jerusalem to climbing Mount Fuji in Japan.
“It was a very intimate experience,” Maya Peers Nitzberg ’16.5 said. “They would get very excited; they would talk about [their experiences], and they would share their experiences.”
Others traveled to the Hannaford Processing Center where they peeled, cut and blanched over 150 pounds of carrots for the Addison County Food Shelf at HOPE, or Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects. The food shelf serves over 600 individuals in Addison County per month by collecting and distributing surplus from local supermarkets and food stores.
“It’s different than volunteer work I have done with other shelters because rather than serving meals, HOPE provides food items for the families to cook themselves,” said Deanna Rae Hammel ’19. “They provide support while still allowing a sense of independence, which I think is an important step in these families being lifted out of poverty.”
Another set of volunteers facilitated a JusTalks discussion with a social studies class at Middlebury Union High School. The conversation centered around diversity in order to demonstrate the importance of understanding different backgrounds and perspectives.
“It made them more open and better advocates because they were exposed to what we showed them,” Raphael Mettle ’18 said.
A final group of students traveled to the College St. Children’s Center where they baked goods for the center to distribute during snack time in the coming winter months.
The day concluded with a reflection dinner at the newly opened Anderson Freeman Resource Center. Students partook in a discussion regarding King’s views of compassion, and agreed that while the services they provided were small, they were very much needed.
“You have to take an active role in making our community better,” Mettle said.
“We are having a reflection dinner after the service projects to ‘hit home’ a more impactful message beyond ‘do service because it’s good,’” said Bacon. “Middlebury needs to continue to have a larger conversation, with a diversity of voices, as to the role of MLK Day and MLK Day of Service on campus.”
The Anderson Freeman Resource Center and Community Engagement office plan to continue to work together to provide more service opportunities for students and continue conversations about diversity on campus.