A ‘day on, not off’ for some

By Christina Prignano

The day began at 8 a.m., but instead of going to class, students gathered for breakfast in the Curry Student Center (CSC) to begin Martin Luther King Jr. Day as “a day on, not off.”

From making “literacy kits” for preschoolers to cleaning out a basement at a local high school, student volunteers honored the civil rights leader Monday by working for seven different organizations across Boston.

“I think service and diversity are intermingled, especially in an urban environment,” said Caitlyn Keckeissen, a middler English education major who helped organize the service day as the former co-op for the Center of Community Service. “It’s great to see people come in and commit to service in honor of one man’s belief.”

At the breakfast for volunteers and organizers, Sara De Ritter, assistant director and program coordinator for the center, gave a short speech about the value of service and praised students for their hard work before they went to the different volunteer sites.

“Helping people is what this whole day is about, people don’t have the opportunities we have, so it’s important to give back,” said freshman behavioral neuroscience major Chelsea Mitchell, who was a site leader at Spontaneous Celebrations, an organization devoted to keeping cultural life alive in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. She said she wants to show students there is a place for leadership in community service.

Middler human services major Peter Sauro helped coordinate Monday’s activities, taking the reins at the start of his co-op at the center from Keckeissen.

Sauro said he hopes students “remember the service and dedication of Martin Luther King, and try to duplicate [it].”

At New Mission High School in Jamaica Plain, volunteers hung bulletin boards, organized clutter and cleared the basement for a new weight room. Stephanie Simmons, a freshman criminal justice major, was the site leader for the school.

Simmons said it is important to make connections with other students and the community.

“A lot of kids in Boston Public Schools don’t know there’s life out of high school,” she said.

Freshman pharmacy major Linh Dang spent the day moving boxes as well as decorating and hanging bulletin boards. She said she hoped her efforts were giving back to the community.

“Everything was sort of out of order,” Dang said of the school. “We helped organize.”

Schools were not the only ones to get help. Students volunteered for Generations Incorporated, an organization that connects senior citizens with young children. Others sorted clothes for AIDS Action and worked at the City on a Hill Charter School and Morville House, both in Northeastern’s neighborhood.

On the third floor of the CSC, students made “literacy kits” for Jumpstart, an organization devoted to working with preschoolers and their parents to give children the best possible foundation for future learning. The kits included books, tapes and activities that parents and students can use together.

Keckeissen helped out as a site leader for Jumpstart, and said she felt the day was a “great success.”

“We can’t measure success by the number of volunteers,” she said. “We’ve got students committed to the ideals and enthusiastic about service.”

There were 150 volunteers present and about 25 to 30 staff members, Suaro said.

Freshman international business major Odalis Polanco helped make alphabet stamps for the literacy kits. His past community service experience includes a trip to Honduras to help build homes, he said.

Polanco said he thought working on Martin Luther King Jr. day was particularly significant.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re here today. To follow his dream,” he said.

The Center of Community Service regularly holds service days like this one, and will host a volunteer fair Jan. 31 in the CSC.

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