“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” These famous words by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are being taken to heart by the University of Utah Bennion Center through the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 19.
The MLK Day of Service is a Bennion Center Saturday Service Project and part of the greater Martin Luther King Jr. Week happening at the U during the week of Jan. 19-24. The University of Utah Office for Equity and Diversity lists the full schedule of activities for MLK Week on their website. This is the 35th year of the U’s MLK Week.
According to Bryce Williams, a student programs coordinator at the Bennion Center, “The Bennion Center has participated in MLK week officially for about five years. The MLK Saturday Service Project is the kickoff to the MLK week and is an opportunity for individuals to honor the legacy of Dr. King and spend their morning serving the community.”
Junior Erika Gee is a social work major and the current student chair for the Bennion Center MLK Saturday Service Project. This Saturday Service Project is especially significant to Gee because “it takes after Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy.” She said, “This year we really tried to focus on humans and services pertaining specifically to the wonderful organizations that are working with people in our community who might need help.”
The MLK Day of Service offers 11 service projects in several different locations around Salt Lake City that student volunteers can choose to participate in, from serving breakfast to the clients at the Ronald McDonald House, to helping out at the Crossroads Urban Center and Crossroads Thrift Store.
Student volunteers will meet at their selected project location at 8:30 am and will be fed a breakfast provided by the Bennion Center before beginning their project. After volunteers participate in service for about 2 or 3 hours, Williams states that they have “a chance to reflect on the service project with other volunteers.”
“I think one of the biggest things that I get out of these Saturday Service Projects is that I realize a lot of people who come to volunteer for the morning may not have interest in volunteering further while others do,” Gee said. “People volunteer for various purposes, but my hope is that everyone can take what they learn from the organizations and do something with that knowledge in the future. That is why we have been implementing group reflections at the Saturday Service Projects for the past couple of years.”
Reflecting on and learning from service experiences are important to the Bennion Center’s overall mission and dedication to the community. “It’s more than just ‘we show up, we volunteer, we leave,'” Gee emphasized. “We want volunteers to ask ‘what can I learn from this and how has this experience helped me to understand the community a little bit better?’”
“For me, it’s all about community — whether that’s on campus or the Greater Salt Lake,” Gee said.
If you plan to volunteer at the MLK Saturday Service Project, Gee recommended wearing close-toed shoes and checking the weather in advance, especially if you are participating in a service project outdoors. “We do have organizations where we are doing some lifting like the Utah Food Bank and For The Kids. Another project with Big Brothers Big Sisters involves driving around and distributing flyers and posters for National Mentoring Month in order to help get more mentors for the organization since there are a lot of youth that don’t have mentors who are signed up to get them.”
Whether you arrive to volunteer as an individual or with a student group, you will be sure to meet other student volunteers that share similar interests on campus and in the community.
250 people are anticipated to come out and volunteer at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Volunteer spots are still available for several of the projects, and you can register here. For more information, students are encouraged to reach out to Bryce Willams at firstname.lastname@example.org.