Despite drop in volunteers, MLK Day of Service makes a difference in Houston

Even though there were less volunteers than last year, the UH community volunteered across Houston for the third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Saturday.

Projects ranged from cleaning up parks to packing cans at the Houston Food Bank to commemorate King’s legacy.

About 260 people participated, a drop from the 450 people who volunteered in 2015. Because of the shortage, some of the volunteer sites were canceled.

“We ended up cutting our project at Buffalo Bayou and our first anticipated site in the Third Ward,” Metropolitan Volunteer Program Director Chris Pinto said. “Thankfully we maintain very active relationships with our partners, and they were very understanding when we had to make that very difficult call.”

Pinto said the MLK committee wanted to showcase a variety of social issues going on in Houston.

“Whether it’s an environmental or sustainability issue, hunger and homelessness, education or poverty, we really just want to show all the different opportunities you can get involved to volunteer within Houston,” Pinto said.

At each site, students provided about two-and-a-half hours of service. After working the different sites, students reflected on how the day was for them and what they had learned.

“It’s been a good eye-opening experience for students to be able to go into a site, see the social issues that they’re experiencing and seeing how they can really start to get back in that way,” Center for Student Involvement Director Tina Powellson said.

This was biology sophomore Bryana Casilla’s first Day of Service, and she said it felt good to help the community.

“You’re willing and able, and there are not always people that can,” Casilla said. “So, if you can volunteer, definitely go out and just help others, because we’re all on this big planet together.”

The day of volunteering was also a first for engineering technology sophomore Aric Ilbeig, who said the day does not only involve race issues; it is also about volunteering and giving back like MLK did.

“Even if you’re not about racial injustice, just go out and help your community whenever you can,” Ilbeig said.

UH is continuing to honor MLK with a week of events.

“I always say this one, but you don’t have to wait for MLK Day or a Day of Service,” Pinto said. “You can give back at any point in time. There are so many great organizations you can do that with.”

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