March 01, 2019
With wheelbarrows and pitchforks in hand, a small group of University of Delaware students went to work cleaning up plots in the Fairfield Park community garden in Newark on Saturday, Feb. 23. Although it was an overcast and brisk day, it didn’t dampen the opportunity to connect with the local community through service.
“I really wanted to interact with the environment,” said Iris Perez, a sophomore studying environmental studies. “I’m not really familiar with Newark, even though I am from Delaware. I wanted to feel more a part of the city of Newark, instead of just UD.”
This project was one of a handful in both Newark and Wilmington in which students participated as part of UD’s eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The national holiday honoring King is in January and many communities have a day of service on that day. But with many UD students away from Newark during Winter Session, the Division of Student Life and other campus organizations coordinate a day of service in February after spring semester begins.
The day of service began when a group of more than 150 student volunteers gathered in the West Lounge of the Perkins Student Center to reflect on King and their purpose for the day. Ted Davis, a professor with joint appointments in the Department of Africana Studies and the Department of Political Science and International Relations, delivered a keynote for this year’s theme: “Now is the time.”
Davis focused on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which King wrote while he sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, after he was arrested during a protest.
“His primary argument in the letter from Birmingham was that in the face of injustice one has the duty to fight for justice,” Davis said. He asked the group to think of the practical steps they can take every day to fight injustice and bring society closer to King’s dream of communities free of racism and poverty.
“At the end of the day I want you to devote yourself to King’s dream of establishing this beloved community by staying involved and committed,” Davis said.
The volunteer groups worked with Newark Parks and Recreation, UrbanPromise Wilmington, South Wilmington Planning Network, Sunday Breakfast Mission, Friendship House, Mary Campbell Center, Delaware Residential Reentry Center and Family Promise of New Castle Country. Each group volunteered about four hours with the various organizations.
In a large warehouse in Wilmington, one group of students were busy sorting, labeling and placing donated clothes in bins for charity. Eileen Taylor, warehouse assistant for Friendship House, said she was thankful for this group of volunteers.
Friendship house is very special, Taylor said, because the organization helped her get her life back together when she was homeless. The organization relies heavily on volunteers to operate.
Megan Pacitti, a senior studying linguistics and Spanish, decided to take on this service project with a few of the students she mentors through UD’s English Language Institute Cohort program — which helps international students integrate to an American campus. She was happy with what they accomplished that day and was glad her students were able to have this clothing bank experience as their introduction to community service.
“I’m glad I’m doing it and I’m glad they are getting the experience, too,” Pacitti said.
A few blocks over, another group of students were hard at work sorting donated school supplies and moving furniture, including desks, lockers and tables. Some of the space inside the Presbyterian Church-Our Savior was in the process of being converted into a schoolhouse.
Khadi Jackson, a first-year student studying human services, picked this service project because she is interested in working with urban youth. Volunteering with UrbanPromise offered a perfect opportunity to connect and give back to the black community, she said.
“This has been a great experience, because even though we are working behind the scenes moving things, eventually this is going to be a school,” Jackson said. “To know that we have impacted kids in a positive way, in the littlest way possible, is cool.”