Highlanders help Southwest Virginia during MLK Jr. Day of Service
Small acts of kindness and record participation resulted in a fulfilling day of service for the Radford University family on January 20, 2020.
Four hundred and twenty student, faculty and staff volunteers dispersed across the New River and Roanoke valleys as part of the University’s seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
The day-long event, involving 29 separate service sites and projects, was organized by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).
Volunteers started work early, some traveling to Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem. Members of the women’s soccer and softball clubs were on duty for the morning shift at the distribution center, where thousands of food, beverage and toiletry items are regularly donated and then distributed to food pantries, rescue missions and other service organizations.
Quality Assurance Coordinator James Andrews applauded the students for their selfless service, spoke to their inspiring efforts and then put them to work.
“There is great joy in helping another human being,” Andrews told the volunteers. “When you come here, you are doing a good service.”
Freshman Isabelle Mazariego worked in an assembly line to sort and fill cardboard boxes with donations. One by one, they inspected expiration dates and grouped the items based on different categories.
“It warms your heart to give back,” said Mazariego, a criminal justice major. “Being able to work hands-on like this has been amazing and so rewarding.”
Mazariego’s club soccer teammate Emily Martinez worked up a sweat hauling the boxes across the warehouse.
“This has definitely been a great workout,” she said.
A sophomore marketing and finance double major, Martinez volunteered during last year’s MLK Jr. Day of Service and was compelled to do so again this year.
“It’s a very inspiring experience, and I’m glad our campus encourages students to give back,” she said.
The day of service, Martinez added, allowed her to spend quality time with her teammates.
“We spend a lot of time on the field competing,” she said. “So, it’s special to work together like this to positively impact the community.”
Further down the road in Roanoke, Radford University Carilion (RUC) students spent the day at the Roanoke Rescue Mission, the Ronald McDonald House, the Presbyterian Community Center and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
At the Roanoke Rescue Mission, RUC Assistant Professor of Biology Chet Bhatta, Ph.D. reflected on the influential figure responsible for inspiring the service day.
“Today, we wanted to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s great work for this country,” Bhatta said. “As a part of RUC, we wanted to come together and give back to the community as a way to honor his community service.”
In the New River Valley, volunteers collected food donations at supermarkets, helped repair housewares at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and packed food at the Radford Worship Center.
At the Radford-Fairlawn Daily Bread food kitchen, volunteers were joined by Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. to prepare and serve a hot meal for visitors.
In reflecting on the incredible impact of the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, President Hemphill said, “In 2014, this meaningful event began with 50 students, faculty and staff eager to give back to our community, while honoring the legacy of Dr. King. This year, a record number of Highlanders participated throughout the New River and Roanoke valleys with Radford’s impact being felt in very real and profound ways.”
Throughout the day, Radford Early Learning Center was bustling with activity as young children laughed and learned with the older volunteers. They read books, worked on crafts and played with plenty of toys. While the youngsters napped, junior Maya Anderson and freshman Taylor Fitzgerald took down Christmas decorations displayed in the building’s hallway.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the kids. They’re very energetic, and we have a lot of fun together,” Anderson said. “I want to go into pediatrics, so working with children is a passion of mine.”
Young children also interacted with student volunteers on Radford University’s campus during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Camp for kindergarten through sixth-grade students. The camp has been hosted by McConnell Library staff for several years as part of the annual event. This year, the library partnered with students in The Schoolhouse Living-learning Community for aspiring educators.
Assistant Professor and Director of Experiential Learning Matt Grimes, Ph.D., who helped create Schoolhouse, said the partnership with the camp was a natural fit.
“For me, it’s exciting to get our students involved in their professions as early as possible,” Grimes said. “The fact that they are learning and serving at the same time today is a wonderful concept to see come to life.”
In the library, campers rotated through different stations, such as crafts, painting, reading and board games. They dined in Dalton Hall, caught a planetarium show and ended the day in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, where volunteers provided entertainment with bowling, Wallyball, video games and inflatables.
“I’m just excited to see the kids being happy,” said senior social work major Aubrey Kelly, III, who played basketball with several of the campers. “I remember how much fun I had playing with older kids growing up, so I want to be that kind of role model to them.”
Other on-campus service projects included making blankets for Project Linus and writing letters to military service members and on behalf of Amnesty International. In the CDI office, student, faculty and staff volunteers knitted and crocheted hats for babies through the Ronald McDonald organization and winter gear for Radford University students. More than 50 scarves, hats and headbands were made and displayed around the campus fountain on January 22 for students needing an extra layer of warmth.
The volunteer activities culminated in the evening with a special social in the Bonnie where volunteers and organizers reflected on the successful day of service and solidarity with the MLK Service Award presented to Sarah Klein.
“We are so thankful that our Radford University family united to serve the community we live in, we learn from and we love,” said Buffy Ruffin, the assistant director for CDI.
President Hemphill added, “Without question, Highlanders embody Dr. King’s caring and giving spirit each and every day.”