Community service, past and present

Monday January 21, 2013

Today we honor the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist pastor revered for his promotion of nonviolence and dedication to the advancement of civil rights in the United States. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while visiting Memphis, Tenn., to fight for the rights of low-paid sanitation workers.

Today’s also the day the nation celebrates the inauguration of President Barack Obama to his second presidential term.Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were officially sworn in during a small ceremony on Sunday. The public portion of the celebration, which is expected to draw 800,000 to our nation’s capital, is set for today.

It’s likely that the president will invoke Dr. King’s words during his speech. According to a recent article by Darlene Superville, an Associated Press reporter, Obama and his family have performed community service work on the King holiday in each of the past four years.

In Vermont, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing recently opened the Vermont African-American Heritage Trail. It features 10 cultural sites throughout the state that commemorate the history of African-Americans. One nearby is Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, in Manchester.

Here in Bennington, there will also be opportunities to volunteer, including The "I Have a Dream" Community Service Day to be held at the Vermont Army National Guard Bennington Armory from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers will work alongside representatives from AmeriCorps, which has partnered with Southwestern Vermont Health Care to put on the event.

Veronica Ariel, one of two volunteers from AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America coordinating the event, said three projects lined up are sorting donations for the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless, assisting in the kitchen for the Bennington Meals on Wheels program, and painting at the First Baptist Church.

Volunteers will have the opportunity to make thank-you cards for National Guard members, activity books for patients in children’s hospitals, or cards for residents of nursing homes.

Assisting will be students with the Alliance for Community Transformations Youth Ambassador Program, which includes four students from Mount Anthony Union High School, one from Grace Christian School, and one from Arlington Memorial High School. Organizers said the students are learning how bring health care education to those in their age group with a focus on youth perspectives.

Community service to better the lives of others is a fitting tribute to King’s mission.

As King said during his Local 1199 Salute to Freedom speech to union workers in March 1968, shortly before his untimely death, "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

~Michelle Karas


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