Western students serve community for MLK Day
Photo by: 
Caitlin Gleason

As Kat Hebda awoke on Monday, she didn’t grab her skis to hit the slopes. She didn’t hit the snooze button and she didn’t decide to sleep in.

Instead of taking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off from school at Western Colorado University, she chose to use her time and volunteer in honor of the civil rights leader.

Hebda and 21 other site leaders arrived early to the University Center Ballroom on Western’s campus to make sure everything was ready for volunteers as they arrived.

“I was excited to meet new people and spend time with friends while learning about some of the nonprofits in the valley, and all the while realizing that I am so fortunate to serve in a place that allows me to find wholesome people wherever I go,” said Hebda.

Before breaking in groups to serve the community, assistant professor of psychology Salif Mahamane spoke about the civil rights movement and King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

“In (King’s) iconic speech, he said, ‘From the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, let freedom ring,’” Mahamane recalled. “He talked to us from 56 years ago. He looked through time and saw us here.”

After the inspirational speech, Morgan Milmore left the volunteers with some motivating words of her own.

“With so much grief and despair seemingly circling around us, we have chosen to come together to honor Dr. King, a man who teaches us that it is precisely when we come together that the pockets of good are exposed, and that they are ever expanding,” she said.

With that, the 144 volunteers set out into the community to serve more than 20 nonprofits in both Gunnison and Crested Butte. Each volunteer location had one site leader that oversaw the project and made sure everyone knew what they were doing in order to finish the tasks in a timely manner. Some volunteers walked to their service sites — such as the Tenderfoot Child and Family Development Center and the FreeCycle headquarters on campus — while others drove in Western vans to locations around the valley.

This year’s MLK Day of Service — the second — grew significantly compared to last year.

“We had around six community service sites for MLK Day of Service last year. The number of sites increased to over 20 this year,” said Jonathan Stubblefield, a resident director on campus and one of the professional staff members who helped coordinate the event. “Structurally, the event was fairly similar as last year. Both started with a campus speaker and an interactive presentation about nonviolence and the beloved community to reflect on Dr. King’s message. One other difference was that we served at a few locations in Crested Butte this year, so it was great to broaden the impact to other parts of the valley.”

A common theme at every service site this year was the snow. Even as it was snowing, volunteers made sure that the work nonprofits needed done was completed. The volunteers made sure that the snow on sidewalks was shoveled along with chipping ice if needed.

Some of the snow made its way inside the service sites such as Tenderfoot. Dana Potts had the task of cleaning the baseboards and walls where snow and dirt accumulated from the little tykes. She explained why she chose to serve on her day off.

“I had a great time at the fall day of service last year. I met a bunch of people, and I found out I really liked to be involved with the community,” said Potts. “Participating in something that is bigger than yourself is pretty neat.”

Another project to help a large part of the community was a food drive for the Gunnison Country Food Pantry at the entrances of Walmart and City Market. More than 10 bins of non-perishable food items were collected.

As the service day came to a close, reflections on the service to the community were thought about. One of King’s quotes — “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” — stood out.

Annie Westbury, another professional staff member at Western who helped make the service day possible, shared her thoughts on serving the community.

“I believe it is a part of our civic duty to help our neighbors out, whether it be the elders, the animals, the children, the historians, the environment, the handicap, the immigrant community, the list goes on,” said Westbury. “It gets us out of our daily routine and makes us feel grateful. What better feeling in the world other than gratitude? That is why it is important to serve.”