EWU collaborates with local nonprofits for MLK Day of Service


Photo by Shawntelle Moncy

Participants and volunteers for MLK Day of Service.

By Katie Dunn, Staff Writer

A crowd gathered outside the Spokane Convention Center on Jan. 19 preparing for the Unity March in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the kickoff event for the MLK Day of Service.

For a large scale event like this, preparations had to begin months in advance, said Eagles Volunteers program coordinator Gabrielle Ryan

Members of the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) started getting in touch with nonprofits like the House of Charity, the Mission Community Outreach Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center back in October, said Ryan. It was a group effort sending out the initial emails and communicating with the nonprofits for at least one hour weekly.

Ryan said the OCE’s goal when planning was to reach out to their community partners to see who was available.

“Since we do it every year I think they kind of plan ahead knowing that on MLK Day there will be a day of service,” said Ryan.

MLK Day is a federal holiday, so schools, post offices, banks and numerous nonprofits are normally closed. For this year’s day of service, 12 nonprofits stayed open so students could come and give a hand where needed, said Ryan.

The nonprofits that the OCE partnered with focus on women, children, the elderly and the hungry. At these nonprofits, students were expected to clean, organize donations and help prepare meals.

Ryan said the OCE sends out large groups of volunteers for a few hours during these planned single days of service because it gets students involved in volunteer work quickly, which might lead them to volunteer again.

In 2014, Spokane’s MLK Day planning committee, chaired by MLK Family Center director Freda Gandy, decided to add a service component to the day’s events for the first time, said director of community engagement Molly Ayers in an email.

“I worked on a subcommittee with faculty and staff from our Africana Studies Program and fellow AmeriCorps from Spokane to plan the first annual service event,” said Ayers. “We had a huge response from EWU students. Last year, over 200 individuals participated — 140 were EWU students.”

Ayers said Gandy wanted to involve more college students in the event this year, so for the 2015 MLK Day of Service, EWU collaborated with Spokane Falls Community College, Whitworth University, Washington State University and the local AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members.

The MLK Day of Service is part of United We Serve, President Barack Obama’s national call to service initiative that began January 2013.

“Whereas most universities recognize MLK Day as a day of service, the city actually recognizes that services should be incorporated into the MLK Day festivities,” said Ryan. “This will continue on for many years to come, and hopefully we’ll always be a part of the city’s planning of it.”

The OCE began advertising the event through social media and fliers around campus in November, hoping to immediately catch students’ attention, said Ryan. The majority of EWU volunteers came from clubs, organizations, residence halls and Greek chapters signing up to take over an entire site for their group.

There were 150 EWU students volunteering at all but four of the nonprofits, which were being covered by the other universities and the AmeriCorps.

Whitworth’s Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement sent students to Hearth Homes and the the Transitional Living Center, which offers shelter to women and children.

Ryan said this year WSU athletics and Black Student Union are driving up to be part of the MLK festivities.

According to WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement, WSU students took part in light cleaning and maintenance work at the East Central Community Center in Spokane.

AmeriCorp and AmeriCorp VISTA members planned to serve Saint Margaret Shelter on MLK Day as part of their service term, said Ryan.

“It’s hard getting 250 people around to nonprofits,” said Ryan.

The OCE rented two of EWU’s recreational buses to transport 48 volunteers. Along with transportation, they paid for food.

“Originally we were going to give them T-shirts, but as college kids, free food is always more important,” said Ryan.