UChicago Community Honors MLK with Day of Service

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, the University of Chicago celebrated and honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with community-focused service projects across the city, during its annual MLK Day of Service event. More than 300 volunteers, including students, staff, faculty, alumni, and parents, donated their time and skills to activities on the UChicago campus and at 15 of its community partner organizations. The day was one of service and reflection as the University Community Service Center (UCSC) and the UChicago Laboratory and Charter schools fostered an environment designed to ignite a deeper commitment to serving others beyond the day.

In collaboration with the nonprofit Rise Against Hunger and Kraft Heinz Company Foundation, the largest MLK Day of Service project was the micronutrient meal packaging activity held in Lab’s Judd Hall. More than 125 volunteers packaged upwards of 32,000 meals that will be delivered to developing countries. Participants included staff, undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, members of the University of Chicago Police Department UCPD, and many of the University’s youngest volunteers, Lab and UChicago Charter students and their families. As young as five and six years old, these ambassadors stood on chairs just to reach the buckets and bags to fill them. 

Volunteer Amy Liszt has two students enrolled at the Lab Schools, seven-year-old Julie and nine-year old Noah, and has made the meal packaging service project a family event for the second year. “It’s such a great activity for the students – a tangible activity with a beginning, a middle and an end that keeps them engaged and excited. They are learning that what they are doing is helping those who are less fortunate.”

UChicago third-year Biology student Elise Lemp was also back for her second year. While she enjoyed giving back and the sense of accomplishment, she was most inspired working side-by-side with the young Lab students; “Seeing the little ones making a difference is what makes the day special. This is a fun, feel-good way to work together and teach them the power of service,” Lemp said.

The UChicago Laboratory Schools’ mission extends beyond academics and into developing community-minded, compassionate students. Hannah Roche, Service Learning Coordinator for the Lab Schools, works diligently to find projects that enrich students’ perspectives on the world. “We are constantly looking to expand and broaden the educational experience of students. We are looking to provide them with experiences they can take with them the rest of their lives,” said Roche. “This event brings the entire campus together - it’s not just a day off, but a way to honor King’s legacy and teach our students how to work with others to achieve a common goal.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Amy Chan, Director of UCSC, part of the Office of Civic Engagement, and Associate Dean of Students. “The Office of Civic Engagement is an entry point for students, faculty and staff to become more involved and connected to the community. The Day of Service is about bringing awareness to various social issues and how each of us is able to help others. We hope that through this event more people are inspired to stay involved with us and our partner organizations, and continue to give back.

Volunteers at Chicago Youth Programs in Washington Park.

Although the Rise Against Hunger meal packaging activity was the largest single service project, another 180 volunteers learned about the missions of 14 University partner organizations that all have goals to improve lives and provide opportunities for those in most need. These partner organizations are:

  • By the Hand, Chicago Youth Programs, Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, Polished Pebbles, and William H. Ray Elementary School, which are all dedicated to helping children prepare for bright and prosperous futures. 
  • Coppin Community Center, Featherfirst, and Prosperity House Inc., which work to eradicate homelessness. 
  • DuSable Museum of African-American History and eta Creative Arts Foundation, which preserve and present African-American culture through exhibits and performances.
  • Jackson Park Advisory Council, which preserves the historic park that anchors the University’s campus and surrounding neighborhood. 
  • First Presbyterian Church, Future Ties, Hope Works Community Development and SkyART, which provide safe places for students and residents to commune, play and learn. 

Day of Service projects included organizing props rooms and costumes, filing and sorting, and painting gathering spaces. “These organizations are making vital contributions to the community,” explained Chan. “The day of service encourages participants to ask themselves, ‘What can I do for others?’”

The day culminated at Ida Noyes Hall with lunch and a keynote dialogue on “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” featuring poet, playwright, actor, activist, and alumna Kristiana Rae Colón, AB’07 and fellow alumna Cosette Hampton, AB’17, an organizer with the Black Youth Project 100 and University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy 2019 MPP candidate. This stirring conversation further inspired participants to stay involved to help alleviate many of the community’s social justice issues. As Gillian, a seven-year-old second grader at Lab, declared, “People are homeless and hungry, and we’re going to help them.”

January 23, 2018

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