Mariana Luna-Martinez still recalls vividly when, as a small child, she and her family lost all of their belongings in a fire, as did everyone else who lived in their apartment building. She also recalls how the community rallied around her family and helped them get back on their feet.
Luna-Martinez, now a junior Biology major at Montclair and a Bonner Leader, learned from her parents the importance of community service from a young age, so not surprisingly, this was her third year to volunteer for the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. “We always made sure we helped other people,” she says. “Those lessons and being brought up like that – that you volunteer not just specific days but every day…. It’s just those things that make me realize that MLK’s message is more than just going to help out for two to three hours.”
She and more than 230 Montclair students and alumni answered the call to give back, participating in Montclair’s MLK Day of Service on January 16 in a big way. Students gathered at University Hall for breakfast and to reflect on the words and messages of the slain civil rights leader before being deployed to various locations both on and off campus – in Montclair and the surrounding area – for their volunteer assignments, which included everything from making blankets and sandwiches for shelters to distributing fire safety information with the Montclair Fire Department.
Those gathered also viewed a recorded message from President Jonathan Koppell and Union Baptist Church Pastor William Freeman. The church in Orange is the site of one of Dr. King’s last speeches in 1968 just days before his assassination. Freeman recalled how the church was filled for Dr. King’s talk, where he conveyed a message about “a beloved community.” He urged people to “see ourselves as one big world,” Freeman said, adding that being real “humanitarians is what it’s all about.”
Koppell urged students to think about their call to service not just on MLK Day but throughout their lives. “I can’t wait to see the good things that you do, not just today, but in the years ahead,” he said in the video.
That message resonated with Keiva Edghill, a junior Biology major and Bonner Leader. She was delighted to see “people from my community being highlighted in a big way.”
When growing up, “I visited that church,” Edghill says. “Just seeing the pastor, it was easier for me to go into the day already knowing the mindset that I needed to be in to serve.”
It was her second time to volunteer for the MLK Day of Service. “For me this is a special day because my family and I always celebrate his birthday,” says Edghill who went with fellow volunteers to Camp YDP, which provides after-school and summer camp programs in Paterson. While there, they set up for a planned community luncheon and played with young children.
“It was really fun,” she says, recalling her days as a day-care volunteer at her church in Newark. “Seeing or visiting children just puts me in a great mood. We’re still the same; I remember doing the same things when I was younger.” Edghill says she played school, with a young girl playing the teacher role. “She was teaching me things. I told her, ‘You’re really smart.’ I don’t remember doing these things when I was her age.”
But Edghill says it was more than about fun and service, “It was also an opportunity to meet new people and to network; I got to network with the director of Camp YDP, and I’m thinking about going back to volunteer again.”
Ryan Breyta, a senior Journalism and Digital Media major and president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, volunteered at the Montclair Fire Department handing out fire safety information to local residents. It was his first time to participate in the MLK Day of Service.
“I definitely saw that Dr. King’s message about service was right, ‘You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.’ That’s what makes serving others special,” he says.
“Dr. King will forever be a man who fought for change and impacted the world around us. Although we are not quite where we want to be in regard to Dr. King’s vision for the world, we must continue the fight and legacy that he started day in and day out – not just on his day of remembrance.”
Volunteer Center Volunteer Coordinator Katharine Culp says Dr. King said it best when he said: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
“The service completed [on MLK Day] no matter how small it might seem, makes a big difference for our community partners and those they serve,” she says.
Student Luna-Martinez, who volunteered at the YWCA in Montclair where they assembled hygiene kits for clients of Family Promise of Essex County, a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, agrees. “I personally love community service,” she says, adding that people can be of service every day by doing simple things, such as “making food for a friend, giving them advice, checking up on them. Those things make a difference.”