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MLK Day: making a difference to 3,000 Chicago students

For many people in America, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day off, but at City Year it is a day on and for good reason. Nothing seems more fitting to celebrate the life of a man who served others then to host a day of service in his honor. Each MLK Day, City Year AmeriCorps members across the country engage in service.

This year, City Year Chicago’s Civic Engagement team organized a spectacular day of service at the Marie Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago’s Archer Heights community. Larger than any of the schools that City Year Chicago serves, Curie has almost 3,000 students enrolled in the ninth through twelfth grades. Curie was the perfect school to get an interior makeover on MLK Day this year. We planned 41 projects throughout the school! Service projects ranged from painting walls and murals to building benches. We welcomed nearly 1,000 volunteers to provide the ‘people power’ for our service.

Our volunteers were from a variety of places and organizations. Some were City Year alumni who broke out their red jackets to show pride for their service year. Others were current AmeriCorps members from other organizations, employees of City Year’s corporate partners, and members of the community, looking give back on their day off.

I served as a project coordinator, leading 22 volunteers from the National Health Corps, another AmeriCorps organization. My volunteers were enthusiastic to give back and a joy to lead! We painted accent walls and murals in classrooms. The outcome was beautiful. Many other classrooms also received painted accent walls and murals as well. Other volunteers painted pillars in each hallway with different colors to represent the different class subjects. Each project was meaningful to the school and had been thoughtfully planned with the faculty to make sure the school received the service they needed. For example, we painted pillars in one hallway pink to remember a teacher who had recently lost her life to breast cancer.

One thing that stuck with me from the day was a story that Curie’s Principal, Ms. Tingwall shared during the opening ceremony. On Friday, after seeing over 230 City Year Chicago AmeriCorps members preparing for the MLK Day of service, a student asked Ms. Tingwall if all the projects in the school would actually be finished by the time students returned to school on Tuesday. After she promised the work would be finished, the student said “Ms. Tingwall, I want you to hear me say I can’t wait to come back to school on Tuesday.”

This was incredibly meaningful to me, not only as someone who works in a school, but also as a recent high school graduate. I’m not going to lie, my friends and me were rarely excited for school, and usually it was quite the opposite. To me, if we could make that one student excited to come back to school, it was all worth it. On Monday, City Year and all our volunteers helped realize Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.

More photos are available on City Year Chicago’s MLK Day Flickr Album!

Andrea Bryant is an AmeriCorps Member on the Wrigley Team serving at the Howe School of Excellence in the Austin Community on Chicago’s West Side.

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