Author: Mariko Powers and Gabe Shapiro
On Jan. 23, Occidental students joined a nationwide commitment to service as part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service Challenge. Approximately 400 Oxy students and faculty gathered to donate their time to 24 organizations around Los Angeles in a full day of community service.
The volunteers, organized primarily by the Oxy administration, divided into groups and were dispatched to sites all over the city. The project sponsors ranged from AIDS Project Los Angeles to the L.A. Milagro Allegro Community Garden. Students were assigned a variety of jobs including cleaning up Venice Beach, writing letters to the elderly, and making hammocks for chimps.
The Opening Ceremony of the event featured speeches by ASOC President Andrew DeBlock (senior), President Veitch and an original musical performance from Kainoa King (first-year).
President Veitch voiced his wish that the students would undergo the “transformative experience” he had while volunteering on Los Angeles’ Skid Row as a teenager. “I’m hoping this kind of experience will do the same for you,” he said of the Day of Service. “Not only give you a better awareness of the kinds of needs that exist in our community, but also to view your education at Occidental as an opportunity to gain the wherewithal to really respond effectively to those needs.”Shannon Hurley (senior), one of the student organizers of the event, said in an e-mail interview, “I think the best part about organizing the MLK Challenge was the opportunity to work with a group of students who were just as excited as I was to bring a service day to campus.”
President Veitch suggested over the summer that the school apply for the grant that funded the event, awarded by the Corporation for National & Community Service. They decided the MLK Challenge format, a project model developed by Jenny Koehn at Appalachian State University, would most effectively mobi/lize Occidental students in the community.
Mobilizing those students, though, was not the easiest of tasks. Organizers faced challenges in implementing the event.
“Pulling this together was really, really nuts. I think the hardest part was having to work within the restrictions of the grant,” MLK Challenge Student Committee Chair Aliza Goldsmith (sophomore) said in an e-mail interview.
Goldsmith said that the day instilled civic engagement and motivated students to do more service work in the future. “I have been approached by a ton of people telling me that they were planning on continuing to do work with the community partners they had met. It was so motivating to see that students had formed relationships and will hopefully get out of this ‘Oxy bubble’ and get to know different areas of our community,” Goldsmith said.
She also expressed her wishes that the day would become a tradition at Oxy, and that volunteers’ efforts and experiences would herald in a new era of service at the school. “I hope this is the lasting impact, forming relationships with different community members and becoming more aware of who we are and the space that we are occupying,” she said.
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