MLK celebration brings together campus, community and businesses

In honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., student volunteers from Penn State New Kensington and other Penn State campuses in western Pennsylvania took on community service projects in Sharon, Pa. Billed as Make it a Day On, Not a Day Off, the activities were part of the University’s celebration of King. Jan. 20 was a federal holiday, and there were no classes.

The multi-campus community service project is an annual event that moves around the region. Penn State Shenango was the host campus this year. Lauren Blum, assistant to the director of student affairs, accompanied 14 New Kensington students: Yousef Alnaimi, Donnaja Ratliff, Samantha Muhhuku, Sandra Muhhuku, Zack Wolford, Anthony Maiolo, Kayla Dowling, Ross Jubic, Lauren Smith, Marissa Russo, Chelsea Leake, Ashley Mandich, Alex Pedder and Mikaela Dunnegan; to the Shenango campus. They joined 60 of their counterparts from the Penn State campuses of Beaver, DuBois, Fayette, Greater Allegheny and Shenango, and traveled in groups to help with the daily activities of various community organizations in the greater Sharon area, including Shenango Valley YMCA, Children's Center of Mercer County, Salvation Army, Buhl Recreational Center, Riverview Manor (an assistant living facility) and AWARE, a victim services agency.

“Penn State encourages the community service aspect of the holiday," said Blum, who holds a master’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “Students volunteered to give up their day off at school to assist the organizations with cleaning, painting, organizing -- whatever needed to be done.”

Dowling, a freshman agricultural sciences major from Greensburg, was a part of group that washed walls at the Chaver’s Community Center, which houses YMCA programs. She seized the opportunity to give back to the community and had fun while doing it.

“I learned that community service doesn't have to be a lot of hard work,” said Dowling, who is involved in numerous extracurricular activities on campus. “The simplest jobs can make a big difference.”

The celebration of the life of and works of King continued the next day when students, faculty and staff came together with Hightower Scholars Inc. and the community, local businesses and neighborhood churches. 

"Celebration of Unity" featured a fair on volunteering at nonprofit organizations, the film “42 – The Jackie Robinson Story,” a potluck dinner and musical performances. The highlight of the evening was the lighting of a unity candle by members of the campus, community, local businesses and neighborhood churches.

Diane Hightower, executive director of Hightower Scholars, a nonprofit organization, and Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs at the campus, developed the multimedia program for the 85th anniversary of King's birth.

Nonprofits groups at the fair included the Alle-Kiski Hope Center, American Red Cross, Westmoreland County Food Bank and Faith in Action.

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Last Updated January 29, 2014