With Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday and no school in session, Kaylin Moody had a pretty good idea what she would have been doing under normal circumstances:
“I’d probably be at home watching Netflix,” Kaylin, 17, a junior at Surry Central High, said of the popular Internet streaming service for movies and television shows.
Instead on Monday, Kaylin was joining 26 other students from five local high schools for a day-long Rotary Youth Peace Conference which included performing various tasks at the Helping Hands Foundation facility on Rockford Street in Mount Airy.
Helping Hands, an organization located in the former Shepherd’s House homeless shelter which offers food, clothing and other items to those in need, was a beehive of activity Monday as students divided into six different groups and adult volunteers worked throughout.
They sorted clothing, organized the food pantry, tackled cleaning and other maintenance chores, filled bags with toiletries and more.
In the case of Kaylin Moody, she was working with a group of students building flower beds for planting varieties including pansies waiting in pots nearby.
“I’m definitely more productive doing what I’m doing right now,” the Surry Central student said in weighing that involvement against sitting at home.
The choice of observing a normal holiday rather than participating in community service wasn’t that difficult.
“I was actually just really excited to get to come out and organize everything for people who need it,” Kaylin said of the clientele served by the Helping Hands facility.
Which was the entire point of Monday’s Rotary Youth Peace Conference, an idea conceived by Dr. Phillip Brown, deputy superintendent of Mount Airy City Schools, who also is the president of the Rotary Club of Mount Airy.
“Instead of a day off, we have a day on,” Brown explained while pitching in to help during the first-of-its kind day of activities locally for which Polly Long, workforce initiative coordinator of city schools, was a key organizer.
This mirrored the existence of MLK Day as the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.
“As we approach Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Long had stated in announcing Monday’s event here, “it is important to remember that Martin Luther King said that ‘everyone can be great because anyone can serve.’”
Using Martin Luther King Day as a time of volunteer service is a way to honor his legacy and continue King’s work for social justice and equality, she added. The overall goal is making a positive difference in the world by playing a role in building a better future for everyone.
“A blessing” for Helping Hands
This took shape Monday by assembling Interact Club members from five local high schools including Mount Airy, North Surry, East Surry, Surry Central and Surry Early College High School for the Helping Hands community service project.
Interact Clubs are a youth branch of the Rotary organization which invites students between the ages 12 and 18 to take advantage of opportunities to develop leadership skills and international understanding while also focusing on the Rotary motto “service above self.”
And this didn’t involve makework Monday — but tangible efforts that really made a difference.
“It’s a blessing,” Helping Hands Director of Operations Blanca Mares said as she watched the youths work.
Mares explained that since Helping Hands occupied the former Shepherd’s House location just a few months ago, there had been little time to get its food and other contents properly arranged in a clean, orderly setting — which the students accomplished Monday.
The youths did so even though it would have been easy to choose the alternative of enjoying a day away from classes without breaking a sweat.
“I just want the community to know that kids who instead of staying at home and playing video games will be involved in a service project,” Long had said last week when first announcing the program.
“This is a day of service and we’re taking it seriously,” Long added Monday while standing outside the Helping Hands building. She mentioned that next year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, plans called for Rotary Club members to be engaged in a similar service project.
“We’re hoping to keep doing it until we have the whole community (involved), Long said.
“It’s only the beginning — but at least it’s a start,” she observed regarding the Rotary Youth Peace Conference.
“We think this is a very important thing for our students.”
Emphasis on peace
Monday’s conference activities included the Interact students meeting at 9 a.m. in the Blue Bear Cafe on the campus of Mount Airy High School to plan the day.
As the name of the conference implies, peace was an important component of the gathering, with student engagement circles that focused on what is known as the Eight Pillars of Positive Peace included. These were led by Brown and Will Pfitzner.
The Eight Pillars of Peace reflect what is needed to create a peaceful society, such as a well-functioning government, a sound business environment and the free flow of information.
After finishing work at Helping Hands on Rockford Street Monday afternoon, the group walked to the nearby Municipal Building, where City Manager Stan Farmer talked to them about how a well-functioning government contributes to positive peace in the community.
“Isn’t this the greatest Martin Luther King celebration?” Long said at one point.