MLK Day of Service: Kent State community chooses service over sleep

Lisa Morde, the coordinator of experiential education and civil engagement, touches hands with a resident at Hattie Larlham after they completed their crafting project Jan. 15, 2018.

Students and community members took part in the MLK Day of Service Jan. 15, 2018, through a variety of events both on and off-campus.

Hattie Larlham

Three Kent State University students sat inside of a quiet, dim-lighted room. They each read quietly to three developmentally disabled children: two toddlers and one in their teens.

Allysia White, a sophomore psychology major, read to a sleeping toddler but couldn’t help but show excitement every time he stirred.

“I keep thinking he’s going to wake up,” she said.

11 students volunteered at the Hattie Larlham Center and spent time with the intellectually and developmentally disabled.

Students played games, did crafts and read to the residents at the center under the watchful eye of the staff.

White, who has been doing volunteer work since grade school, wants to become a therapy psychologist for children once she graduates. She thinks the event served as an experience-builder for her and also held true to Martin Luther King Jr.’s beliefs.

“He always gave back and he was always trying to make the community better,” White said. “It’s kind of like taking his dream and applying it to today when he’s gone.”  

Lisa Morde, the coordinator for the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement, came with the group of students and volunteered as well. She worked on arts and crafts with some of the residents at the center. For her, Martin Luther King Jr. Day represents everyone coming together under his legacy.

“There are a lot of really important things he stood for, including inclusion,” she said, “and I think that ending racial discrimination was a really huge and important thing he talked about.”

For Morde and the group of students she brought with her, they work on his idea of a “beloved community,” which is an inclusive society for all people.

“One reason why we’re working here at Hattie Larlham with people who are differently abled is to think about how we’re all being included in society,” Morde said.  

Morde, who just started Kent State this year, loves it so far because of events like this.

“We all want to make a difference in the world and I decided early on that one way I was going to make a difference is through the ripple effect,” she said. “It’s more than just me coming out and meeting people and trying to create an inclusive society, but creating opportunities for others to do so as well.”

With this event, Morde wants the students to think about the effect they’ve had on their community.

“It’s important not to just go out and have the experience, but then to reflect on what’s the impact of a few hours,” she said.

Campus Kitchen

Volunteers chopped produce, sliced bread and more as part of the Campus Kitchen’s contribution to Kent State’s MLK Day of Service.

“Campus Kitchen is about food recovery, so it’s located right here on campus and Trader Joe’s is a big donator … but it’s really about taking food that otherwise would be thrown out and being able to make meals and provide those to the hungry in the community,” said Marisa Stephens, a Student Service Leader and a senior managerial marketing major.

The day of service, programmed by the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement and Hillel, provided an opportunity for students to serve the community on their “day off.”

“I think that when people give up a Saturday, it’s amazing, but when people give up a day that they’re supposed to have off school and work and things like that, it’s even more amazing,” Stephens said. “If you look around, these are 150 to 200 people that could be sleeping right now, that could be still at home … and they gave up their time to come here and be able to volunteer. So I think that says a lot about the Kent State community and just the community of college students in general.”

Through a registration website, students could sign up to volunteer and could choose from several experiences, including those organized by Haven of Rest and Hattie Larlham.

“I feel like this is a great time because I’m not busy with school yet, and I’m not stressed out, so it’s a good time to help people,” Lizzi Petrey, a sophomore sign language interpreting major said.

Volunteers met in the Schwartz Center for an overview of the events. Then, once in the kitchen, the Student Service Leaders and volunteers partnered with Campus Kitchen managers to prepare “mighty packs,” packages of food created by the kitchen and the Center of Nutrition Outreach for teens and kids in need.

“Campus Kitchen at Kent partners with the Center for Nutrition Outreach … and we’ll just donate some of our food to them, so what they’ll do is put together what we call mighty packs, and that is basically just food bags that we try to make as well-balanced as possible, you know, fruits, veggies, grain, some type of protein,” said Alex Drungil, a graduate assistant in the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement who oversees the Campus Kitchen.

Those present also helped to create large amounts of croutons, to cut and wash potatoes and to prepare for the kitchen’s meal shifts.

“I think it’s good to help other people who don’t have all the resources that I do, all the opportunities that I do, and on cold days, especially holidays, that’s when we’re reminded that there are people out there who are less fortunate than we are,” said volunteer Maria Zaynor, a senior managerial marketing major.

The food prepared through Campus Kitchen will be donated to local causes such as Center of Hope, Kent Social Services and Upper Room Ministries.

“There’s a lot of separation currently in the world, but at a place here, like Kent State University, we’re all one big family,” said volunteer Brock Koberna, a senior managerial marketing major. “We’re one community, and picking a day like this to come together, all groups, all backgrounds, to just improve that community I think sends a message of unity.”

Knitting for Those in Need

Volunteers from the Kent State community honored the civil rights leader by participating in Knitting for Those in Need.

More than 30 volunteers, mostly made up of Kent State students, registered online and gathered in the Women’s Center. On what may be considered a day off to some, volunteers woke up early to knit hats for two hours to be donated to those in need.

Knitting for Those in Need donates what they create to social service organizations throughout the Portage and Summit area or where they see a need for them, said Diane Baldridge, the founder of the organization.

“We have given to homeless shelters, school age children, and handicap people. We also create items for those with autism and ADHD,” Baldridge said. “We are on call at all times for people in the community who need something. All they need to do is contact us and if it is within our skills, we can do it. We have on going projects and also projects on demand or by request.”

Despite Monday being a day off from school, the early start time for the events didn’t chase away volunteers.

“It is really cool because everyone gets up early on a day off to do something to impact the community,” said Caitlin Hawkins, a senior chemistry major. “They told us, this is a day on, not off.”

Senior advertising major, Ashley Heilman, was encouraged by her sorority to get involved in giving back on MLK Day and was interested in Knitting for Those in Need because she had done it previously.

“It is a day you can give back to the community where otherwise you would be sitting at home and in bed, not doing anything productive,” Mackenzie Godbey, a junior biology major said.

Knitting for Those in Need also participates in events such as Flashathon and a 12-hour Knit-a-Thon in the spring and fall semesters. The organization holds meetings open to anyone on Fridays on the fourth floor of the university library and on Tuesdays at 5:45 p.m. in Last Exit Books and Coffeehouse.

United Way

Since being published in 1969, there have been more than 30 million copies of the children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” sold worldwide. It has an illustrious past, having been adapted for television and short films numerous times, and former President George W. Bush calling it his favorite childhood book in 2000.

On Jan. 15, 2018, 24 members of the Kent community gathered in the Kent Student Center to help pass on the message of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” teaming up with United Way to help create literacy kits for the book.

The kits, made by volunteers all over the country, follow along with the story in the book and present a tactile way for children to interact with the book, something that could be an extreme benefit for children in Portage County.

“We have 41 percent of our population in Portage County is either at financial risk or below the poverty level,” said Barbara Boltz, who is the project director in the Division of Student Affairs and the co-chair for Kent State’s United Way campaign. “When you’re deciding between food or a book, food is always going to win. So, getting books into children’s hands … helps their learning process and hopefully their apperception for books.”

The literacy kits will be given to kindergarteners within the Head Start program of Portage County and will be unveiled in classes before they get to take their copy home.

Boltz, who has been involved with the United Way for 35 years, picks out the books after doing some research and talking to teachers who teach young children. Books she’s done in the past are “The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Goodnight Moon” and “Is Your Mama a Llama?”

Prior to working on the kits, the students gathered in the Schwartz Center lecture hall with the other groups participating in the MLK Day of Service, It was there that they heard from numerous speakers, one of whom was Eboni Pringle, the dean of the University College. After that, the groups split off to their respective volunteer events.

Senior digital media productions major, Julia Stephens was the student service leader for the group, and she chose the event because of her love for creativity.  

“I picked this one specifically because I’m very introverted … I miss reading fiction,” she said. “I’ve always loved writing and always loved being creative. It’s a way to give people a voice.”Volunteers working on the kit colored in outlines of all the food that the caterpillar eats in the book, as well as drawings of the caterpillar itself.  

For senior fashion merchandising major, Lauren Owens, having a literacy kit was something she thinks would help people close to her.

“Growing up my brother had learning disabilities, so something like this would have helped my brother exponentially because he wasn’t as strong of a reader, but something like this would help him understand better.”

According to their website, more than 500 United Way volunteers helped make literacy kits, and for Boltz, the satisfaction is in the end result.

“The kids love the book in the first place, and then seeing them have the kit in action… it’s what I live for.”

Henry Palattella is an assigning editor. Contact him at [email protected].

Taylor Robinson is an assigning editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Cameron Gorman is an assigning editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Tierra Thomas is an assigning editor. Contact her at [email protected].