While many schools and businesses are closed on the federal holiday Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day, the agency charged with leading the day of service — the Corporation for National & Community Service — refers to it as “A Day On, Not a Day Off.”
That was certainly the case as approximately 200 youth and leaders coming from 12 diverse congregations from the Fort Bend Interfaith Community met Monday, January 21, 2019 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sugar Land.
Rabbi Josh Lobel, serving as Chair of the Fort Bend Interfaith Community Council commented, “What a way to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy to bring kids of different backgrounds, different races, religions to do good for the community. It was his dream – a world in which the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. At the heart of all the different religions is the idea that we are going to work together to create a better world. We ask what can we do for someone else?”
The youth worked cheerfully choosing three of four service projects. In the first area, the sound of drills mixed with busy chatter as they took advantage of the beautiful cool weather outside and used wood screws to assemble precut headboards, footboards and sides for six beds. Amy Bezecny, founder and CEO of Cultivating Families explained that these beds would go directly to Child Protective Services. “Every bed built prevents a child from sleeping in an emergency shelter or prevents a child from entering the system because a grandparent or aunt or uncle could meet code and accept that child into their home,” Bezecny said.
Todd Harris, Director of High School and College Ministries for Christ Church Sugar Land, a United Methodist Community, spearheaded this project. Church members donated all the building supplies and bedding. “The embodiment of MLK was unity through diversity. We live in the most diverse zip code in the world, I’ve been told. So why not partner with brothers and sisters, as long as we serve people…let’s do it, let’s serve together,” Harris said.
A second project had youth working shoulder to shoulder with gloved hands assembling sack lunches to be given to Lord’s Kitchen in Rosenberg for distribution to the homeless and needy. There was a lot of laughter as they mastered the art of spreading peanut butter and jelly double-time. 200 lunches were ready for delivery by the end of the event.
Valerie Tolman with the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, Thoreau Campus in Richmond kept the assembly lines running smoothly. The congregation donated all the food and water for the lunches. Tolman was also at the first MLK Day of Service and was amazed and gratified to see the growth in participation. As she delivered the lunches to Lord’s Kitchen, the gratitude and smiles on the faces of the recipients was evident. “Let’s take a picture so the kids can see,” Tolman said, planning to quickly update the Fort Bend Interfaith Community’s Facebook page.
In another room, youth made cards and wrote encouraging notes for patients at the Houston VA hospital. Carolyn Wade from Congregation Beth El took charge of gathering all the supplies, and there were stacks of sweet, funny, uplifting and appreciative notes to patients and veterans by the end of the day. Youth also brought socks to give to those in the hospital. “The response has been overwhelming. The back of my car is full of socks!” Wade said.
Hygiene kits to benefit the homeless at the Star of Hope rounded out the last of the projects for the youth to choose. The contents were donated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the youth put together 200 kits in short order.
A donor coach from The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center was also on site to collect blood donations.
After a lunch of pizza and salad, the youth participated in a dialogue similar to the Interfaith Dinner Dialogue that the adults have previously shared. Questions were asked to stimulate discussion about their own faith, and to discuss stereotypes and misconceptions they have encountered.
Closing remarks were given by Faiz Jawani, a medical resident with the Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering (ICERV). He quoted Dr. King and challenged the youth to support each other. “Each one of you matter for your beliefs and who you are and so let’s move past the labels and give others a chance to show who they are,” Jawani said.
Here’s what some of the youth thought:
“I came because it is an interfaith social and I can learn about other religions and the different aspects of what they believe and also I can teach others about my religion,” Enara Roohullah, 9th grade.
“We made a footboard for foster children! It felt good to help people in need. I came to help my community out, especially on this important day,” Kelvin Mayes, 11th grade.
“This is a great activity for everyone to come and meet together. It’s a lot of fun. I don’t know many but I’m getting to know them now,” Liam Moss, 12th grade.
Dr. King would approve.