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Behind the Scenes of MLK Day

January 26, 2012

Photo by Bethany Housman

By Kaitlin Tyrill, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Reed Elementary School

My To Do List today seems short and strange. It does not include making 30 phone calls to local businesses, drafting In-Kind letters, and scheduling pick-ups. For the past three months those were my daily duties as InKinding Coordinator for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Day Committee. All 22 City Year sites across the country take part in a movement to make MLK Day a day on, not a day off. We do this by planning large scale community service days in honor of MLK’s vision of creating a beloved community through national service. But now that Martin Luther King Day has come and gone, I have a few extra minutes in my day to sit and reflect on how the impact our day of service had on our volunteers and the community we served.

Photo by Bethany Housman

As one of two MLK InKinding Coordinators, I was in charge of inkinding all the supplies needed to put more than 250 volunteers to work for three hours, while my partner Shannon Cook took care of feeding and hydrating all those volunteers throughout the day. My job was not just to make sure we had enough, but to also know what supplies would make our volunteers most effective and happiest. Being able to choose from a wide range of paint brushes and always having the right size for the job set our volunteers up for great work. This required working closely with the MLK Committee’s Service Coordinators Michael Ho and Ciara Timms, as well as Project Leader Andrew Sheeley. They drafted a “Needs List” early on which was based on the service projects they were working hard to secure. Throughout the three months of planning, service changed quite a bit and this demanded flexibility on everyone’s part. For the first month and a half, while I was unsure as to what our service projects would look like, I focused my energies on calling big businesses like Home Depot as they tend to donate gift certificates. I called eight different Home Depots, as far away as Marrero, Gretna, and Slidell, and received gift cards and supplies from five of them. Every store manager and assistant manager that I spoke with at each of these Home Depots was always willing to listen and quick to offer what they could. I took this to be a sign that as big box stores such as Home Depot are often criticized for their lack of involvement in the community, Home Depot is one corporation that has dedicated itself to playing a positive role in the community and giving back. With the paint, rollers, and brushes we received or purchased with donated gift cards, City Year and over 250 external volunteers were able to paint 15 murals and redid the basketball court at Success Preparatory Academy, beautified six historical monuments along Jefferson Davis Parkway, and cleaned up the Odd Fellows Graveyard.

Photo by Bethany Housman

I contacted many other businesses across the city and received donations from other hardware and paint stores, such as Sherwin Williams. As the event drew nearer, I became a little too comfortable and admittedly slacked. But then I received a somewhat frantic phone call from Project Leader Andrew Sheeley informing me that our Home Depot gift cards would not cover the rest of the materials needed. We were in need of paint brushes and scrubber brushes and it looked as though we would be hosting more volunteers than anticipated. I got on the phone right away and reached out to several more local paint stores. I was able to secure 75 more paint brushes by the end of that day and I do believe it was these artist brushes that made it possible for our volunteers to do such beautiful work. There is no doubt that the murals painted throughout Success Preparatory Academy this MLK Day were painted with great attention to detail and that they will inspire students through their message and beauty.

Photo by Bethany Housman

At the end of three hours of service, close to 250 volunteers reconvened for a feast in the cafeteria at Success Prep. Many of the volunteers were from out of town and were given the chance to try local favorites such as jambalaya, red beans and rice, and king cake, among a wide variety of other foods. Inkinding for MLK Day made me realize that not only was Success Prep appreciative and excited to have the support on this day of service, but many business owners across the city are aware of the need to pitch in and are willing and eager to help. When you have the support of a whole city, things get done.



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