Record Participation in 2020 MLK Day of Service

Laura Paisley

More than 250 students, faculty, alumni and staff participated in Occidental’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event on Jan. 25, with volunteers at twelve sites across Los Angeles.

Honoring Dr. King’s legacy of service, the MLK Day of Service is a signature Oxy event that engages those associated with the College in community-based projects. Sponsored by the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement (SLICE), participation in the daylong event was at record levels this year. Volunteers helped out at an urban farm, worked with foster youth, organized at food banks and helped beautify nature areas in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Dovetailing with a national effort to honor Dr. King by serving the community, 260 volunteers fanned out to twelve sites In Los Angeles and Pasadena, working with 22 site leaders.

“The response and interest in MLK Day of Service is always a testament to the spirit of service Oxy students are known for,” says Lina Calderon-Morin, assistant director of student and community engagement at SLICE. “My hope is that these individual days of service will help expose our students, faculty, and staff to the amazing work being done in the community and inspire them to get involved with community organizations throughout the year.”

This year’s sites included Hathaway-Sycamores Family & Child Services, L.A. Regional Food Bank, Eagle Rock Elementary School, Community Services Unlimited Urban Farm, Young & Healthy, Bienestar Human Services, Girls on the Run L.A. and others.

As a site leader this year, Scott Morris ’22 described his volunteer experience as both fulfilling and meaningful. He was stationed at the R.O.C.K. (Reach Our Community Kids) Community Center in Eagle Rock.

“As we helped sort supplies and beautify spaces throughout the day, we heard the various sounds of zumba exercise class and children’s laughter, emphasizing the meaning and value of what a couple of hours of lending a hand can do. The day as a whole was amazing—I left with a sense of satisfaction knowing that the work we had done was useful and contributed to making more creative spaces.”

Harege Kebede ’22 volunteered to work with Community Services Unlimited at its Beyond Organic urban farm. She had a great time working with others and meeting new Oxy peers.

“It’s easy to fall into the routine of worrying about yourself and what immediately impacts you,” she says. “What service teaches me every time, without fail, is that people and the nature that surrounds us are incredibly interconnected. The Day of Service gave me and others the opportunity to go outside of ourselves and do for others what we wish others would do for us—care.”

Darla Howell ’20, says she absolutely loves participating in Oxy's MLK Day of Service. She hopes that the event inspires students to volunteer throughout the school year, pointing out that SLICE has many opportunities for Oxy students to continue their service.

“I've been a site leader in the past and really enjoy watching the Oxy community come together with the sole purpose of serving the larger community.”

This year Darla volunteered with Girls on the Run, an organization that empowers young girls by teaching life skills through running.

“We met up with the L.A. County Girls on the Run team and helped organize and assemble bags for volunteer coaches in L.A. I really enjoyed working behind the scenes because the program wouldn’t function without the help of the volunteer coaches.”

Seeing the kinds of work being done in the community firsthand can help students make connections with the lessons they’re learning in the classroom. Some students even return to their sites later as part of further volunteer or internship capacities.

This year, instead of the traditional closing ceremony after the Day of Service, SLICE hosted a Service Recognition Banquet the evening before the Day of Service, hosted by Vice-President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot. The event celebrated Oxy’s rich history of community engagement and recognized students, faculty and staff who have built partnerships and long-term relationships with community partners and local nonprofits.