JOLIET – Monday was a day to serve others for nearly 600 people who volunteered for the Martin Luther King Jr. “Day On, Not a Day Off” activities in the Joliet area.
Chloe Miller, a junior at Joliet West High School, and several companions were waiting for their assignment Monday after a morning breakfast and pep rally at the school.
Miller said she viewed the day as “an opportunity; I think it will be very nice to do something for the community.”
Jose Ferreira, a freshman at Joliet Central High School, was headed to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, and was looking forward to it despite the below-zero wind chill that greeted outdoor volunteers Monday.
“We usually don’t do much as kids,” he replied when asked why he chose to volunteer rather than stay home on the day off from school. “I thought it would be better to help out.”
“Day On, Not a Day Off” is Joliet’s version of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service activities done to commemorate the civil rights leader’s service to his community.
valentines and dancing
The volunteers helped out 28 organizations, most of them nonprofit groups, by painting walls, cleaning windows, stocking food pantry shelves and more. A number of volunteers made Valentine’s Day cards for troops abroad. Others danced or sang for seniors in Joliet.
“I just want to help out,” said Benny Brown, who headed to the Spanish Community Center with a group from the Joliet Job Corps.
Many of the places where the volunteers worked were otherwise closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“You’ll be providing service to people you may never meet,” event coordinator R. Dale Evans told the volunteers gathered in the Joliet West cafeteria before they left for their assignments. “Because you don’t see them, that doesn’t mean you don’t help them.”
At St. John’s Head Start Center on Hickory Street, the building was empty but for a handful of volunteers cleaning windows and scrubbing shelves.
The volunteers included Tamara Holman of Shorewood and her son, Christian, 9, and daughter, Symone, 7, who were cleaning windows.
“I always try to find some activity for the kids on Martin Luther King Day because they have the day off,” Holman said. “We’ve been to the museum and drew pictures for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I thought this would be more active and would be doing something for people, which is what Martin Luther King did.”
Debbie Smith of Monee was helping out for the first time on the Day of Service. Looking around the cafeteria, Smith said she was impressed by the number of people participating.
“It’s a great turnout,” Smith said. “There are so many different people – very diverse, adults, a lot of older kids, a lot of younger kids.”
Evans awarded four free T-shirts to the youngest volunteers of the day – all 4-year-olds.
Some of the teenagers in the room have become regulars for the Day of Service.
Chyna Vann, a senior at Joliet Central, was with the Generation Dance Company of Joliet that did an inspirational dance at the morning pep rally and later would perform for seniors.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Vann said. “I’ve been doing the MLK Day of Service for all four years, and this is the first time I got to dance.”
Diana Dombrowski was part of a Joliet Central ROTC team that helped pick up Christmas decor at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. It was the second year she did her Day of Service at the cemetery.
“It was very nice and peaceful,” Dombrowski said, not seeming bothered by the cold.
Evans told the volunteers that everyone had a role to play in the Day of Service, and noted similar efforts were being made nationwide in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.
“You’re making today a great day just like is happening all over the country,” Evans said.