JOLIET – Audrey Davis was among a dozen volunteers painting a mural at the Spanish Community Center for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Thursday.
They were among 500 volunteers participating in the local MLK Day of Service event at 35 locations.
“It’s not what I expected,” said Davis, who thought she would be painting walls with a roller and not an artist’s brush when she and students at the University of St. Francis signed up to volunteer for the day.
“The Social Work Club wanted to do a service event,” said Davis, a social work professor at USF.
The volunteers were doing well, said Roho Garcia of Joliet, an artist who instructed the volunteers as they painted a mural that would be placed on a wall inside the center later.
“I hope this is going to be one of many murals that we can do for this center and other centers,” Garcia said.
Outside the Spanish Community Centers, other volunteers shoveled the snow that fell overnight.
Volunteers also painted walls, helping out with a remodeling project at First Presbyterian Church in Joliet, picked up wreaths at freshly snow-filled grave sites at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, and made “plarn,” or plastic yarn, out of plastic shopping bags.
“It would go on the ground, and a sleeping bag or a blanket would go over it,” said Rosie McCune, who instructed more than 50 volunteers through the morning on how to make the plarn.
McCune of Joliet makes half-inch mats out of the plarn for New Life for Old Bags, a group out of Plainfield that makes the mats available to the homeless.
“They create a barrier between the ground and what keeps the person warm at night,” she said.
Marsalis Johnson, 18, of Matteson, was among a group of Boy Scouts based out of New Faith Baptist Church in Matteson, who helped make the plarn.
“I like giving back,” Johnson said. “This is a good thing – helping the homeless – especially with the elements like they are today.”
It was cold and snowy, but that did not deter a 5-year-old from joining volunteers who helped Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery by picking up wreaths – an annual volunteer task provided by MLK Day of Service regardless of the weather.
“In life, this is what you should do is help somebody,” R. Dale Evans, the coordinator for the event told the volunteers when they regathered at Joliet Central High School for a free lunch that included food provided by Babe’s Hot Dogs.
“Everybody needs a helping hand sometime,” Evans told the gathering. “When you get a helping hand, you should turn around and help somebody.”
This was Evans last year as coordinator for MLK Day of Service in Joliet, an event he helped start. He has moved to California and came back to help one more time.
The event in Joliet goes back 12 years helping a local church, Evans said, but has grown to the point that it now attracts hundreds of volunteers.
Evans said he won’t miss the January weather in Joliet, but he will miss MLK Day of Service.
“I walk in every year, and I see the diversity of Joliet through the volunteerism – primarily the youth,” he said. “I think we get people engaged in volunteerism.”
Ericka Williams, who has been a lead coordinator for the volunteer effort with Evans, will continue to organize the event with the help of the Joliet Township High School district, which provide facilities.
“We’re definitely going to keep it going,” Williams said, “and the more the merrier.”