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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of service gives students opportunities to make a difference

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for what makes America great. Unity, perseverance, strength, patience and passion are just a few of the values he preached to his followers, and to this day his words echo in society.

In honor of everything Dr. King accomplished, people around the country have a day off from work and school to recognize how one man did so much for his country and changed history with a national day of community service.

While some use this day to relax and enjoy the comfort of their homes, many others use the opportunity to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and make their day off a day of service in their communities.

The University will once again sponsor a “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service” on Monday, Jan. 16 available to all students. This year participants will have 11 different service projects located across the Eugene area to choose from. Volunteers will have options ranging from playing sports and games with children that have Down syndrome to gaining hands-on experience at the Cascade Raptor Center.

Each student can register online and give their preferences as to which projects they would like to work with. Several of the projects have room for as many as 50 participants so students are encouraged to try to register for their favorite options and the program will do its best to situate everyone with their top choices.

Though the “Day of Service” is the clear focus of the efforts, the University has decided to expand on the teachings of Dr. King for the entire week to keep people in the community involved and educated on all that he worked for.

One aspect of this week will be a panel of educated faculty and community members who are experienced with the work of Dr. King and who want to spread that further understanding to students and citizens who do not know the whole Martin Luther King, Jr. story.

This is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn about a man who transformed the way we thought about race. A man who altered the way people thought in general. But Dr. King was not only focused on ideas, but actions.

“Life’s most urgent and persistent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” King said.

This is why Deanna Chappell Belcher, Director of the Service Learning Program, and so many others work to dedicate this day to helping students get involved in the community.

“We want to spread the word about what Dr. King did and what he stood for. His legacy of service is something that should not be forgotten,” Belcher said.

Belcher hopes that by participating in this day of service some students will see the opportunities they have to help the less fortunate in their community.

Students like Cameron Rutledge have see that opportunity already thanks to the volunteering opportunity. Rutledge volunteered for the day of service at the University in January 2010 and has continued to do so on a regular basis ever since.

“It’s kind of addictive. Once you see the benefits that it provides for those in need and the appreciation they have for your efforts, you can’t not do it,” Rutledge said.

Dr. King has left his mark on the world, his influence is seen every single day and more people join the ranks to help make his dreams a reality all the time.

Most have heard the speeches and the visions that Dr. King had for the world, and we are closer today than ever before in helping make those dreams a reality. But there is much work left to be done to bridge the gaps in society, and it starts with those who are in a position to help those in need.

“We want students to realize the bigger context of their actions in relation to Dr. King’s vision. We want them to become leaders in their community and become agents for change,” Belcher said.

At the end of the day the visions of Dr. King will not be realized, he understood that reality when he gave his speech in Washington DC.

But with each volunteer, each act of kindness and each day of service we get one step closer. Students should take that step and be a part of that dream.

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