Volunteers honor MLK
By Anders Ax
CORRESPONDENT | January 22,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
AmeriCorps Member Elizabeth Arthur works with Sasha Chacon, left, and Hannah Fair at the Rutland Boys & Girls Club in Rutland on Monday during a community service project on Martin Luther King Day. The cupcakes were brought to a community lunch at the Grace Congregational Church.
In the bottom floor of the Grace Congregational Church, almost a dozen people separated spools of yarn and sewed clothes in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr and his teachings of public assistance.
“It’s all about the spirit of service,” John Weatherhogg, senior minister of Grace Congregational Church said separating dozens of yarn strings tangled in a mass with his daughter, Emma. “When we serve other people we see the value of them and see the walls that divide us.”
The clothes will be donated to 60 orphans and students at the Rehema Girls school in Kenya by the nonprofit program HEAL: Health, Education, Ample Nutrition and Love.
“I’m so thankful for all the support of Rutland, it’s really special,” said Jennifer Wright, executive director and founder of HEAL.
Almost three dozen AmeriCorps members and Rutland locals, teamed up to serve Rutland’s community as the country celebrated a day of community service in the spirit of MLK on Monday.
Melissa Schlobohm, AmeriCorps leader for Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, thought the best way to serve Rutland through the teachings and aspirations of MLK was to bring together as many groups as possible to support community projects.
“I wanted to create a day that he’d be proud of,” Schlobohm said. “Why don’t we just do something together?” Schlobohm thought. “One big day at one place where we could start out with everyone.”
AmeriCorps VHCB members, the Interfaith Clergy Association, Rutland VISTA AmeriCorps group and volunteers began at the Grace Congregational Church before fanning across Rutland. Projects included building storage shelves at Rutland County’s Women’s Shelter, painting at the Vermont Achievement Shelter, teaching financial literacy at Rutland’s Mentor Connector, cleaning Dismas House and taking donations at the Rutland Community Cupboard.
Schlobohm hopes that Monday would cause a ripple effect that will continue throughout the community where people utilize their resources and assist their neighbors together.
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” said AmeriCorps Director, Francis Sharpstene. “It’s the backbone of what we do ... an opportunity to come together and share.”
During the lunch hour at Grace Congregational Church, Lee Emerson shared his experiences of the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 alongside a silent-movie of the march itself.
“It just seemed like a pivotal time in history and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Emerson, who had been asked to travel to Alabama with the Medical Committee for Human Rights.
Emerson volunteered to picket at the Montgomery statehouse with others for the purpose of being arrested and after a half-hour was arrested. Though Emerson said he wanted to do as much as he could, he said the time in jail “was the most boring four days of my life.”
Since the Civil Rights Movement and MLK, Emerson responded that the times have changed.
In these times Emerson feels that bigger issues concern financial equality and the treatment of others regarding the health care system. “In Vermont, the Medicaid program is good, but there are a lot of people that aren’t quite poor enough ... the system is so far out of whack.”
Aaron Ashton, AmeriCorps VISTA member, decided to join and assist in the longterm disaster recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. Ashton graduated Green Mountain College, and said that he wanted to give back and support the community that helped by joining AmeriCorps VISTA, which primarily focuses on financial issues and education.
“We combat poverty and live our lives with the same ideals and values that MLK instilled in others 40 years ago,” Ashton said.
Jose Galvez, a citizen of Honduras and Green Mountain College’s outreach coordinator, said that he was motivated by Ashton to participate Monday and quickly volunteered to help at Boys & Girls Club of Rutland County.
“It’s our responsibility to leave them a better world,” Galvez said. “And in my opinion we have to set the groundwork for them so they can take over what we started and ensure we have a better future for our Earth and generations to come.”