2015 MLK Day of Service wrap-up luncheon


ST. PETERSBURG – The third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service luncheon was a time to pat each other on the shoulder for a job well done. St. Petersburg College Allstate Campus hosted the event that honors what has come to be known as the premiere showcase of unselfishness in volunteering.

Each year more and more residents join together in an effort to make those in need all around St. Petersburg breathe a little easier. The local MLK Day of Service was established three years ago when State Representative Darryl Rouson felt that the city should do more on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day than party.

Awards were handed out to all the groups and individuals who participated in the Day of Service, as smiles of satisfaction permeated throughout the room.  Nearly 50 projects were funded, but time only permitted a few to come up and elaborate on what they did to give back to the community.

Erik Smith is the Director of Cultural Competence for Valpak. They had the opportunity to help in the cleaning up of Lincoln Cemetery along with the Pinellas County Urban League and Professional Opportunities Program for Students, Inc.

“What was powerful about this moment was to see four generations of African Americans working and standing literally on the shoulders of their ancestors,” he said. “Just be able to work hand in hand in that process was incredible.”

This year 96 advocates were awarded 49 projects totaling a whopping 2,081 volunteers. That’s some 8,919 hours of community members working together for the betterment of the city and its inhabitants.

With roughly $185,000 to hand out, each project averaged around $3,700.

“This was one of the highest number of applicants that we’ve had,” said JerJuan Green who was given the task of reading the accomplishments.

Edwin Ramirez is with the Association of Naval Services Officers (ANSO). The group is made up of active duty coast guard members and works with Sallie House, a safe haven for children, infants to 17 years of age, who have been removed from their home because of abuse or, neglect or — even abandonment.

“We’ve been part of this program for the last three years,” said Ramirez. ANSO took their volunteering on the day of service from just one day to a yearlong event. With roughly 130 volunteers logging in around 800 hours of volunteer time the partnership is an incredible success.

Every year the members of ANSO redo the mulching, the paint, and pressure wash the area just so the kids from Sallie’s House can come back and have a beautiful home.

“At least they can be happy and take pride in where they’re living,” said Ramirez.

Throughout the year ANSO does a monthly mentoring program consisting of teaching residents of life skills such as changing a tire, oil in the car, and general maintenance on bicycles.

But this year’s project consisted of the building of a bike shelter. “We had a lot of bikes out there and the Florida climate was just destroying the bikes,” Ramirez said.

The project had to be completed over the course of a few days. On the day of service itself however, ANSO held a carnival where face painters were plentiful and there was enough food and drink for everyone. “It’s just been growing and growing,” said Ramirez.

Past projects consisted of the building of a gazebo, picnic tables, and even a butterfly garden where the children are encouraged to grow tomatoes and work with their hands.

Rouson briefly spoke about the need of the community to support local venues, such as The Weekly Challenger, in an effort to preserve the history of St. Petersburg and promote black businesses.

Dr. Bob Wallace with Love the Golden Rule was excited about his first year participating in the MLK Day of Service. Wallace has high hopes of bringing the world together traveling through eleven states and two countries spreading God’s word and giving out over 3,000 wristbands.

The Love the Golden Rule clinic opened in October curing five patients of Hepatitis C and setting the goal of some 500 people to be cured. The clinic is also hoping to give St. Petersburg residents help in producing a better body image with weight loss assistance.

On the actual day of service Wallace and his staff had the opportunity to “do a lot of healthcare,” and learned what they need to do better for next year.

Heaven Taylor-Wynn headed up the Youth Ambassador program. They had workshops on nutrition and how to eat healthy and was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Bay News 9 about what they hoped to accomplish.

“What it means to be an ambassador is to give back to our community as it has given to us,” said Taylor-Wynn who plans to participate in next year’s day of service.

The youth ambassadors were recognized for their participation on the day of service, each receiving an award for their time and effort. All eyes are on the horizon for next year when even more applicants can be expected and the spirit of giving back can start all over again.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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