MLK Day of Service officially underway

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Seeking to capitalize on the momentum of last year’s highly successful projects and initiatives, the 2015 MLK Day of Service is officially underway and picking up steam.

Dr. Shameka Jones

Dr. Shameka Jones

“I think we’re off to a great start,” said Dr. Shameka Jones, chair of the MLK Day of Service advisory board. “We have selected some interesting, creative and potentially very impactful projects for the community to participate in this year!”

Jones explained that the board is working with St. Petersburg College, which is the fiscal agent, with funds that have been received to run the program. James C. Robinson, Jr. has taken on the duties of project manager again, and is working with project coordinator Camille Martin to help bring it all together.

In comparison to last year, there has been a reduction in the number of projects funded, which Jones said could be attributed to different election criteria. “It’s been streamlined,” Jones said. “I believe there were 94 applicants and we awarded 54 projects.”

Projects include such categories as economic opportunity, education, environmental, health, neighborhood and public safety. Jones said that some of the hands on projects involve revitalization and beautification projects, restocking of pantries as well as projects that are helping the homeless and veterans.

“We have quite a few organizations that have been partnering with us from the beginning,” she said, citing the beauty salon, Hair By Ahsile, for one. “They have been providing free grooming services for homeless and veterans. They have pretty big turnouts at their events.”

There are also sororities and fraternities that have been involved since the Day of Service inception and will participate this year: Delta Sigma Theta, which has participated in restocking food pantries and organizing book drives; Alpha Kappa Alpha, whose recent projects have included beautifying some of the preschool playgrounds in the area and running workshops with young women and Omega Psi Phi fraternity distributed care packages with food and personal needs items to the community residents in the Wildwood area.

The Knights of Knowledge Chess Club, which offers chess programs targeted at young people, will again be involved in this year’s Day of Service.

“They’ve been teaching the youths how the strategies that you learn in chess can be applied to daily life,” Jones explained. In addition to their chess camp, this year they have a second project where they’re creating a community garden for the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center.

“It’s also going to feature a life-sized chess board that the community center will be able to use for different programs,” Jones said.

The MLK Day of Service committee is recruiting high school students to pitch in and participate in the various projects, as a select number of “Youth Ambassadors” will have until Dec. 1 to sign up. She said that the committee wants to partner these youths with some of the organizations that are funded so they can work directly with a particular project from the planning stages to completion. She added that it will give the young people valuable organization and planning experience.

“We’ll do a match process,” Jones explained, “so we’ll ask the students what their interest or skill sets are, and then we’ll match them with the organization that has the same needs.”

Another innovation of this year is that last year’s Signature Award has turned into the Signature Program, Jones said.

“We actually created a Signature Program,” she said, “which is going to be held Jan. 11 and 12 at the Palladium. It’s a production that’s going to be presented by Studio@620 and two other individuals that are managing the production, September Penn and Ivan Penn. They’re presenting our Signature Program as a kick off for the MLK Day of Service week.”

Jones said that the Civil Rights Movement in song is the theme of the production.

On the actual holiday itself, Jones admitted that the parade is a huge event for the city of St. Pete, and many will likely want to witness the pageantry of the inventive floats, colorful costumes and uplifting music on during the festive event. But the object of the committee is to provide the opportunity for people to help out any way they can.

“All we’re doing is giving people other options and things to do on Martin Luther King Day,” she said. “We encourage people to participate in as many things as they want to, and a lot of our projects are not just being held in the daytime, they’re spread throughout the day.”

Jones added that the dates, times and locations of the different projects will eventually be posted on www.spcollege.edu/MLKService/ and hopes that volunteers from the community will be enthusiastic about helping with some of the programs and initiatives.

“We’re trying to get a large number of community engaged in the service projects,” she attested. “I believe last year we had about two or three thousand, so we want to meet or exceed that number this year.”

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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