On Jan. 15, people across the nation celebrated the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in the MLK Day of Service, the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service. Organized by a committee within Athens-Clarke County, the local effort brought more than
800 volunteers out on a chilly Monday morning to serve the community.
“One of Dr. King’s messages was to get out and be neighborly—to meet people, help people and do things for the greater good,” said Stacee Farrell, executive director of Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful. “Our community isn’t that large, and service days like this are a great way for people to learn more about Athens and understand the challenges we face.”
Volunteers served at 17 sites across Athens, from local cemeteries to shelters to food banks.
Among those volunteers was Emily Stone, a third-year UGA political science and international affairs major who is also working toward a Master in Public Administration. Stone volunteered on behalf of ServeUGA, a student organization focused on promoting a culture of service to students. Stone, the director of outreach for the organization, had always wanted to give back.
“Growing up, I always wanted to help others, but I never felt I had the capacity to make a real impact in my community,” she said. “ServeUGA was the perfect opportunity to discover myself through service and to connect others with a service-oriented lifestyle.”
Housed in the Division of Student Affairs Center for Leadership and Service, ServeUGA is a small organization with a large impact across campus and the Athens community. Participants, called service ambassadors, coordinate campus-wide days of service and social awareness events and also volunteer in community events, including the MLK Day of Service.
The organization also acts as a parent organization for 40 advocacy-based groups on campus by providing monetary support, advising, networking opportunities and professional development.
On Jan. 15, Stone worked alongside volunteers of all ages removing trash, cleaning gardens at the West Broad Market Garden, all while recordings of King played on the loudspeakers. Service days are a way for UGA students to immerse themselves in the local community, not only as UGA students but as Athens-Clarke County residents.
“This day is a chance to connect with the Athens community and bridge the gap between UGA’s students and Athens residents,” Stone said. “Instead of approaching MLK Day of Service as a group of UGA students going out to serve the surrounding community, we go with community members to serve our own city.”
The main goal of ServeUGA is to establish more than just a one-time chance to serve, rather instilling a culture of volunteering into all participants. For Farrell, the MLK Day of Service reinforces that goal.
“Once you participate in a day of service and see the opportunities and/or challenges firsthand, you are more likely to engage in the future development of our community,” she said. “Ultimately, we hope this experience will have a profound impact on the students so that they will become lifelong volunteers and active citizens.”