“Each year, on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is observed as a ‘day on, not a day off,’” according to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal government agency charged with leading this effort. Hundreds of organizations and individuals host volunteer service events on the federal holiday. “MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King's vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”
For the past several years, The Gunnery has coordinated a day of service for students, who have participated in service activities and events as far away as Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury and New Britain. The school began working with the Washington Business Association this fall to determine how students and faculty could support “Washington Gives” and serve others in our extended community.
While other off-campus activities were canceled on Monday due to the frigid temperatures and icy road conditions, about 30 students and faculty participated in the town-based event. Gathering inside at the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens, students, faculty members and young children used neon markers to contribute words and drawings to a mural created by Max Rhodes ’20. Across the top, he hand-lettered a quote from Dr. King in silver calligraphy: “Life's Most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
The warm, brightly lit space, which regularly hosts art exhibits and other community events, also served as one of two venues where Gunnery students painted 200 ceramic hearts for “Hearts of Hope,” a nonprofit organization that distributes the healing artwork to those suffering from serious illness, trauma and loss, or simply someone who needs encouragement, gratitude or love.
“I tried to make it bright and happy,” Molly Braun ’21 said of the heart she painted, which fit in the palm of her hand. She said students learned about the MLK Day of Service on campus, and she was appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the local event. “It’s a lot more beneficial to do hands-on activities instead of just listening and talking, because we’re actually giving back in a way.”
“I think it's a great idea that on MLK Day everybody goes out on a day of service,” agreed Drew Sutherland '21, who was painting a heart at the next table. He acknowledged that each heart carried with it a message of hope and caring for the person who would eventually receive it.
Visual Arts Chair Andrew Richards P ’20 accompanied students from the Judy Black Memorial to the Hickory Stick Bookshop across the street to attend a talk titled, “Refugee? Asylum Seekers? Undocumented Immigrant? What is the Real Difference?” by Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) of New Haven. Despite the cold weather, Richards said he hoped Monday’s event will kick-start a larger event involving the school and the community in years to come.
“It’s something that would be nice to do more than once a year,” agreed Visual Arts teacher Lincoln Turner.
Around the corner at the Newbury Place gift shop, Drew Hyland ’19 and Jon Nichele '21 collected donations of sheets and towels for the St. Vincent DePaul Mission, which operates a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Waterbury. Hyland noted that at his previous school, MLK Day was simply a day off from classes. “Here we actually do something in service,” he said.
“We’re actually taking care of people,” said Nichele, who has participated in community service activities with his family. “That’s very well carried on here. The Gunnery does a good job of that,” he said.
Over at Town Hall, Sommer Miller ’19, Lea Ritzenhoff ’22, Kaleigh Laurendeau ’21, and Aris Papathanasiou ’20 helped faculty members Katie Moulton and Ed Surjan collect donations of new toys and fleece blankets for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and more students accompanied by faculty member Ed Small were on hand at Washington Food Market, where donations were collected throughout the day for the Washington/Warren Food Bank and Friends in Service Here (FISH) in Torrington.
Back on campus, students watched and discussed Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed documentary, “13th” which provides an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality. Others wrote letters to legislators, created cards in various languages for children in need, joined workshops on gratitude and sustainability, and hosted an afternoon hockey clinic for local youth.
Addressing the school community last Friday, Head of School Peter Becker described the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service as a day of reflection. “On Monday, we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a man who dedicated and eventually sacrificed his life to help the country confront deep patterns of injustice that were both race-based and economic. That work is not over,” Becker said. “We need to keep talking about it, keep asking questions about it until we better understand it, and ask what we can do.”