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While a day off from school Monday in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marked a chance to catch up on homework or support Wildcat basketball at the Wells Fargo Center, hundreds of students came together to serve the community in the spirit of the late civil rights activist.

The service event, presented as “a day on rather than a day off” and themed “Unfulfilled Dreams,” encouraged students to “improve lives, bridge social barriers and move our nation closer to the ‘Beloved Community’ that Dr. King envisioned,” according to the University website. 

Over 450 students registered to volunteer off-campus for the seventh MLK Day of Service, coordinated by the Center for Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Student Development and the Center for Peace and Justice.

Head Chair Erin Geraghty, who led a committee of 12 other students, said this number marks the largest turnout in the event’s history. 

Volunteers arrived at 7:45 a.m. at Café Nova to meet with their groups and leaders, have breakfast and listen to a keynote speech by Crystal Lucky, director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English. 

The groups then left for one of 25 sites, such as nursing homes, soup kitchens or churches throughout Philadelphia, Geraghty said. 

Freshman Emily Lotterer served at the Georgia E. Gregory Interdenominational School of Music with a group of about 20 friends from her building. Lotterer and her friends swept, mopped, organized the basement and weatherized the windows to reduce the heating bill for the school. 

Lotterer described the building as a “decently sized old house” with space for dance, piano and drum lessons as well as a kitchen and reading corner. The group met a high school sophomore music student.

“She played the piano for us, and it was really good,” Lotterer said. 

Lotterer said she plans to serve again at next year’s event.

“While it’s something small, a lot of little things add up,” she said. “And you can really make a big difference.”

“Back on campus, 75 student-athletes volunteered to run the Let’s Move Camp for 100 Philadelphia elementary schoolers,” Geraghty said.  

“They took part in fun workshops with basketball, soccer, singing, dancing and cheerleading groups, learned about healthy eating from a nutritionist and experienced what a college campus is like,” Registration Chair Marissa Cucinotta said.  

Cucinnotta said that although she “missed getting [her] hands dirty and interacting with the community members,” serving as a committee member on campus allowed her to watch “all of the different pieces of the day come together.”

Cucinotta described sitting at the registration table and overhearing a conversation between two girls from the Let’s Move Camp.

“One asked her friend, ‘Are you going to go to college?’ The other replied, ‘Yeah, of course!’” Cucinotta said. 

“Little occurrences like that always make me smile and remember why we put in the hours of planning.”

Service Site Leader Nick Ader said that although the number of volunteers was about half that of the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service in September, “there is a much stronger emphasis on personal connection with the communities visited on MLK Day of Service and establishing a long-term relationship between the service sites and Villanova.”

Ader added, “Emotional and spiritual outreach is crucial to embodying the goals and memory of Dr. King.”

Volunteers met at an optional Dream Dinner at 4 p.m. in Café Nova to celebrate. 

“Our volunteers came back feeling like they were able to give back and do something good for the community,” Geraghty said. 

As the committee members and site leaders considered next year’s event, they shared hopes for improvement.

“We always need more service site leaders, van drivers and volunteers,” Cucinotta said, adding that she hopes the MLK Day of Service will someday reach the size of the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service. 

“I would love to see a greater push by the university to support MLK Day of Service and expand it even more,” Ader said. “The combination of great leadership and expanding funding could really expand the scope and influence of this day.”

For Geraghty, the event achieved its purpose.

“If our volunteers return having met just one person or having seen just one thing that makes them question social inequality and how we can change that, then the event has met my definition of success,” she said.

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