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As many Villanovans spent their three-day weekend catching up on some much-needed sleep, a special group of dedicated volunteers were up before 6 a.m. on Monday participating in the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. These students willingly devoted an entire day to working toward the loving and accepting nation that King Jr.  believed was possible.

The mission statement of the MLK Day of Service committee states, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,” according to the University website.

“The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was created so that students of the Villanova community would get a deeper understanding of what it means to truly serve their community,” sophomore Jonathan Caggiano says. Caggiano shadowed the head chair of MLK Day of Service, and he witnessed first-hand how students engaged in service to pay homage to King Jr.’s dream.

Most of us on campus are quite familiar with the annual St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service, but fewer are familiar with what truly occurs during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and how the two opportunities differ.

Though both are dedicated to service, the MLK Day of Service provides volunteers with an ability to serve on a much smaller scale, often increasing their ability to form intimate relationships with both their fellow volunteers and the people they are serving.  This provides a unique opportunity for a different type of service experience.

“Many of our service sites request only a few students,” Caggiano says,  “and thus students have come back in the past and said that the MLK Day of Service provides them with a more intimate service experience where they are able to not only bond with each other but also with the service site coordinators.”

During send-off, volunteers watched a video that was created in order to make them more aware of King Jr.’s beliefs and the values he stood for during his lifetime.

The video featured quotes from King Jr. himself, such as, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” and “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values—that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control,” as well as “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

These quotes were offered as inspiration for  volunteers to serve selflessly and wholeheartedly, gathering all of their efforts toward making this day as successful as possible.

Service on this day was not only offered to the Greater Philadelphia area, but also beyond with the inclusion of the “Let’s Move Camps.”

These camps were founded on the basis of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to stop childhood obesity and create a generation that can enter into adulthood at a healthy weight.

Here on campus, the “Let’s Move Camps” brought together student athletes and elementary school children from Sanoka Freedom Academy and Discovery Charter School in Philadelphia to work together throughout the Day of Service.

These students spent the day engaging in different types of sports camps with the University’s athletes, while learning about proper eating habits and enjoying a nutritious lunch.

Not only did the athletes provide an enjoyable day for the children, but they also played a part in educating the next generation of leaders. Visiting students now understand how fulfilling it can be to live a healthy and active lifestyle.

The theme of this year’s Day of Service was based on the phrase “Unfulfilled Dreams.” Through the “Let’s Move Camps,” athletes hoped to inspire elementary school children to believe that they can accomplish whatever they put their minds too, and that no dream is too big to be realized.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service concluded with the Dream Dinner, which brought participants and their leaders together in order to reflect on the service they had just engaged in throughout the day.

“The Dream Dinner helps the leaders, the volunteers and the committee better connect with each other,” Caggiano says. “Not only do volunteers share their experiences with members of their group but they also come together in random groups and share their experiences with others. They share their experiences through reflection questions, and we feel that this helps them gain something genuine and valuable from this day of service.”

Whether volunteers were working directly in the Greater Philadelphia area or here on campus mentoring elementary school children, the relationships they formed reflected the acceptance and change that King Jr. wished to see in the world. As King Jr.  said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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