Volunteers Join Hands on MLK Day of Service

by Amanda Hoffman

Target volunteers build benches for a peace garden at MLK Elementary School

Target volunteers build benches for a peace garden at MLK Elementary School

On Saturday, January 19th, over 350 slightly soggy volunteers came out to Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School to brave the rain and celebrate MLK Day by giving back to their community.

Upon arriving at nine o’clock, volunteers were greeted with hot coffee and baked goods in the school’s auditorium, where a presentation was given about Dr. King’s message of service and the mission of HandsOn Broward, a message which can be summed up in the words of Dr. King: “everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

The great revolutionary’s words rang true on Saturday, as the MLK Day events at Martin Luther King, Jr. truly proved that anybody, no matter what age, can serve. Rooms around the campus were designated for various service opportunities including coloring and packing boxes of meals for the homeless, donating blood, building a butterfly garden and making peace bracelets. No special skills were required; no specific prerequisites were necessary; volunteers only needed to share a desire to give back to their community.

The rain didn't stop more than 350 volunteers from participating in the event.

The rain didnt stop more than 350 volunteers from participating in the event

Volunteers from all walks of life took part in volunteering on Saturday. Dressed in a rain poncho and shoveling away for the new butterfly garden, Christina Escobar from the Young Professionals Group of First Baptist Church decided to come out so that she could “bless the community and hopefully be an example.”

Although it was Escobar’s first time volunteering with HandsOn Broward, she has volunteered with handicapped children in the past. Resting on her shovel, Escobar shared her advice for new volunteers: “Learn to serve others and don’t expect anything in return.”

Another volunteer, Ebony Orr, volunteers for a living as part of her job with a community organization. Her favorite part of the day was packing meal boxes for the homeless.

Orr wasn’t just volunteering for her health, though: she truly believes that it is our duty as human beings to help one another.  “We’re all connected and we have a responsibility to support each other.”

l to r-Frank Brown, Nelson Burke, Joy Lainez, Dale Hirsch

Percival Sams, a  five-year volunteer who prefers working with ecology volunteer projects, signed up for volunteering on MLK Day because he believes, “you have to give something back to your community.”

Other volunteers in attendance included the principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and several teachers at the elementary school, including history teacher, Juliet Williams.

“I saw quite a few teachers and staff members here today, but far more community members,” says Williams. “It is so important that we give back to the community; that we give encouragement to those who need it.”

Williams personally finds herself drawn to volunteering because, “we need to take the time out and help others. Also, by volunteering, I can be a role model.”

l to r – Youth leaders Christian Charles, Brooke Whitaker, Marlon Dunn, Kristyn Parsons, Karli Williams, Sherley Guerrier, Lorenzo Lamo

MLK Day this year fell on the same day as the second inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States. As President Obama is sworn in, one cannot help but think this is the kind of progress that Dr. King worked tirelessly to bring about. This is the change he spoke of. His dream has now become a reality, and by serving our community on MLK Day every year, we are preserving his vision.

As HandsOn Broward reviews the work we’ve achieved in 2012, including helping over 12,000 volunteers find places in their community and supporting over 129 non-profit organizations, we really do owe all our progress to our tireless volunteers. While some may have taken one look at the rain outside on Saturday and rolled over, you saw the rain as a challenge and showed up anyway. While some may view the problems in their community as insurmountable obstacles, you see them as mere hurdles and work diligently to fix them. We owe it all to you.

January Project Leader Spotlight: Maria Hernandez

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By Amanda Hoffman

January’s Project Leader Spotlight belongs to Maria Hernandez, the leader of Environmental Day at Markham Park. Maria was motivated to get involved in the Markham Park project because, “as a LEED AP (professional in Green Building) I realized that the most important way to showcase the importance of sustainability is educating the kids and adults to love Mother Nature,” says Maria.

With stores stocking their shelves with organic products and major companies and households everywhere taking the pledge to reduce their carbon footprint, it would appear that “going green” is the new trend. Maria, however, says that truly “going green” takes a lot more. “We cannot go green if we don’t understand why we have to do it and if we don’t love our Planet. Spending 3.5 hours a month taking care of those plants is giving back to the Earth all the beauty and resources she has offered.”

Before Markham Park, Maria has always enjoyed volunteering, because she believes it is, “the most rewarding experience that we can do. The American spirit has a foundation in service and good works. There is not a price tag for a service that comes from our heart offering our time to help and impact our communities. Together, the difference we can make is remarkable.”

Maria doesn’t just give back to her South Florida community, she also volunteered in the Northeast this fall as part of the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Her experience was eye-opening as she gained an understanding of the good deeds of selfless volunteers nationwide.  “I witnessed the willingness of the [human beings] to give beyond their comfort zone in order to show kindness and love to their neighbors. I am talking about the heroes and the givers: those volunteers from different churches that, through faith found the right words to give comfort; the Disaster Relief volunteers that lovingly served hot meals in tents, despite the cold temperatures; those without an organization or without compensation who worked every day on some stranger’s house; those Red Cross volunteers that drove trucks offering hot meals and water in a place that was like a ghost town where a thriving community used to be.”

Maria always learns something when volunteering; whether it comes from the strangers she has come to know so well through her time working with FEMA or the volunteers she leads at Markham Park. “They all taught me a lesson, they inspired me and they proved to me that when the heart is willing and we offer our time and love, we overcome adversities and achieve amazing results!”

January Volunteer Spotlight: Jody McCard

by Amanda Hoffman

“My mom and I always say, ‘if we win the lottery, we’re giving it to a charity,’” says Jody McCard, January’s Volunteer Spotlight. Jody has always had the mindset that able-bodied people should always find a way to give back to the community. That’s why she chooses to donate so much of her time to various volunteer organizations including Jubilee—a soup kitchen in South Broward.

Jody originally chose the Jubilee project because she had always been interested in volunteering in a soup kitchen. When it comes to volunteering, Jody has certainly “done it all” after volunteering at Memorial Manor Nursing Home, Respite House, the Humane Society, serving on her children’s school PTA and running several committees. How does she feel about her busy volunteer schedule? “Well, you can’t just sit on the couch all day!”

“[At Jubilee] a man came up and got right up in my face and thanked me and I couldn’t help it but I started to cry. I told him, ‘you and I: we’re no different. I could be in your situation, too,” says Jody. “Everyone deserves dignity and I try to give them that while serving them meals.”

Jody comes from a social services background   and it’s taught her to believe that, “if you’re capable, you should help other people. You have to take care of your fellow people.”

In Jody’s experience, giving back to the community is incredibly important. “For me, it gives me a reason to live. Once I didn’t have kids around, I needed someone to take care of.”

Thank you for all that you do, Jody, and keep up the good work. We have our fingers crossed for your lottery tickets!