HRC Looks Back On Strengthening Communities through MLK Day of Service
Post submitted by HRC Diversity Program team, Helen Parshall and Hyacinth Alvaran
On and around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, HRC volunteers gathered in an unprecedented 32 cities to participate in a national Day of Service (DOS). Taking place every third Monday of January, MLK Day of Service transforms the national holiday into a “Day On, Not a Day Off,” turning Dr. King’s teachings into a day of action in our communities. For months, volunteers around the country have been planning for the fourth year of HRC’s participation in MLK Day of Service, working to partner with over thirty different health and human service organizations to address the urgent needs of LGBTQ homeless youth.
HRC volunteers organized collection drives, assembled care packages, painted walls and cleaned living facilities, coming together to build up their communities with willing hands and open hearts. Youth homelessness in the United States is a national crisis in urban, suburban and rural communities affecting nearly 2.8 million youth between the ages of 12 and 24. Consistent research finds that LGBT youth are over-represented among homeless youth, comprising approximately 40 percent of the total homeless youth population even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall youth population.
HRC distributed t-shirts to our volunteer, each shirt echoing a snippet of Dr. King’s words to reinforce the day’s message and successes.
Below, HRC staff, steering committee members and volunteers share their reflections on the transformative experience.
“I had a really wonderful time working with HRC volunteers in Washington, D.C., at Casa Ruby on MLK Day. As an HRC staff member, helping on the logistical side of the MLK projects was a vastly different experience for me than actually taking part in one of the service opportunities. Sending shipments out to all 32 cities had certainly impressed on me the scope of our work, but sitting in the first floor of Casa Ruby that morning helped to ground me in the impact of what I’d spent the last months supporting from behind my desk. Before we started, Ruby gathered all of us together to share a little of her story and how she began her work in the community. The feeling of sitting in the room with the other volunteers, surrounded by all the love that goes into this kind of service, is something that I still don’t have the words to adequately describe. It was amazing to be on both sides of this project and a day I won’t soon forget.” – Helen Parshall, HRC Diversity Program Temp
“Working with the Human Rights Campaign to support Casa Ruby alongside other people who care as deeply about helping those most at risk in the LGBTQ community as I do was a great experience. I would definitely encourage others to join HRC for MLK Day next year! D.C. has many non-profits that people might never hear about. Through volunteering with HRC we were invited into organizations that have been doing great work and were given the opportunity to learn about them and to support them. I was given a day off of classes for MLK Day and I am grateful that I was able to spend the day helping to lead such a fulfilling event, meeting wonderful volunteers and giving any help that I could to an organization that deserved it.” – Lee Clyne, Washington, D.C.
“After leading MLK Day of Service projects in Portland for several years, I had no idea what I would experience in Washington, D.C. With the enthusiastic and helpful volunteers and leaders as we joined together to paint the rooms at SMYAL, there was no difference. No matter where I'm located, assisting organizations that work with LGBTQ youth is the ultimate reward.” – Gregg Moreland, Washington, D.C.
“On MLK Day of Service, volunteers with HRC Arizona came together for service projects at Mulligan's Manor (MM) and Native American Connections (NAC). We honored Martin Luther King Jr's life and teachings by engaging in activities that benefit a vulnerable population: homeless LGBT youth. At NAC, volunteers did deep cleaning and organizing. At MM, volunteers moved and spread 20 tons of landscape rock. What a privilege it was to be able to use actions to express to the youth that we care! Between the two different organizations, we had 35 volunteers plus the youth who helped. MLK DOS with HRC Arizona provided me with a wonderful chance to follow my heart as a Christian and an ally to actively be involved in opportunities to support the LGBT community!” – Shanda Chase, Phoenix
“Over 35 diverse volunteers spent the day at Children's Hospital Los Angeles' Division of Adolescent & Young Adult Medicine. We had mothers and fathers bring their children, LGBT activists and leaders, and others who chose to spend their day off as a "Day On" in memory of the work of Dr. King. Volunteers created food packets and safer sex packets for street outreach for homeless LGBTQ youth, for the teen health clinic and for HIV prevention services. The volunteers hung up tree decals in the main youth meeting room to beautify the space. They also moved diapers, folded children's clothes and organized many supply closets. Finally, they hung up photos from the year's "Angels of Change" Calendar, which celebrates the transgender youth of the department.” – Sue LaVaccare, Los Angeles
“What an amazing day volunteering with HRC at Sanctuary Palm Springs, a home for LGBT homeless youth. As we prepared the house for its new residences, I met an 18-year-old man who is homeless. He heard about Sanctuary through some friends and was there to help us paint and was hoping to get into the home. I was so moved by his story of being in foster care since the age of 8 and now commuting to Palm Springs from a homeless shelter in another city in order to finish high school. What truly floored me was when he said he was "grateful" to be where he is today! With everything this young man has been through, he had such a great attitude and seemed excited for his future. Truly inspiring.” – Sam Messina, Palm Springs
“On this MLK Day, HRC and Our Space volunteers in the Bay Area teamed together to revitalize the youth center's community garden, clothing closet and build relations between the two communities. Working in fortunately good weather, dirty hands packed soil into cinder blocks and scattered poppy seeds into freshly laid earth. The results were astounding, a new space that will be used for youth programming starting immediately. (Tomorrow!) There could have been no better way to spend this day of service.” – J. Y. Strain, San Francisco
“HRC Orange County/Long Beach/Palm Springs organized a day of service at the Casa Youth Shelter in Los Alamitos, California, on January 18. The shelter is a temporary housing and counseling center for homeless and at risk youth. Our volunteers cleaned, organized and planted two raised bed gardens. The shelter staff was very appreciative and our volunteers had a great time giving back to the community and learning more about the shelter and its services.” – Carin Jacobs, Long Beach
New Orleans, Louisiana
“It was a beautiful day yesterday here in New Orleans at the Covenant House. Thank you to the HRC NOLA volunteers. It warms my heart to know that because of organizations like HRC we are able to help the homeless gay youth in our community. While only a small token, it is appreciated and needed by these young people. Thank you to everyone that helped.” – Michael Glorioso, New Orleans
“I was searching through Dr. King's quotes, looking for the most profound to reflect on for MLK DOS. They were all so great that I had trouble choosing. Then it hit me that it was Dr. King's action and sacrifice that meant the most. That's what the DOS is all about. Our action and sacrifice through time, money, etc. is how we honor Dr. King's legacy.” – Nik Harris, South Florida
“Over a dozen inspired volunteers from around central Florida gathered together in the memory of Dr. King to honor his legacy of community engagement and service. HRC Orlando volunteers partnered with the Zebra Coalition on MLK Day to collect and organize donations for their new resident intake kits. The Coalition assists young people in facing homelessness; bullying; physical, sexual and drug abuse; and isolation from their families with individualized programs to guide them to recovery and stability.” – Tony Sandonato, Orlando
Kansas City, Missouri
“We were overwhelmed with gratitude and support for our inaugural MLK Day of Service in Kansas City! We had over 70 volunteers that came out to support Neighbor2Neighbor (N2N), a non-profit organization that assists the homeless population by providing hot meals and personal care items. Volunteers were able to learn more about the organizations involved in the planning process and completed many tasks for N2N including 135 personal hygiene kits, cleaning the center and removing trash and organizing the space to prepare for clients. We hope this year is the start of a wonderful new tradition of embracing the message of Dr. King and spending a day on, not a day off.” – Angela Cottrell, Kansas City
“The MLK Day of Service on Monday completed a two month donation drive for the Human Rights Campaign in Houston. Over 50 volunteers sorted, packed and organized over 300 cubic feet of donated items at Montrose Grace Place, an LGBT welcoming drop in center for homeless youth. Throughout the donation drive, Jenni’s Noodle House and Azur Salon partnered as donation drop off locations. Significant corporate office donation drives were held at EY and Williams. Thanks also go out to donations from attendees to EPAH’s Holiday Party, Snow Bunnies, HRC Federal Club Holiday Party, donors on HRC’s Amazon Wish List and JR’s Bar Night Event.” – Brad Odom-Harris, Houston
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. devoted his life to helping the community and this world a better place for all of humankind. Continuing in his legacy of service, HRC Mississippi partnered with United Way of the Capital Area to collect items to distribute to local shelters. We were thrilled that the second grade class of the Davis Magnet School helped collect items in order to help those in need in the Jackson area. On MLK Day, HRC volunteers collected and sorted items such as soaps, shampoos and dental hygiene products for area homeless youth. These products are basic necessities for living and providing this type of support for those who don’t have the access is an important cause. Together, we were not only able to provide a large amount of supplies, but we were able to deliver these goods to agencies that can distribute them where they are needed most. We’re grateful for the help from our HRC Mississippi volunteers who made this effort a success.” – HRC Staff, Mississippi
“Greater Cincinnati HRC thanks the dozens of volunteers from across the tristate area who participated in the MLK Day of Service! Because of the overwhelming generosity of our community, we sponsored two projects this year. On Monday, volunteers of all ages joined Lighthouse Youth Services in making care packs, fleece blankets, and notes of encouragement to benefit homeless and at-risk youth served by Lighthouse Youth Services. On Tuesday, volunteers partnered with Christ Church Cathedral to serve hot meals and kind words to our city's homeless. We could not have done it without our many donors, including the caring women who brought items by the box full to our Her HRC event this year. We are so grateful for our community's answer to Martin Luther King Jr.'s urgent question, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” – Jennifer Phillips, Cincinnati
“HRC Charlotte walked in the MLK parade and we even did a spin around with our flag at parade stops! We had a great turn out for our movie, Brother Outsider…watching the fantastic documentary about Bayard Rustin, at the intersection of gay history and black history. We included a donation drive and the outpouring was so generous with articles of need for LGBT Homeless that we are going to have to plan another date to sort all of our donations for distribution.” – Ann Hooper, Charlotte
“HRC Alabama, Montgomery Pride United members and allies met at the Powerhouse in Montgomery, Alabama, to volunteer their services as a contribution for the MLK Day of Service. The Powerhouse has been a quiet space made available for organizations in Montgomery to meet. They did repairs on the back fence, packing the Christmas ornaments, cleaned the building, completed some yard work and other projects.” – Tori Sisson, Alabama
“As a response to Dr. King's question, ‘What are you doing for others?’ we celebrated Thanksgiving early with a community dinner, designed to give LGBTQ people who won’t have the opportunity to be with family this year to attend this and have a Thanksgiving dinner in a family friendly environment…The event had a good turnout. There were several small children, young adults, in addition to a more seasoned crowd of folks…It is events and organizations like these that spark change within our world and LGBT community. It gives a place of safe haven and refuge for people in the LGBT community to call home.”– James Tate, Alabama
“Overall, we had about 25 volunteers come together for our event in Colorado, many of whom came as groups from programs within AmeriCorps and even a high school club. Together we assembled over 100 care bags for the homeless and at risk youth served by our partners at Urban Peak. After all the bags were put together using the 800+ items donated, each volunteer took time to write notes of encouragement to be included in the bags, adding an additional touch of care and compassion. At the end of our activity many of our volunteers stuck around to chat with steering committee members to learn more about how they can continue to stay involved with HRC Colorado and Urban Peak. All in all, a great and inspiring day!” – Danica Shipley, Colorado
“Having grown up in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King's life and teachings were engrained into my development. His concept of "somebodiness," which symbolized the celebration of human worth and the conquest of subjugation, gave me (a young, black, gay boy from Alabama) hope and a sense of dignity. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action and strategies for rational social change taught me that one person can galvanize an entire nation. It is because of him that it is incumbent upon me to serve others. This Day of Service is a reminder to all of us that, in his words, “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.’“ – Darren Smith, Colorado
“On Saturday, January 16, HRC Arkansas partnered with Immerse Arkansas and Lucie’s Place to kick off the weekend leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Volunteers gathered at Pulaski Heights Methodist Church with items that had been collected from area churches and individuals. The crew then divided up and moved to the respective locations to help organize, count inventory, clean, and educate themselves on the importance of these two organizations…HRC Arkansas is also a strong community partner with Lucie’s Place, which provides homeless LGBTQ young adults in Central Arkansas with safe living environments, job training and counseling services in order to ensure lifelong stability and success, and works to promote equality and acceptance for LGBTQ young adults.” – James Rector, Arkansas
“I'm very pleased to report a hugely successful MLK Day of Service here in Portland. With over 80 volunteers we were able to assemble over 200 bags containing daily necessities for the houseless LGBTQ youth in the greater Portland area. Some of the items we included were 293 pairs of socks, 47 deodorants, 112 tubes of toothpaste and 175 toothbrushes, just to name a few. Our partnership with New Avenues for Youth and Sexual Minorities Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) allowed us to bring together a powerful group of volunteers from several grass roots organizations…We were also honored to have State Treasurer and Mayoral Candidate Ted Wheeler stop by to lend his support. Overall, today was a day to mark in the record books of community service. I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve with so many generous and kindhearted people.” – Shannon Scott, Portland