For the last 20 years, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Southern has had an added significance as students and faculty go out into the greater Chattanooga community to give back. Event participation has grown each year, and 2013 was no exception as approximately 1,000 students and faculty volunteered at more than 40 sites on January 21. The university’s Christian Service Program and Student Association partnered with the United Way of Chattanooga’s Center for Nonprofits to coordinate the day’s activities.
Before students left campus to begin volunteering that morning, Savannah Maxwell, community service director for the Student Association, took the stage in Iles P.E. Center and gave a short worship that included a challenge to students and faculty.
“Jesus’ whole ministry was about intersection and we have an opportunity to intersect with people today,” Savannah said.
This year each student organization was assigned a specific location and the president of that club was designated as site leader. A variety of institutions were served, ranging from nursing homes to nature centers. Event planners anticipate organizations will make lasting connections with these sites and return on their own to volunteer more in the future.
Arleny Popoteur, a junior public relations major and current Latin-American club president, was assigned to coordinate a group to the Chattanooga Zoo.
“It was such a blessing to lead students to help others,” Arleny said. “We were able to see right away that our work was needed and appreciated.”
Melissa Tortal, director of Christian Service Program at Southern, had several students contact her office looking for ways to fulfill their service-learning requirements and she pointed them to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as one opportunity to do that.
“Our job is to build bridges,” Tortal said. “We give the students the tools to make community-based relationships and empower them to keep those relationships in the future. Being intentional is a huge component of Christian service.”