- January 21, 2014
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and in days leading up to it, hundreds of HRC volunteers, partners, and allies participated nationally and locally in a very successful MLK Day of Service. It could not have been possible without the heart and dedication of HRC leaders across the country. The day and the months of planning for it was a transformative experience for many of them. They share their reflections below.
“United we served LGBT homeless youth across the country: HRC volunteers, service partners, and allies! I am amazed by how we came together nationally for this important MLK Day of Service. Really, beyond expectation. And when I wonder about why such a popular response, the answer that I can think of is this: When we unite to serve, we fulfill a desire to connect. To connect with ourselves and others, to our sense of purpose and our community. To bridge the gaps. And today and the days leading up to today, we did just that. Thank you to our countless HRC volunteers, service partners, and allies! The connections you created today will endure.”
- Hyacinth Alvaran, HRC Diversity Program Manager
“It’s incredible to me that in a world that can be filled with so much negativity and hate, there are still so many people genuinely willing to give love and help others. MLK Day of Service has reminded me how much good there is in the world, and that helping others is something we should all strive to do, not just once in a while, but every day.”
- Camille Holmes Bonilla, HRC Diversity Program Intern
“When I think of the giant in whose shadow we stand today for MLK Day of Service, I know very few of us will ever leave the world changed on such a grand scale. But I do believe that it is common people who can turn the wheels of change with small kindnesses and compassion. This day of service is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to our sacred obligations to one another by engaging in small acts of kindness and compassion.”
- Bobbi Elaine Strang, Washington, D.C.
"MLK Day is a single day set aside every year to remember the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of that, many of us look for worthwhile volunteer opportunities within our communities. This year, I again joined with HRC for MLK Day of Service here in Washington, DC, serving as the site lead at Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center. It was so amazing to see so many people, from all walks of life, join together on their holiday to help make the community a better place. The most rewarding part of the entire experience was walking with Ruby, Casa Ruby’s Founder & Executive Director, as she walked from floor to floor, and seeing her reaction to all of our hard work. Meeting new friends, partnering with a great organization, and helping to give back to a local organization does so much. These are just a few of the things that made this MLK Day of Service a day I will never forget."
- C.D. Hastings, Washington, D.C.
“MLK Day of Service for me was both meaningful and magical. Some 3,000 youth in D.C. live on the streets every night, many of them driven to streets because they are gay and ‘out.’ They survive any way they can, and many deny they are homeless, even as they struggle to survive by any means including ‘couch surfing’ and bouncing from relative to relative for a safe place to stay. No individual alone can change this terrible blight that too much of our society ignores. But today, at three centers, all of which reach out to homeless youth, our volunteers demonstrated commitment and caring. Through them and a growing awareness among our supporters, we can and are making a difference. Proud to stand with each and every person who volunteered on behalf of our LGBT younger brothers and sisters.”
- Carl Smith, Washington, D.C.
"It was wonderful to be part of a diverse and dynamic team of volunteers at Casa Ruby here in Washington, DC. The great turn-out shows us once again that there are many folks eager to be involved with HANDS-ON projects that last a few hours!"
- Austin Naughton, Washington, D.C.
New York, New York
“I met a student who introduced himself as David. We spoke as if he was one of my own children. He was just one of many students who stopped to say hi as we were setting up for our project. As a mother, it’s my natural instinct to nurture and protect children. These kids are high school students; they are doing what any other kids their age would be doing any day of the week. I remembered how I felt when my children would come home from school when they were younger: they'd want a snack, dinner, and they needed a good night’s sleep. Pretty basic stuff. But these kids are homeless; at the end of the day, when their school programs end, they don't have a place to call home. They're American children, living in New York, one of the most affluent cities in the country. These hard-working young students deserve to be safe and nurtured. They must have a shot to achieve their dreams. I'm inspired by the staff at The Hetrick-Martin Institute and St. Luke's Church of the Fields. Their work is filled with love for our LGBT youth. I'm committed to growing HRC’s partnerships to better serve these well-deserving young people.”
- Dolores Covrigaru, New York, NY
“The Home Improvement Challenge is a project that LifeWorks has been doing for the past 8-9 years. It's a one-day, 4 hour challenge in which organizations outfit an apartment in an affordable housing complex for a young person or young mother who is transitioning out of their transitional housing programs. In December, Tyler and I met James* (*name changed to protect confidentiality), the young man whom LifeWorks chose for HRC Austin to work with. We talked to him about what he would like in his apartment. We could see that he was excited and overwhelmed when he said, ‘I want Marilyn Monroe.’ With the help of in-kind donations of furniture, small appliances, decor, laptop, etc. and shopping at Ikea and Target, Tyler, Richard Kline (the decorator) and 3 volunteers moved in the furniture and did their magic. James loves his new place. For background, James and his brother were placed in foster care at the age of 15 because they were neglected and suffered abuse while living with their biological mother. Then at their foster home, James was attacked because he is gay. His foster care worker told him about LifeWorks, so James moved to Austin to avail of the programs and got a job at a local restaurant. Due to his success at work and being promoted to manager, he became eligible to get his own apartment at LifeWorks' new affordable housing complex. He is 19 years old looking to get his GED, and wants to go to college and become a social worker.
LifeWorks is doing great work. They have over 5,000 contacts with homeless youth and young mothers at the center every year. Aside from being a drop-in center, they provide basic needs like food, hygiene items, clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, and also provide counseling, medical and veterinary services, and HIV testing, all in this small space. The center is also open to clients on nights when temperatures go below 36 degrees. Due to heavy rain several weeks ago, their center had flooded, and they hadn't been able to do a deep clean. So we decided that we will not only put hygiene care bags together, but alo ask volunteers to clean the facility and help organize the food, toiletries, clothes, and linen closets.
More than 70 people responded to HRC's call for volunteers and donations of toiletries, clothing, and other essential items! The response was overwhelming. Though there is always more to be done, the LifeWorks staff felt that the center was put in excellent condition. Brett Barnes, LifeWorks' Chief Development Officer, said that in his 7 years of working there, the center has never been that organized nor smelled that clean!
The same family who volunteered at our MLK Day of Service last year, whose child came out publicly for the first time at the Day of Service as transgender, came back this year to donate items and volunteer. This year, our youngest volunteer is 6 years old, and she said that she will volunteer every day. There were volunteers who took ownership of certain aspects of the work, which took some burden off the LifeWorks' intern who was directing the work at the center. Everyone left thanking us for giving them the opportunity to help (those were "WOW!" moments for me) and offering to do more.
I can't express in words all the beautiful thoughts and emotions I had coming home on Saturday afternoon knowing that we made a difference in the life of one young man in his pursuit of a better life and all the homeless youth that come through the center each year. Thank you for letting me share this story with you.”
- Ceci Gratias, Austin, TX
San Antonio, Texas
"What an honor it was to spend our MLK Day of Service with Roy Maas Youth Alternatives = The Bridge. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of volunteers who came out. We were able to not only collect care packages as originally planned, but we were also able to help clean up the grounds, help at the thrift shop, and serve lunch & share time together with the staff and kids at the center. We were able to hear the kids’ stories and spend time with them during lunch. At the end of the day, Ricardo Ramirez-Rodriguez, my HRC San Antonio Diversity Co-Chair, showed off his dance moves while playing Just Dance and basketball with the kids. I want to thank the staff and youth at the Bridge for being so open and welcoming, and also thank all of the volunteers who made our first MLK Day of Service a success. We look for to having a continuing relationship with Roy Maas in the future. Two days later, we participated in the MLK Day March, one of the largest MLK Day marches in the country. As we say in Texas, go big, or go home!"
-Tonya Pacetti-Perkins, San Antonio, TX
San Diego, California
“I am so proud that HRC San Diego was able to work with the San Diego Youth Services to fill care bags to be donated to their Storefront Program, which serves as an emergency shelter for homeless, runaway, and sexually exploited youth ages 12-17 years old. This is HRC San Diego’s first MLK Day of Service event, and I was overwhelmed by the outpour of generosity from our local community, including support from California Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who reached out to her constituency of over 40,000 to volunteer their time or donate items. We also had a group of volunteers that consisted of 17 individuals and represented 11 countries, who are visiting the U.S. as part of the Department of State sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program. The primary purpose of the program is to provide this group of individuals, who are all involved in improving the lives of youth in their respective countries, with an opportunity to learn more about how U.S. communities work to address multiple youth-related challenges. One gentleman, Mr. Segundo Abel Lozano, who is the president of youth-focused organization in Ecuador called Fundación Wampra, stated that ‘the opportunity to participate in this event taught me a lot about how much the U.S. cares for their LGBT youth,’ and that he is excited to take this sentiment back to his country.”
- Geri Rochino, San Diego, CA
“It was HRC Greater Cincinnati's first participation in MLK Day of Service, and it was a day filled with love, equality, and hope. Over 85 volunteers showed up to assemble over 1,070 hygiene kits for homeless youth! Volunteers also worked side by side with homeless youth at the Lighthouse Youth Services Sheakley Center and cleaned the shelter. Volunteers finished up the day with delivering the hygiene kits to Lighthouse Youth Service's two youth homeless shelters, and dropped off hygiene kits for the Street Outreach program where homeless youth get connected to services – homeless youth who may be living in ‘tent cities’ or under bridges across the city. I have never been more proud of HRC volunteers for opening their hearts with service and showing up with support as they did today!”
- Kristin Shrimplin, Cincinnati, OH
"I am so overwhelmed with emotions from today. After several months of planning, we started early this morning to sort and divide the overflowing amount of donated clothing and personal items for the LGBT homeless youth served by SMYRC and Triple Point in Vancouver. We ended up filling about 220 bags of personal items, and many boxes and bags of clothing. We had volunteers front all over: from St. Michael's Episcopal Church, from the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, the wife of Senator Jeff Merkley, and many others. Everything came together so well. This reminds me of why I devote so much of my life to the organizations of my choice. I see where the work directly affects those who are often neglected. All in the spirit and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. That is what this day is all about."
- Gregg Moreland, Portland, OR
“Portland is considered a medium-sized community, but after today I know it has a huge heart. Our MLK Day of Service was a success because gay and straight people wanted to make life nicer for the homeless LGBT youth in our area. We spent the morning sorting donated toiletries and personal items, and we stuffed 220 bags with these items. Plus, we sorted and bagged countless coats, hats, socks and gloves. Good grief, there were backpacks, sleeping bags, flashlights, water bottles, food and drag queen clothes. SMYRC will be sharing the bounty with two other youth service providers: one in Portland and another in SW Washington. It was a beautiful day.”
- Linda Brown, Portland, OR
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
“On a day where many people could have put up their feet, sat and watched T.V., a number of beautiful individuals did a wonderfully selfless act and shared their hearts. They took a few hours out of their day to be a part of organizing care packages and writing heartfelt words of encouragement to young people of the LGBT homeless community that feel neglected and alone. I am so honored, humbled and proud to have facilitated this event. Also, I am forever grateful to my mother Dr. Jessie M. Colin, who opened her heart and home to strangers. I believe we all need people. It's only human to want, make and have connection. The MLK Day of Service reminded me that it feels amazing to do for others. May this day remind all people to continue having faith in the power of universal LOVE and continue knowing it's doing for others that is the most rewarding. #MLKDay #HRC”
- Dr. Frantz E. Colin, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
“Today was very powerful for me. I felt the impact that a group of people can have by doing service work, and it was exciting to engage volunteers from our local HRC community in such a tangible way. Volunteers from the HRC Twin Cities community came out for a work day of cleaning, painting, and preparing a special dinner for 20 youth who live at a wonderful organization called Avenues for Homeless Youth. In addition, we collected donation of toiletries, clothing, and other items over the past month, which were sorted and delivered to both Avenues for Homeless Youth and another great partner agency, The Bridge for Youth. While we were cooking tonight, several of the youth came in to thank us for the meal, as well as the cleaning work done in what is now their home. I was also really touched by the enthusiasm and gratitude of the staff - you can tell how much we made their day a little easier and their job a bit nicer by helping out.”
- Jason Bryan, Minneapolis, MN
“Our event was filled with great energy and caring. So many turned out to help our organization and in turn we also helped the neighborhood. Our team hauled many items out of storage buildings, donating them on the curbs in front. The residents came out in mass, leaving with much gratitude for the items they were provided. The event was a total give-fest!”
- Robin Trush, Phoenix, AZ
New Orleans, Louisiana
“Cox Communications Southeast partnered with our HRC New Orleans Steering Committee and volunteers to come together nationally for this important MLK Day of Service. It was a great day of service. Thank you to our corporate sponsors, steering committee members, and volunteers who helped to make this event a huge success. We were able to provide the homeless youth at the New Orleans Covenant House with much needed supplies.”
- Michael Glorioso, New Orleans, LA
“As I worked registered volunteers, I was surprised to see their diversity: young, old, and every age in between; men and women; a self-identified questioning young woman; people of all colors of the rainbow; gay, straight, lesbian, and transgender, all working together. Truly amazing!”
- Brian Bourquin, Boston, MA
And from other amazing HRC leaders in Boston:
“I was saying to Tess on our drive back to Salem that my ‘heart feels full.’ And I mean full in that good, warm way. It's been a very satisfying day. Tess said ‘she has smiles of joy.’ And really enjoyed the fantastic and diverse turnout.”
“Black, White, Latino/a, Asian, young, old, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. This is the America that Dr. King worked for and dreamed of. Today, we honored his memory and his dream by assembling 300 care bags for homeless LGBT youth.”
“Today was a beautiful reflection of Dr. King's dream, shared with us all so many years ago of communities from all walks of life uniting to make the world a better place. I was amazed by the diversity of our volunteers, and the unity and positivity displayed by each of them as we united to improve the lives of LGBT youth in our state and region. I cannot wait for our Day of Service event in 2015!”
"The level of participation in HRC Boston's MLK Day of Service was truly astounding. I remain in awe of how many people donated items, organized donation drives, and helped with the assembly of hundreds of care packages for LGBT homeless youth across Greater Boston. Dr. King called our nation to service, and the volunteers from HRC Boston, BAGLY and Gay4Good - Boston who took part in this effort truly met that call to action with tremendous vigor. LGBT homeless youth are among the most marginalized and disadvantaged within our community. For so many people to not only recognize, but respond to this unfortunate reality by contributing to this MLK Day of Service is absolutely overwhelming, and completely inspiring."
"Many of us recognize that homelessness is an issue for far too many young people in our community, but we are not often in a situation where we feel like we can do something about it. That's why today was such an amazing day. To see all of the donated items together in one place was, in a word, breathtaking. And to realize that our supporters have become so vested in the issue was humbling. I was amazed at how excited the volunteers were about having the ability to actually roll up their sleeves and do something to help Chicago's homeless LGBT youth. Everyone was proud of the work we were doing to support the Broadway Youth Center, and looking forward to doing even more next year."
- Daniel Lange, Chicago, IL