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MLK Day of Service reflections: Helping our young understand the past and our future

Students make a difference in the community on MLK Day

On Monday January 17, 2022, the Center for Student Engagement at the University of Nevada, Reno, collaborated with The Boys and Girls clubs of Truckee Meadows to host a day of service in honor of the legacy and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For the past seven years, the Center for Student Engagement has encouraged university students to view the holiday weekend as a “day-on” versus a “day off.”

The Boys and Girls kids were split into group by age range and each University student volunteer worked with a small group of kids that attended a Boys and Girls clubs in the Reno/Sparks area.   The University student volunteers read “Martin’s Big Words. The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” with the kids in Kinder- 4th grade.  For kids in 5th-12th, they watched a film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Both groups then discussed Dr. King, Jr, and his legacy.  After this discussion kids where given markers and paper to create posters for the justice march around the neighborhood of the Boys and Girls club on Foster Drive in Reno.  After the justice march University Student Volunteers engaged is a group discussion debriefing the day and understanding of the importance and value of the Boys & Girls Club in the neighborhoods, and how it benefits the children and the community as a whole. Nevada Energy was a lead sponsor of the event.

My name is Hanin Abboud Rodriguez, and I am the Student Engagement Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Students Engagement.  The mission of the Center for Students Engagement is to engage, educate and empower our university community to be more active citizens.  The Martin Luther King, Jr. event one example of events and initiatives we hold for the campus community that engages our student body in civic learning and democratic engagement.    

This was my first day of service event I attended as a university employee. It was so impactful to see our university student volunteers engaged and willing to jump in and work with kids they just met. Most of our university student volunteers didn’t have the background or experience working with kids, so it was humbling experience for me to see them read and discuss the impact Martin Luther King Jr. had on our society.

One impactful observation I noticed was the creativity of the kids had while working on their posters in preparation of the justice march. Our university student volunteers engaged with the kids discussing meaningful statements that were reflected on posterboards that were used during the march. This activity gave our university student volunteers an opportunity to empower the younger generation and teach them about inclusion and equity.

Due to COVID restrictions, we faced several challenges the day of the event, but this showed our university student volunteers the importance of coming together as community and improvising tasks to have the most meaningful experience for the kids who will eventually have a larger impact on the future.

The goal of this service day is to inform our kids about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and why this day has become so important for the United States and its history.  This event allow youth to come together to address issues and opportunities that make a difference within our communities.   I am looking forward to the next service opportunity for Cesar Chavez Day in March that I will organize for campus community.  If you are interested in volunteering, please visit GivePulse to find something for you and sign up.

I would also like to add this reflection from one of our student volunteers made immediately following our MLK Day of Service:

“As a child, I did not know what it felt like to attend events, to be with and friendly with my peers, to celebrate and honor and interact with the world around me. Events of this very sort were something I had often wondered about and I had hoped to join in. Having experienced forced social isolation for much of my life as a child, I could only imagine that the pain that kids are experiencing from isolation now due to COVID is quite a blow to take. I did not consider myself a good fit, skill-wise, as a volunteer. Despite having psychology as my major, my capacity for social interaction is low and interpersonal interaction is not my forte. I was especially concerned about how this might negatively affect the kids. I wanted to give them a good experience, to ensure in the present that the lacking childhood I experienced no child would have to suffer through as I knew its negative effects. I reasoned that ensuring that the current system of fostering good memories for children was something I had to invest in with my own hands. I knew I could get socially exhausted but I knew it was also in my capacity to not let that express itself in a way that affected the kids negatively and ultimately, contributing towards a better future in this way took precedence over any anxieties. I had little point of reference from which to understand children beyond my own experience and was nervous. I was a belligerent and sullen child and I knew how it was near impossible for anyone to reach me, no matter how genuinely kind their motivations were. When I met the children, I was stunned. They were so unfettered and energetic and gleeful and they were for the most part allowed to be who they were and express themselves. The relief I felt in seeing so many children who were allowed to be exactly who they were and be loved by the adults whether they were aloof, bubbly, or cheeky was incredible. I have never been so thankful to know that there are communities and volunteers in this world that give a safe space for children to be the way they are. The children were very different from the usual people I would engage with, and though I was flailing a bit, in the beginning, to adjust my language accordingly, when I finally adjusted and was open to meeting the children where they were at, the journey through their minds and the adventures they allowed me to join with both their words and actions that they took me through was a novelty and a treasure to experience. Their experience was so different from mine, it was incredibly enlightening to listen to how they saw the world. It was an honor to be trusted by some of the kids to be let into their experience and it gave me great hope for the future seeing the kind of environments that children are in.”

Hanin Abboud Rodriguez
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