Today's holiday honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader assassinated on April 4, 1968.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words will live on in Tucson, thanks to students of El Hogar Alternative School.
These students will build 100 wooden garden benches in 100 days, each featuring a different quote from King’s legacy, relying on the support of teachers, staff, community volunteers and AmeriCorps members.
The event kicks off today, Martin Luther King Day, and ends in 100 days with a celebration on Global and National Youth Service Day in April.
The completed benches will be distributed to schools, nonprofit organizations and community centers.
El Hogar is a program of the Amphitheater School District for middle and high school students on long-term suspension from their regular schools.
The students initiated this project after viewing the civil rights documentary “The Children’s March.”
They have been studying and discussing the impact that King’s words, philosophy and values had on our country in the 1950s and 1960s.
As they discuss and identify specific quotes from his speeches, the students have been able to relate personal and community experiences that connect with his teachings.
King is making an impact on the youth of today, even though he was assassinated nearly 40 years ago.
The civil rights leader encouraged people from all walks of life to work together to address and improve community problems – with service being the greatest equalizer.
Today, King would be proud of these young people’s intentions and accomplishments. He would encourage them to continue with their “dream” of making Tucson a better place.
I am also proud to say the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona is the lead agency in developing and implementing the MLK Day Bench project.
AmeriCorps members who serve in our Youth Volunteer Corps are assisting the teaching staff at El Hogar and supporting students as they move forward with this innovative outreach program.
Our other partners include Gov. Janet Napolitano’s office and Hands On Network.
Young people helping their peers take positive steps that will help them make better decisions for their futures.
It happens every day, but sometimes we don’t see it unless it is pointed out to us.
So later this year, when you take a break from your morning walk and sit on one of these special benches, take a minute to think about who made it and why.
Perhaps having King’s words available to our community on a day-to-day basis will make a difference – even if it is a difference of one.
Like these students, you can help make a difference in our community, too, in many ways.
The Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona has hundreds of opportunities with numerous agencies in a five-county area that could use your time and energy in a volunteer capacity.
You will be amazed at the ways you can help.
And for those of you who don’t have any extra time right now, the Volunteer Center can always use donations to help support projects such as the MLK Bench project.
Monetary donations will be used for such items as wood, tools, paint, etc., and can be sent to 924 N. Alvernon Way, Tucson 85711.
As King said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
No task too tough if we work together
As a student of El Hogar Alternative School, I have been given the opportunity to give back to my community by doing a good deed.
I like the idea that we started off building these garden benches and that we also get to go to different schools and teach other kids how to build them. Then they can teach someone else how to make them.
I have learned a lot about Dr. Martin Luther King by doing this project.
I think the biggest thing is that different people can work together to accomplish a goal. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, poor or rich – you can make it happen if you want to.
- Mitchell Wallace, 17
Would have been fellow marcher
Doing this project is going to help me in the future. I like building stuff. It’s easy and fun to do, and I think I could do carpentry work as a career.
I have a little more experience than some of the other kids because I used to help my grandpa build tree forts.
I really like this project, and it’s a way to get other kids interested in it too.
We really did some research about Dr. King and got to pick which quotes we are going to put on the back of the benches.
Even though he died a long time ago, I think I would have been one of those people who marched with him.
He kept being thrown in jail for what he believed in, but it didn’t stop him from doing it again. I would have liked to help him out.
- Paul Benjamin, 14
The power to turn enemies into friends
Building these benches has been a good thing. It has shown me how I can contribute to my community and work as part of a team.
We are going to give these benches to nonprofit and community organizations so they can use them.
Putting the quotes from Dr. King on them is really a good idea, because people will see them every time they walk by them or sit on them.
The quote from Dr. King that I remember and like the most is, “Let us be loving enough to turn an enemy into a friend.”
- Kyle Juryla, 14
Exercising profound effect: King’s values and lessons still at work in us, in our community
The Rev. Martin Luther King’s profound effect on the students of El Hogar amazes me.
The kids are seeing the correlation between what King fought for and what they face in their day-to-day lives.
He was dealing with hate crimes and racism, and the kids are applying those lessons to gang-related crimes and violence.
In December, as an AmeriCorps member serving as a Youth Volunteer Corps team leader, I watched “The Children’s March” with the students and facilitated discussion on King and his fight for civil rights.
From this discussion, opinions were formulated and a game plan developed to create awareness of issues within the Tucson teen community.
With the help of adult mentors, the youths decided to create a project that would continue King’s teaching and influences on a daily basis.
It has become the mission of students at El Hogar to bring King’s words to Tucsonans.
This project gives students the power to change things, not only in their community, but also within themselves.
They are seeing that with a little effort, something positive can be done, and that they have the power to make a difference.
Since the project began to take shape in December, we have noticed visible changes in the students’ attitude and behavior.
They are working together as a team; they are dedicated, more focused and seem happier.
The work gives them a sense of control and pride.
Additionally, the community benefits from a good dosing of King’s teachings and values – something we should all take time to think about.
- Shannon Powell is an AmeriCorps member serving at the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona.
Ellen Hargis is the president and chief executive officer of the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona.
Paul Benjamin, 14, drills pieces of a bench with the help of Lucas Gonnsen, 14, (middle) Kyle Juryla, 14, ( right) and Mitchell Wallace, 17, (foreground).The benches crafted by these students of El Hogar Alternative School will carry quotations from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Robert Rodriguez, 13, (left) works with Paul Benjamin on one of the benches, which will be distributed to schools, nonprofit organizations and community centers in the Tucson area.
ON THE WEB
To contact the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona, go to volunteersoaaz.org or telephone (520) 881-3300.