From left are Michelle Yezek, shelter worker Ken Kidd, Marcos Lopez, and Matt Palahunik.

For the Jan. 16 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Penn State students from the University’s western campuses came to Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus to volunteer at seven Fayette County organizations, including Fayette Friends of Animals, where students are pictured helping with outdoor cage maintenance. From left are Michelle Yezek, shelter worker Ken Kidd, Marcos Lopez, and Matt Palahunik.

Image: Greg Evanina

Students gather on Fayette campus for Day of Service

To honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Penn State undergrads give of themselves

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus hosted 75 students from the University’s western campuses Jan. 16 for the Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. Day of Service, an annual opportunity to perform acts to benefit communities. Besides Fayette, Beaver, Behrend, DuBois, Greater Allegheny, and New Kensington also participated.

The students voluntarily gave up their holiday to help local nonprofit organizations with such labor-intensive tasks as stuffing envelopes, painting walls, sorting donations and walking dogs.

The MLK Day of Service got off to an early start at the Fayette campus with showings of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which many in the audience had never heard in its entirety; as well as a message from the Corporation for National and Community Service, sponsor of the MLK Day of Service.

Campus minister Gwen Shoaf then made a presentation that gave the students some perspective and also set the mood for the day’s activities. She did this through a video featuring Natalie Warne, an 18-year-old whose work with the Invisible Children movement demonstrated how young people can enact positive change, giving rise to the term, “anonymous extraordinaries.”

With the students anxious to make an impact on Fayette County, Chad Long, manager of student affairs at Penn State Fayette, took the microphone to call out the day’s work sites: Fayette County Community Action Agency/Food Bank, Connellsville Area Community Ministries, Crime Victims’ Center, Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Mount Macrina Manor, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and Fayette Friends of Animals.

The animal shelter, in particular, has such a need for help that they were practically panting at the opportunity to host students on the MLK Day of Service. When asked what she was doing with her volunteers, Friends board member Shawn Shaner laughed and said, “Putting them to work — building their muscles and making them sweat!”

Shaner said some of the Friends’ work would not have gotten done without the Penn State students. “We moved kennels and put gravel in kennels. They walked dogs, socialized in the cat room, disassembled kennels, dug holes, put in straw in dog boxes. We did it all! This was an amazing help,” Shaner said.

After the day’s work was done, the groups returned to the Fayette campus for a wrap-up session that included a video montage shot at all seven sites that day. Johnny Marcolini, co-curricular programs coordinator, then asked the students to write on sticky notes one thing they were leaving at Penn State Fayette and one thing they would be taking from the campus.

Marcolini read the notes aloud as he posted them on whiteboards. There was a good deal of audience laughter during this phase, but the responses proved to be both serious and thoughtful, from leaving selfishness behind, to taking home a new perspective on life.

Penn State Fayette sophomore Sarah Earnesty experienced both of those sentiments after working at the Crime Victims Center, where she cleaned, vacuumed and dusted. The Connellsville resident volunteered for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service this year after hearing friends talk about how much fun they had at last year’s event.

Earnesty also mentioned an altruistic reason for her participation, and in doing so, captured the esprit de corps of the Penn State students who came from as far away as Erie for the MLK Day of Service. “I wanted to do my part to give back,” she said. “It’s not for me; it’s for the community, and I am happy that I did it to benefit someone else.”