MARYSVILLE — Don Gillette is 84 years old, hard of hearing and lives by himself, so by his own admission, just keeping up with day-to-day tasks can be a challenge anymore.
On the annual observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, seniors and people with disabilities, such as Gillette, benefit from the efforts of area students who choose to make it “a day on, not a day off,” as part of Snohomish County’s MLK Day of Service.
On Monday, Jan. 21, Gillette received a visit from members of the Marysville Minority Achievers Program and the Marysville-Pilchuck High School Volunteer Club, who pitched in to clean his kitchen and two bathrooms in his mobile home, in addition to touching up his windows and doing some dusting and vacuuming.
“Those rooms are pretty much where I live,” Gillette said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow,’ but that gangs up on you after a while. You get old and stubborn and still think you can do everything by yourself, but just scrubbing the floor makes me feel like I’m done for the week.”
Gillette received an MLK Day of Service visit last year from another group of student volunteers, and he praised both groups of students for their concern and commitment to this cause.
“These kids have done a good job,” Gillette said. “They’re very courteous, and what they’ve done has made me so appreciative that it makes me want to do something for someone else.”
When the roughly dozen Marysville students streamed through his front door, Gillette laughed, “I don’t have that many rooms,” but volunteers such as Jennifer Cabrera and Angel Avalos see descending on site in force as one way to get the job done as efficiently as possible.
“If your mind is set up to do it, you can clean up really fast,” said Avalos, a junior at M-PHS. “It takes teamwork, though.”
“We can’t go to every single house of someone who’s in need, but little by little, we hope we’ve made the community better,” said Cabrera, a senior at Marysville Mountain View High School.
While Avalos marked his first MLK Day of Service this year, Monday was Cabrera’s third and final such Day of Service as a high school student, although former students such as Marysville Getchell High School Class of 2011 graduate Omar Delacruz have returned, as he did on Monday to help clean Gillette’s kitchen.
“It’s a fun thing to do with your friends,” Avalos said. “You each do what you’re capable of.”
“Every year, it seems like they’re doing something that I feel like I can help out with,” Cabrera said. “I’m giving back to the community for how it’s helped me out.”
Although Avalos and Cabrera agreed that waking up early on those MLK Days of Service can be painful, Cabrera echoed Avalos’ assessment by saying that the day goes by more quickly working with friends.
“One lady I visited two years in a row wrote us a letter to say thank you,” Cabrera said. “She didn’t remember my name, but she remembered my face, and she was so grateful when we came back.”
“Our country was built on doing for others,” said Gillette, who lived through the Great Depression and remembers years when his father didn’t receive his first wages for the year until March. “If you need help, where do you go? I wasn’t aware of these services until I started using them. When people come into your home to help you, you start asking yourself, ‘What can I do?’”
The MLK Day of Service in Snohomish County is a partnership of United Way of Snohomish County, the YMCA of Snohomish County, Catholic Community Services and Senior Corps.