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Volunteers honor MLK with day of service

Xenia Fortegin, left, and Lily Legesse help load 20 yards of bark into wheelbarrows to distribute around the base of the Jennings Park playground structure at 64th Street, for Snohomish County’s ‘MLK Day of Service’ on Jan. 20. - Kirk Boxleitner
Xenia Fortegin, left, and Lily Legesse help load 20 yards of bark into wheelbarrows to distribute around the base of the Jennings Park playground structure at 64th Street, for Snohomish County’s ‘MLK Day of Service’ on Jan. 20.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored through deeds as well as words on Monday, Jan. 20, as area teens helped feed the needy, refurbish city parks and assist the elderly and disabled, all as part of the fifth year in a row of “MLK Day of Service” in Snohomish County.

The United Way of Snohomish County partners with the YMCA of Snohomish County, Catholic Community Services and Senior Corps RSVP to present this annual event, which this year drew 301 volunteers aged 14-19 years — a 20 percent increase from last year’s number — as well as 58 adult volunteers, as they worked on 20 community projects and served 15 elderly and/or disabled home chore clients throughout the county on this year’s observance of Martin Luther King Day.

The Marysville Community Food Bank received a visit from seven younger volunteers and two adult supervisors that day, who guided the Food Bank’s clients through the shopping line.

“It turned out those folks saved our bacon on Monday,” Marysville Community Food Bank Director Dell Deierling said. “We only had a few of our regular volunteers come in that day — maybe they thought we were on holiday, too — and we need between 17-20 volunteers to assist our clients in getting food as they move through the Food Bank. It would have been a long day for our remaining volunteers had those students not been there to lend a hand. One student helped Don Asmus hand out dairy products, while the others served as our clients’ personal shoppers.”

Deierling credited all the volunteers that day with doing a great job, and he was pleased to hear from several students that their experiences as Food Bank volunteers were so positive that they hope to return.

“One gal told me she really enjoyed hearing stories from the seniors who came in for food,” Deierling said. “On Mondays, we serve folks 62 years and older, and disabled clients. That Monday, we served 58 families in all. We definitely want to host a Martin Luther King Day volunteer project again next year.”

The playground at the 64th Street entrance of Jennings Park drew half a dozen young volunteers of its own, along with three adults to oversee their efforts, as they distributed 20 yards of bark around the base of the playground structure.

“Two of the four girls who pitched in were walk-ins,” said Bill Schweers, one of the volunteer leaders at the playground site, along with Jim Pauley. “They and the two boys who joined them all worked very hard without complaint. They were very glad to do it.”

“These are awesome kids,” Pauley said. “This isn’t their first time volunteering on a project like this, for just about any of them, and they’re even introducing their friends to this work.”

Marysville Arts & Technology High School student Chance Mair and his mom Christine, who serves as president of the school’s PTSA, found out about the annual MLK Day of Service from reading about last year’s local projects in The Marysville Globe, so they pledged to represent their school through this year’s volunteer labors, which drew students to Marysville from as far away as Mariner High School.

“This day is all about Martin Luther King, and trying to understand the sacrifices he made, by doing what we can to serve our communities,” Schweers said.

Just a few blocks east of the Jennings Park playground on 64th Street, Don Gillette welcomed back five students from the Marysville YMCA’s Minority Achievers Program, who set to work cleaning his kitchen and the two bathrooms in his mobile home, in addition to touching up his windows and doing some dusting and vacuuming.

While these might seem like relatively simple acts of assistance, just keeping up with such day-to-day tasks can be a challenge for Gillette, who’s in his 80s, hard of hearing and lives by himself.

“My girlfriend says I’m still sharp, but I get winded just dancing,” Gillette chuckled. “I’m not as nimble as I used to be, and for groups like these young people and Catholic Community Services to come out and help me out, so many times, makes such a difference in my life.”

All five students who visited Gillette this year had given his home a similar spring cleaning during at least one previous MLK Day of Service, and all five of them had been volunteering for MLK Days of Service since they were freshmen in high school, even though the eldest, Daniel Conchas, is now a freshman at Everett Community College.

When asked what inspired them to make Martin Luther King Day “a day on, not a day off,” as per the MLK Day of Service’s slogan, the students’ answers were short and simple.

“I just like helping out,” said Yareli Aguilar, a senior at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

“It just feels good,” fellow M-PHS senior Sandra Carretero agreed. “Especially when you see how much the people you’re serving appreciate the things you’re doing for them.”

“At first, some of the work can be tedious,” said Vanessa Ramirez, a junior at the Marysville Getchell High School Bio-Med Academy. “But it’s instantly worthwhile when you receive thanks.”

“If I had a hat, I’d take it off to this younger generation of volunteers,” Gillette said. “They do such a good job, and they’re so pleasant to me.”

“High school students are inspired by Dr. King’s lessons of compassion and community-building,” said Dennis G. Smith, president and CEO of the United Way of Snohomish County. “This national day of service provides a way to put those ideals into action.”

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