On a frigid Gunnison winter morning, a Western Colorado University van turned onto Wisconsin St. armed with volunteers, rags and plenty of furniture polish. Their task was to remove every book on the shelves of the Gunnison County Public Library and make sure they were dusted and polished. Library technician Jessica Bathje was extremely appreciative of the help she received.
For the past three years, Western’s Omicron Delta Kappa chapter has held a Martin Luther King Jr., “a day on, not a day off” event to honor the civil rights leader. Members of Western serve the community’s non-profits throughout the valley.
“I have had to do this by myself for the past couple years,” said Bathje. “It would take me two months of working every Sunday to get it done.”
This year, thanks to the volunteers, it was completed in one afternoon.
“These volunteers helped tremendously make the library better, healthier and nicer for people to come in and use it,” Bathje said.
This was just one of many projects that took place to give back to the community for Western’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The day’s slogan is, “A day on, not a day off.”
Before the volunteers began their day, they were welcomed into the University Center on Western’s campus to hear some inspirational words in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Elizabeth Cobbins, Program Coordinator for Western’s Multicultural Center, was the keynote speaker this year.
“Service opportunities are clearly a catalyst for student engagement and champion the idea that every Western student can make a positive impact in the Gunnison Valley,” Cobbins said. “If you truly want to become part of the local community, there is no better way to do it.”
In Cobbins’ keynote speech, she spoke about how to give back and be an engaged, influential member of your community.
“The Day of Service is not about picking up trash, washing dogs and reading books to children,” Cobbins said. “While those things are important, it is also about helping those who are less fortunate than yourself. It is about standing in the gap for those who cannot stand for themselves. It is about advocating for your community.”
With these inspirational words, the volunteers left for their prospective service sites throughout the valley.
Some volunteers headed over to Seasons Schoolhouse, where they helped clear snow and ice.
“It is great that the preschoolers who are here can see what it means to take care of their community,” said Kristen Peterson, program director at Seasons Schoolhouse.
“We are so grateful for these volunteers,” she said. “They are quick and efficient, they have helped us move out of a building, clean, do landscaping all of these big projects that we have needed help with, Western kids have stepped up. We have been able to get so much done that we may not have been able to get done without the help of the volunteers.”
Community service is beneficial not only to the people being helped, but also the volunteers.
“The MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen our communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘beloved community,’” said Gary Pierson, dean of students at Western. “Service breaks down barriers by bringing people from different experiences together. Volunteering can unite people of all ages and backgrounds while building stronger communities.”
Without the planning and work of so many people, the MLK Day of Service would not be what it has come to be today.
“I would like to offer a special thanks to the Gunnison High School students from the Student Leadership Council and National Honor Society as well as the local Gunnison community members who attended,” Pierson said. He went on to thank Annie Westbury, Western’s program coordinator for student engagement, and Western’s chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa.
Three years ago, Western held their inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, where 80 community members served six sites in Gunnison. Now, every time there is a day of service the number of volunteers grows exponentially. This year 200 volunteers gave 784 total hours. The next day of service will be held in the fall during homecoming weekend.
“Be selfless,” said Cobbins. “Remember that if you were in a place where you needed help, you would want someone to help you. There is always someone or something that needs your service. Unity and civility give us humility.”
For information on how you can help the community, visit www.gunnisonvalleyvolunteers.com.