On Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — 62 Penn State students spent their day off from classes to support the work of numerous nonprofit organizations in Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties. The students attend the Greater Allegheny, Beaver, DuBois, Fayette and New Kensington campuses.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is an annual event hosted by one of the western Penn State campuses; Louise Aravich, residence life and student leadership coordinator at Penn State Greater Allegheny, organized this year’s event.
“Our students engage in service to honor Dr. King’s life and his work,” said Aravich. “It’s an opportunity for them to give back and help others, and to do so with fellow Penn State students who attend another campus.”
Students and staff formed groups and traveled to six local organizations.
Auberle, located in McKeesport and close to the Greater Allegheny campus, is a nonprofit faith-based organization that transforms the lives of individuals, families and communities through Southwestern Pennsylvania. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students helped to sort, organize and arrange donations from the local community.
“It was very helpful”, said Kayla McGrath, volunteer organizer at Auberle. “[The students] were hard workers and were motivated.”
Lorin Ballog, a psychology sophomore at Greater Allegheny, participating in her first Day of Service, said, “I enjoyed my experience at Auberle. I worked along with people who care and want to make a difference.”
Bible Center Church, located in downtown Pittsburgh, provides a place for individuals to find faith, family and purpose in a welcoming environment. Penn State students helped the center with its annual Dream STEM event, an immersive STEM experience for students in Homewood that emphasizes African-American contributions to STEM fields.
“It means a lot to have extra help, especially from Penn State students in the area,” said India Harris, event coordinator. “Our kids look up to them. It shows them what secondary education looks like.”
All But Furgotten Inc. is a nonprofit, humane animal-welfare organization dedicated to the prevention of cruelty and suffering of all animals. Their mission is to rescue and rehabilitate neglected, abandoned and unwanted animals and provide a safe and loving forever home. The organization is planning to overhaul their space in the coming months to offer updated living quarters for rescued animals, and in preparation students demolished old cages.
“We have been working for weeks trying to break down everything," said Melanie Wedge, president of All But Furgotten. “The students that helped today cut down on labor and volunteer time so that we can start our renovations in February.”
Beverly’s Birthday is a nonprofit organization that provides birthday celebrations for children experiencing homelessness and for families in need.
"I thought it was a very wonderful experience," said Elena Piel, student at Greater Allegheny. "It made me realize how a lot of people take what they have for granted. We don't pay much attention to the little things that we expect, while others have never had the chance to experience those same things."
Shari Halfhill, spokesperson for Beverly's Birthday, expressed how thrilled she was to have students from Penn State helping out. "Their help is invaluable,” Halfhill said. "What they are doing in a few hours would take us weeks, if not months to do."
The Salvation Army Family Store and Donation Center in North Huntingdon serves to meet human needs. During their time at the store, "students tested gaming systems, and hung and sorted clothes," said store manager Tracy Frankowski. "It's a great learning experience for them to see what a nonprofit does, how it operates, and why they do what they do."
Penn State campuses across the commonwealth serve their communities not only on the MLK Day of Service, but throughout the year.