NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — To honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., student volunteers from Penn State New Kensington traveled to Uniontown, Pennsylvania on Jan. 16 to work in the community. The New Kensington students joined students at other Penn State campuses in western Pennsylvania for "Make it a Day On, Not a Day Off," a celebration of King’s life. The third Monday in January is a federal holiday, and there were no classes.
The multi-campus community service project is an annual event that moves around the region. Nine New Kensington students — Chad Navarro, Ashley Worlds, Taylor McHenry, Tyler Campbell, Jake Boney, Tyler John, Shannon Josefoski, Mariana Mbemba and Taylor Eackles — made the trip to Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
New Kensington students and 100 of their counterparts from the Penn State campuses of Altoona, Beaver, DuBois, Erie, Fayette, Greater Allegheny and Shenango, were assigned groups to help with the daily activities at six community organizations in the Uniontown area. The students performed a variety of tasks — cleaning, organizing, boxing lunches and working with the elderly. The nonprofits served were Fayette Friends of Animals, Connellsville Ministries, Fayette County Food Bank, Crime Victims Center, Domestic Violence Services and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Mbemba, an international student from the Republic of Zimbabwe in southern Africa, took on the project because of her admiration of the civil rights icon. She too dreams of equality in her native land.
“I am a fan of Martin Luther King and so just participating in this service makes me feel like I am pursuing part of his legacy,” said Mbemba, who grew up in Harare, the capital and largest city of Zimbabwe. “Hopefully, I will live my life of service to my continent Africa.”
Mbemba worked at the food bank, which annually collects nearly two million pounds of food for 9,000 residents in Fayette County. The first-year biomedical engineering technology major and eight students from other Penn State campuses packed food for senior citizens. Although she would have liked to be more hands-on in feeding the people, she enjoyed her experience as a volunteer.
“I felt proud when my team and I had stacked 326 boxes,” said Mbemba, a cheerleader and president of the Africa Club at the campus. “In other words, we were responsible for feeding 326 seniors. I wish to see their faces now.”
Campbell, a freshman psychology major from Blairsville, Pennsylvania, wanted to give up part of his day to ameliorate the situations of others. He was assigned to Fayette Friends of Animals, a shelter for stray, abandoned or surrendered animals. The Greensburg Salem High School graduate walked dogs, played with cats, cleaned cages and maintained the area.
“This experience left me feeling grateful for where I am and what I do,” said Campbell, who plans on pursuing a doctorate in psychology. “There is always someone out there that needs your help, even if it is animals.”
One of the campus’ veterans of MLK day activities was Josefoski, a junior business management major from Highlands High School. She journeyed to McKeesport and the Greater Allegheny campus a year ago.
Josefoski, president of the Student Government Association at the campus, volunteered at Connellsville Ministries, which is open to all people who need support in the struggle to obtain justice and develop a healthy lifestyle.
New Kensington hosted the event in 2012, and will be the featured campus in 2020.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed for the first time in 1986. In 1994, Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service, charging the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only national holiday designated as a national day of service.