Houghton College’s 9th annual MLK Jr. Service Day occurred the past Saturday, April 13, 2013, with students, faculty and staff all participating. Groups were spread out around the local community, as well as various locations in Buffalo for the entirety of the day. There were approximately 100 participants overall.
Houghton College believes strongly in the image of the scholar-servant. The philosophy of service-learning explains this: “Service-Learning is a particular kind of engagement in the community. It is an engagement in which service and learning are equally weighted in purpose: Learning to Serve, Serving to Learn. In Service-Learning, everyone involved is learning and growing and everyone involved is serving… Service-Learning creates a unique atmosphere where servers are served and teachers become learners along with the served.”
“The smallest act of service or caring for your neighbor can be the beginning of a great relationship. It is our goal at Houghton College to be a good neighbor,” explains Phyllis Gaerte, Houghton College director of community relations. “Volunteering through service provides us opportunities to build friendships and partnerships as we help to meet needs in our communities. I am encouraged by the number of students that take part in our service days and the excited spirit and energy that they exhibit as they work with each other and community members.”
The MLK Jr. Service Day began as a way to organize various Service-Learning opportunities at Houghton. With only part-time employees and volunteers from AmeriCorps, the opportunities to participate were minimal.
In 2005, framework was set up for the office of Service-Learning in order to develop specific Service-Learning opportunities. The foundational program of Martin Luther King Service Day was started, which was the first campus-wide organization of students serving on an annual basis. During this time, other programs began to take shape, including the First-Year Introduction groups getting involved in a fall service day, The Royal Readers Book Reading group travelling to Buffalo to read to the students from King Center Charter School, and the Journey’s End Tutoring program, which is specifically for refugees. During the time there was a specified Service-Learning Office on campus, the involvement in service-learning programs increased greatly, particularly FYI, which grew from 275 participants in 2004, to 450 in 2006. At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, the work was dispersed to many different facets of the college, but the projects have been maintained and are continuing to grow.
MLK Service Day was also the catalyst for the annual fall service day, Make a Difference Day, which was begun in the fall of 2012 with a very successful showing of students who provided community service throughout Allegany County.