After an informative and thought-provoking training on Friday, January 13, members of Compass and Literacy*AmeriCorps Pittsburgh took part in various service projects and member development activities over the weekend as well as on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday the 16th.
MLK America’s Sunday Supper was held at the Pitt Union building the evening before AmeriCorps MLK Day of Service. After a very delicious potluck dinner, participants watched the documentary The Way We Get By. Upholding King’s message of love, the documentary tracked three elderly citizens of Bangor, Maine, and their service to soldiers arriving and departing from the local airport. A panel discussion about veterans affairs and the impact of the movie was held following the documentary.
On Martin Luther King Day, The August Wilson Center was buzzing with activity as Pittsburghers flocked to the center to experience African-American culture. The day-long event had something for all visitors, from arts and crafts, to dance and musical performances. This meant that there were many different types of activities that AmeriCorps volunteers could participate in. While some acted as “gallery-sitters” in the art gallery, others helped with arts and crafts, assisted with documentary viewing, gave guests information about donating blood, ushered, and even handed out popcorn (which was very popular among visitors). All in all, the day seemed to be a success. Many members who had not yet been to the August Wilson Center were happy to have finally made it out, while others who had been there before were able to experience something new.
Other AmeriCorps members volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. They started off the day with hundreds of volunteers who were serving at sites all over the area. Braddock’s mayor, John Fetterman, “America’s Coolest Mayor”, gave an inspiring speech before the groups dispersed to various sites.
Ten AmeriCorps volunteers ventured to Braddock to help remove debris and rubble from the abandoned Ohringer Building in preparation to convert the building into condos for artists. That group walked to the Ohringer Building (along with the mayor) and spent several hours on the stairs, stretching from the first floor to the sixth floor. They created a human chain and passed garbage (big, small, heavy, light, dirty, nail-ridden, etc.) down the stairs and into dumpsters on the ground. By 2pm, they were very dirty and very tired, but they had accomplished a lot.
In another Habitat for Humanity project, five Compass and Literacy AmeriCorps member served together painting the downstairs level of Ahmed’s home in Homewood. They taped and painted his living room, hallway, and kitchen. Ahmed was a great host – he worked alongside the volunteers, provided them with music all morning, and talked with them for a while about the neighborhood and his future plans for the house. It was a really great way to spend MLK Day in service to an improving area of Pittsburgh!
Seven AmeriCorps members also joined Habitat volunteers at the Burning Bush House of Prayer in the South Side. One of the focuses of this organization is homeless veterans, and members met with one man who had been helped by Burning Bush – a Vietnam veteran who had been homeless for close to two decades. Some members helped prepare a room to be painted and others worked on cleaning an oven, but the main project was building shelves and organizing food from the organization’s food drive. It took four hours, but members unloaded hundreds of bags of groceries and completely filled the shelves that they built. It was rewarding to see how much was accomplished and to know that the food they organized would go to people who are unable to afford it themselves.
Members who went to the Habitat closing activities were fed a delicious lunch and heard speeches from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank, the MLK Community Mural Project, the mayor’s office and others at the closing ceremonies. None of the AmeriCorps members won door prizes, but the reward of doing something important for the community is all that was needed!
After busy days with either the August Wilson Center or Habitat for Humanity, several members chose to continue their day of service at the Union Project’s 9th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Many Hands” celebration. The Union Project is an old church that was restored in order to serve as a community space for the diverse neighborhoods to the east of Pittsburgh, and members were thrilled to be included as part of that community. While neighborhood children were free to venture around the center to listen to stories or participate in creating mosaic tabletops for a local coffee shop, the AmeriCorps members present chose to stay in the Great Hall and listen to a dramatic reading, inspirational songs and informational presentations by community non-profits. Members unanimously agreed, however, that the best part of the evening was the community dinner, a celebratory feast that included a wide array of options and flavors. Though the line waiting to be served seemed endless, so did the trays of food that volunteers constantly brought from the kitchen – so much that there were leftovers, even after more than 300 people had been fed! At the end of the evening, members assisted in cleaning up the hall and then returned to their homes after a long, but fulfilling day of service.
A special thanks to Rebekah Laslow, Rebecca Dooley, Susie Backscheider, Casey Rich, and Stephanie Klocke for contributing their experiences to this article.