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MLK Legacy of Service Calls Volunteers to Greatness

AFHA AC 2016

By Beverly ON TRAC VISTA Cindy Karelis - February 2016

   The pursuit of greatness was likely never  the goal of even one of the local Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps members when they signed on to live at or near the same poverty level as those they are commissioned to serve.  A meager stipend, fluctuating hours of work, and, very often, challenging task assignments are all part of the job description that distinguishes theirs from the more traditional experience of their contemporaries.

   But Martin Luther King, Jr. prophesied decades ago the inherent value of these current AmeriCorps volunteers reporting for duty daily in Randolph, Tucker, Upshur, Preston, and Greenbrier Counties when he declared a “new definition of greatness” that insists “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

   Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will be marked across the nation on Monday as volunteers add action to Dr. King’s belief that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” Locally, AFHA members will participate throughout the five-county area in book drives, food service, trash pickup, a teddy bear craft with school children, and both a Valentine card drive and paint therapy initiative at local nursing homes.

   Ongoing tasks for the AFHA AmeriCorps promote development, maintenance, and investment in forestry, history, culture, and natural resources. Year-long service involves planting trees, developing cultural heritage products, upgrading trails, monitoring wildlife conditions, and developing programs for local history museums, as well as hands-on work toward building stabilization and preservation.

   Before beginning their appointed year of service, an AmeriCorps member recites the pledge that vows to fight apathy, conflict, and adversity with action. The AmeriCorps VISTA member recites the Oath of Service, promising to defend the Constitution of the United States and vowing faith and allegiance to the same. Both the pledge and the Oath are asserted only after the prospective member has undergone extensive training in preparation for a year of self-deprivation for the sake of others.

   Volunteer West Virginia, the State’s Commission for National and Community Service, fosters the call to service through its AmeriCorps outreach by sponsoring and conducting training through annual conferences and workshops. According to newly-named Executive Director Heather Foster more than 270 AmeriCorps members, including those from the AFHA team, will coordinate service projects this year alongside hundreds of community volunteers during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

   Volunteer WV’s 2015 Leadership Conference – Telling Our Stories stressed the importance of staying connected to one another through volunteerism. Calling volunteers “a critical part of the health, vibrancy, and future of West Virginia communities,” Foster insists that “the success of our communities still depends on our ability to generate human connections.”

   Katie Sammons, a first-year AFHA AmeriCorps Hands-On team member from Columbus, OH, honors the connectedness Foster considers vital, as she cheerfully “gives back to the community” where she lives each day.” Sammons “wanted to do this job,” and she accepts the challenges that take her “out of her everyday existence.” She, too, agrees with Foster’s sentiments that “the opportunity to serve others reminds us that we are not alone.”

    In 2015, “Volunteer West Virginia programs, including West Virginia AmeriCorps, coordinated more than 1,069 service project events and leveraged more than 300,000 volunteer hours during days of service throughout the year,” according to Foster. “On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, we honor the legacy of a man whose love, respect, and human connection continues to have a profound impact on our nation,” she added.

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