“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words resonated on a cold, blue-skied Monday dedicated to his message of service. More than 1,000 students from Portland State and eight other colleges and universities in the Portland area gathered for one of the nation’s largest mobilizations of college students.
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words resonated on a cold, blue-skied Monday dedicated to his message of service.
More than 1,000 students from Portland State and eight other colleges and universities in the Portland area gathered for one of the nation’s largest mobilizations of college students.
Students cleaned, sorted and distributed 50,000 donated books that will go to low-income children across Multnomah County, where 21 percent of children live in poverty. Many grow up in homes without books and miss a critical opportunity to build a foundation for literacy, according to educators.
“Education as a civil right” was the theme for this year’s Day of Service, an Oregon Campus Compact tradition. A student who cannot read at proficiency level by the third grade is four times more likely to drop out of school than a proficient reader, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The Day of Service culminated PSU’s week-long tribute to King—a day that included film screenings, panel discussions on diversity, civil rights and service and a keynote address by prominent scholar and advocate Cornel West.
After a rally at Concordia University, students broke into small teams. Some traveled to the nearby Boys & Girls Club and Faubion Elementary School (each recipients of book packages) to work on the project. Teams taped ripped pages together, wiped dirty covers clean, removed library labels and sorted books by grade level and language.
“It’s a day on, not a day off,” said Erika Nielsen, a project leader who has been serving on MLK Day of Service for five years. “It’s an opportunity to do something different. To focus on something besides myself,” the PSU junior said.
Last year, the books were on the verge of being discarded. Donated to the City of Portland by a nonprofit organization, the books struggled to find a home. Half of the initial 100,000 books were distributed last year, and PSU stored the remaining books to prevent them from being thrown away because of the city’s lack of storage space, according to a press release from Oregon Campus Compact.
The books ranged from hardcover classics like The Call of the Wild for middle schoolers to Sesame Street pop-up books for toddlers. Inscriptions—some more than 50 years old—to granddaughters and sons revealed lives touched by books that will now benefit another generation of young readers.
“Before a child can be encouraged to know the intricacies of language and literature, they have to enjoy books—they have to really take pleasure in reading,” said Nielsen, who is also a part of PSU’s Student Leaders for Service group.
Students reflected on the immediate and future impact the Day of Service would have on those in need and those performing service alike. Many sought to find solutions that align policy and service, such as institutionalized book banks and early literacy intervention.
“I know you might not feel like you did much, but it makes such a difference,” Nielsen said in a group discussion. Students brainstormed the impact small acts can have on many people, with ideas ranging from a brightened day to a brightened future—a child gifted a book could even become a future president, one student suggested.
Connecting with students from other campuses solidified the sense of community for many volunteers.
“I really enjoyed meeting new people while giving back to those in need,” said junior Kristie Waldroop, who participated in the event for the first time.
The Day of Service has drawn thousands of students from across the region for a variety of service projects. Last year, students served at Roosevelt High School, cleaning the grounds and sharing oral histories.
“The collaborative was started four years ago with the hope [of bringing] college students together,” said Jessica Conley, an SLS program coordinator. “They connect with other civically minded individuals to witness the impact and value of working together [toward] social change.”