Martin Luther King Day of Service brings out Keuka College students, faculty and community members to help area organizations and churches.

What better way to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King than to make the day named for him not about having a day off work, but rather a day of work for the common good, for the community, and for the greater understanding and friendship between citizens.

Keuka College made this Martin Luther King Day just that. Growing from an idea conceived last year by Keuka senior and basketball team star, Diamond Booker, this year has surpassed all the organizer’s expectations

Last year, as an athlete on campus before the rest of the undergraduates returned for the following term, Booker had the idea to do something significant on MLK Day.

He wanted to combine his  talent and experience on the basketball court with his desire to “do something about racial ignorance.”

In a community not known for its racial diversity, he organized a free basketball clinic for primary school students. More than learning game skills, for many of these children it was their first interaction with a person of color, and Diamond made it constructive, positive, and memorable.
From that one man’s effort came forth this year’s  expanded campaign. Chevanne DeVaney, director of Multi-Cultural Affairs at the college and Chair of the MLK Day of Service Committee was more than pleased with the outcome.

“We had hoped for 50 participants and we got closer to 100,” she said. “I e-mailed the invitation and they all wanted to take part. The community and churches have been incredibly supportive. They truly welcomed us with open arms.” Penn Yan United Methodist Church, Milly’s Pantry, Clinton Crest Manor, Comforter for the Poor, ARC of Yates, and the American Legion are just some the organizations who have volunteered their members and facilities for the day of service.

Diamond was there too, along with many of his fellow athletes, continuing his “Hoop Clinic” at the Penn Yan Middle School.

About 25 youngsters of all ages and sizes turned out for the basketball clinic. A spirited game evolved with little primary school age youngsters mixing it up with some of the middle school age athletes.

Desmond Battin, 10, and his sister, Demi, 13 were tough competitors on the court, catching the eye of the college level players.  Desmond said the best part about the clinic was getting a chance to play against his sister. If he’d been home for the day, he said he’d probably be “downstairs dribbling.”

He and his sister were both winners of their age divisions in the Elks Hoop Shoot on Saturday.
Morgan Englebert, a senior at Keuka College and women’s basketball player from Elmira, said the clinic idea appealed to her because she likes kids and loves basketball. As a field period student working with the Arc of Yates DRIVE program at the college, she made sure those students were involved in the day’s events as well.

At the Penn Yan Baptist Church, a small group of volunteers helped package hundreds of ice cream cones and 300 lbs. of oatmeal for the Food for the Needy program.

Becky Holder, one of the Food for the Needy program coordinators, said if she didn’t have the help, she’d probably be working at the task herself into the night.

“My mother (Milly Bloomquist, founder of Food for the Needy) has said for 50 years that Penn Yan is a wonderful community of volunteerism and service. It continues,” she said.  

Laura-Sylyea Evans, who also works with the Arc of Yates DRIVE?program was helping out at the Baptist Church.

“I was on the planning committee and I was delighted to come here and help with this program,” she said.

Also participating were the International Master’s Program students from throughout Asia, locally based Keuka undergraduates, and many of the college faculty, including both Drs. Burke.

Professor. Alex Perryman, who is in his first year teaching business at Keuka, presided at the  spaghetti luncheon at the Penn Yan Methodist Church.

He spoke of the difference in the sense of community he finds here as opposed to his hometown of Detroit. “On the way here today, we saw the car in front of us go off the road and crash, flipping over seven times.” He told of how not just they, but numerous people stopped, called 911, checked on the driver, and waited with him for emergency services to arrive.

“That’s what this day of service is all about; being there and helping those people who need it most.”

Perryman further praised the efforts from every group in Yates County. “I’ve been here about a year and honestly don’t think I’ve ever spoken with a Mennonite in all that time. Today, that changed.”

The lunch undoubtedly hosted one of the most diverse groups ever seen in Penn Yan. Neither race nor gender, occupation nor wealth, age nor ability presented any barrier to the efforts and the spirit of cooperation exhibited by all those who chose to make this contribution to Dr. King’s Dream. It was rather “the content of their character” that united every person in that common and most admirable cause.