Students Roll up Their Sleeves in Honor of King

Published: Jan 17, 2007
By Robin Roger
Web Writer

While most people took the day off from work Jan. 15, University of Tampa students turned out for some dirty work.

Roughly 100 students, faculty and staff shoveled horse manure, picked up trash and cleaned house as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. They met on campus at 8 a.m., before riding buses out to the various venues and working from 9 a.m. until noon. Recently, service has become a large part of the holiday nationwide, as people increasingly choose to honor the famed civil rights leader by helping others.

“Service is an important aspect of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday because it brings a group of people together who are of different races, perspectives, ideas, backgrounds, and ages for one main purpose: to give back to the community,” said David A. Ramnarine, a junior and treasurer of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about people of diverse communities coming together as one, and this was one of his main goals. And I think giving back to the community was a great way of honoring this on his day.”

Organized by the student organization P.E.A.C.E. (People Exploring Active Community Experience), the day of service had students traveling to Gorrie Elementary School, Seniors in Service at Tampa Baptist Manor, Hudson Manor, Keep Hillsborough County Clean and Bakas Horses for Handicapped.

At Bakas Horses for Handicapped 19 students spent the morning shoveling manure and grooming horses like Sequoia and Little John, who gives back massages with his lips. These horses give free rides to 100 handicapped children and adults each week.

“It provides not only physical therapy, but mental therapy,” said Gina Edwards, volunteer coordinator and instructor for Bakas. “Riding teaches them balance, but it also gives them confidence in things they didn’t think they could do. When they’re non-ambulatory it’s the closest thing they feel to walking.”

The nonprofit has only five full-time employees, so it relies on volunteers like the UT students.

“Volunteers are a big part of our program,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Though no riders visited the stables that morning, UT senior Adrienne McGill knew they would appreciate her hard work. She used to volunteer at a horse therapy location in Maryland before coming to Tampa.

“I love to volunteer, and I’m not from around here, so it’s good to see what’s out here,” she said.

McGill has also participated in Into the Streets, a larger volunteer event in the fall. Her freshman year she spent the day at Metropolitan Ministries, and she returned her sophomore year to volunteer at the day care center there. She plans to join the Peace Corps when she graduates and hopes to travel to Africa.

Chemistry professor John Struss started his day at Keep Hillsborough County Clean, where he helped clean up trash on the side of the road near the intersection of Adamo Drive and U.S. 301. His group collected a hodgepodge of cigarette butts and old receipts, beer bottles and cans.

“Into the Streets and MLK Day are important because they give us a sense of community, and they show the students that faculty are involved,” he said. “They also give me a sense that I am contributing and giving something back.”

Four faculty and two staff members worked side-by-side with students at the event.

“Hopefully it’s just a starting point for students,” said Casey Stevens, advisor to the P.E.A.C.E. “We want students to get a taste of what service is about and know that it will be a part of their education at UT.”

The event is the first opportunity this semester for new students to volunteer and learn about life off campus, she added. While many freshmen participate in the event each year, several upperclassmen also come, and many historically black organizations regularly include it in their list of activities for the holiday, she said.

“When they graduate there will still be a lot of problems out there,” Stevens said. “Hopefully they will learn there are all kinds of populations and needs.”

Martin Luther King Day of Service reflects an important aspect of the University’s mission, which includes the promotion of experiential learning or “learning by doing.” The event was coordinated by UT’s P.E.A.C.E. Volunteer Center. For more information about service opportunities, please contact P.E.A.C.E. at (813) 253-3333 x 3695 or peace@ut.edu.