In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said he wanted to bring justice where there is injustice, freedom where there is oppression, peace where there is violence and opportunity where there is poverty.
Fifty-nine years later, people continue to challenge hate and discrimination and access quality jobs, health care, housing and education.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the federal holiday that occurs on the third Monday of each January, many Americans participate in civic, community and service projects in honor of King.
Many adults are off work that day, while many students are out of school.
For youth at The Point in Seymour, they took King’s mission to heart and made it a “day on for service and not just a day off of school.”
On Monday, a dozen members of the Point Students group spent five hours at Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry in Seymour and helped organize nonperishable food items in the warehouse, assisted food pantry clients and cleaned one of the apartments for the next homeless family that will stay there for temporary shelter.
Mikia Combs, 16, a junior at Seymour High School, said he was convinced to help after hearing from Tim Ferret, the church’s family ministries director, on Sunday night during the youth group’s weekly meeting.
“Just to see another side of people’s lives,” Combs said of why he chose to volunteer. “I would say that all of us have it pretty good ourselves. Just seeing how bad other people have it, it makes me want to help them out.”
Caleb Cummings, 17, a Brownstown Central High School junior, said he helped with a food pantry in Brownstown a few years ago and decided to take advantage of the opportunity at Anchor House when it was presented to him.
He said it goes along with King’s goal of uniting people and serving others.
“All people should be treated equally. It doesn’t matter who you are,” Cummings said. “Everyone needs to know how to get to know each other, no matter who they are and where they came from.”
Cummings even encouraged one of his friends, Levi Mora, who isn’t a part of the youth group, to help Monday.
Mora, 18, a senior at SHS, said for King, it was nothing but love and communication, rather than fighting.
“A big part of that would be a commandment: Love as if someone is your neighbor,” he said.
Anchor House serves all kinds of people, no matter their circumstances or what led them there.
“Just being with the people, you’re showing what you’re all about,” Mora said. “Not just to be about yourself, just to help the others out in the community that actually need help. I love helping out the people in the community. I don’t mind doing it at all. Whatever they need, we’re here.”
Ferret said Point Students, which is for kids in grades 6 to 12, looks for service opportunities throughout the year.
The last couple of summers, he said they served in Seymour instead of going elsewhere for mission trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacting travel. At times, they collaborated with other church youth groups.
This summer, though, the high school students plan to go to West Virginia for a mission trip.
The group also meets on a weekly basis and participates in spiritual retreats, summer camps and social events.
Ferret was happy to have a good turnout of students for Monday’s project.
“We speak pretty regularly at our student ministry about putting our faith in action,” he said. “We want to meet people’s physical needs, but we also want the spiritual needs to be met.”
People, however, can’t have that spiritual need met if they are starving or don’t have clothes or a place to live, Ferret said, referring to the Anchor House clients.
“We feel like doing something like this is creating a pathway or opening a door for these people,” he said. “If they have a meal, if they have the ability to have a place to live, maybe they are going to walk through the entrance of a church someday, maybe they are going to encounter somebody who will be able to share the love of Christ with them. We’re just trying to make sure that those opportunities are there for them.”
This was his fourth time Ferret had students volunteer at Anchor House, and tying that in with a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was fitting.
“My background used to be in higher education, and in those settings, in those workplaces, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was always a day of service with the colleges that I worked at. It’s around the country, too,” he said.
That’s where the tagline “A day on, not a day off” came from.
“Especially having had those experiences myself, I wanted that for my students,” Ferret said. “I was sharing with the students (Sunday) night as we met for our weekly meeting that MLK’s whole life was about trying to bring equality in our people, and so we want to serve those who don’t feel equality in our society in memory of him to commemorate his life.”
Gavin Murphy and Bridget Deaton, both 12, also helped at Anchor House on Monday and were happy to do so.
“Just helping out with the community,” Murphy, a student at the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center, said of why he wanted to be there. “It makes me feel good that others are able to come and have this (help at Anchor House).”
Deaton, a seventh-grader at Seymour Middle School, said she volunteered at Anchor House last year with the student council.
“A part of it was being with my church,” she said of helping Monday. “The thought of it just made me really happy. It makes me feel really good.”
Ferret said he hopes the students knew they made an impact.
“Taking the next step is something that a lot of people don’t do,” he said. “There are lots of things that they could think of excuses — someone else could do it, it’s inconvenient for me. I just hope that their takeaway is ‘If I just make that next right step that a lot of people around me aren’t doing, I can make an impact in our community.’ When we go on these mission trips, even in other places around the world, that’s what I hope their takeaway is.”