Local youth complete service projects on MLK Jr. Day

Seymour students were out of school Monday for the federal holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Instead of enjoying a day off at home, a group of nearly 30 kids chose to get up early and spend several hours helping out in the community.

Last year, Tim Ferret, family ministries director for The Point in Seymour, and members of the church’s student ministry, Point Students, volunteered at Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry in Seymour.

This MLK Jr. Day, he decided to expand the outreach and got a couple of other churches and a youth-serving organization to get involved in the day of service.

“I wanted to see it grow and grow every year and just see more and more teens using that MLK Jr. Day off of school to serve,” he said.

Youth from The Point were joined by kids from Central Christian Church and Emmanuel Church, both in Seymour, and some members of the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour Torch Club in completing service projects.

Some helped with pantry day and organizing the warehouse at Anchor House. Some sorted donations and other items and cleaned at the Anchor House East Shelter. Some painted the inside of dugouts at Shields Park and cleaned at the Seymour Community Center to help the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department.

The tagline for the day was “A day on, not a day off.”

“Just to encourage college students, high school students, middle school students to look at it as you could just be sleeping in and you could be just enjoying your vacation day like anybody else, but since this is a day to commemorate a man who lived selflessly, served his whole life all the way to his death, let’s honor that by doing service for our local community,” Ferret said.

When Ferret lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and worked in higher education, the local school district did a program to start the day of service, and he had his college students attend. Then they were joined by middle and high school students in going out to do community service projects.

He came on staff at The Point in 2019, and after the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, Ferret wanted to get the MLK Jr. Day projects started here.

“This is a great opportunity to participate in something that’s happening nationwide,” he said.

Youth at local churches may get opportunities to do mission work domestic and international, but Ferret said it’s important for them to have a perspective of serving locally in their own community, too.

“I can go to Appalachia, I can go help with Kentucky tornado relief, I can go to a third-world country, an impoverished area, so I think just to let them have that exposure to the whole scope of what they can do for service and missions is important,” he said.

Cory Otero, 18, and Caleb Cummings, 17, were among The Point youth helping at Anchor House.

Cummings said he helped there last year, too, and had fun, so he wanted to do it again, while Otero said he has done projects in the past, but this was his first time with The Point.

“I figured it would be a good experience. It’s important to give back to others who don’t have stuff we have,” Otero said.

“It feels great to help the community, just help others in need,” Cummings said.

They were glad to see other churches get involved this year.

“It brings churches together to be more acquainted with each other,” Cummings said.

“I think it’s good to see kids our age coming out here and helping. It’s hard to find,” Otero said.

M.J. Kratoska brought six youth from Central Christian Church to help at Anchor House.

“A lot of it is from their parents,” he said, smiling, of the kids doing a community service project on a day off from school. “But we’re trying to teach them basically Jesus’ biggest commandment was love other people, and this is part of that, to show them that they can help. Hopefully, they start feeling better about helping other people and they continue to do it through their whole lives. That has a lot to do with love.”

He also said it’s important to show kids other parts of life they don’t know about, like Anchor House serving the hungry and homeless.

Plus, it was good for families to work on the projects together. Kratoska brought his sons along to help.

“That has a lot to do with spirituality, as well, is the families getting out and understanding that this is the right thing,” he said.

The kids represent one of King’s values, hope for the future, he said.

“(King) was a preacher, as well. This is what he would want people to do,” Kratoska said. “I’m not sure he would want his own day, but from what I do know about him, maybe the kids will understand and remember a little bit more (about King).”

Brandon Wilson, program specialist for the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour, said the Torch Club focuses on community service for youth ages 11 to 13, so Monday’s projects were right in line with what they do on a regular basis.

The kids rang bells for The Salvation Army and collected toys and food for kids at Christmas for Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, so painting the dugouts and cleaning the community center on Monday can now be added to their list of projects.

“I don’t know of any 11-year-olds that are out here doing this right now, so that alone sets them apart … just like how Martin Luther King set himself apart with his movement,” Wilson said. “I just think it shows them good life skills. These guys, if we tell them we’re going to go paint something, they are going to go crazy.”

Painting a dugout that has been painted many times before may seem small, Wilson said, but it will benefit the hundreds of kids who will play there in the summer.

“They may not even notice it or realize it, but it’s going to be nice for them,” he said.

For all of the kids who helped with Monday’s projects, Ferret said they now have connected with a community partner, and he hopes they think of them in the future to help in whatever way they can.

“For most of these teens, they’ve never stepped in the shelter here. Maybe they didn’t know that Anchor House provided an overnight shelter for residents,” he said. “I think them just seeing that service can be something that’s fun to do, that it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re not just doing a task that is hard work.’ … It’s made more fun by doing it with other people.”