Editor's Note: Today we're featuring a guest post by, as the title says, Joe "Cornflake" Light, Assistant Team Leader and fellow Media Rep!
Martin Luther King Jr. Day started like many others for Summit 5, FEMA Corps. We all woke up early, sucked down some complimentary muffins from the hotel, piled into our van and headed out onto the cold streets of New York City. But this morning had a different feeling to it. We were on our way to the Rockaways in Queens to paint a community center and help out with anything else that needed to be done in that particularly hard-hit area.
Our team was excited to get out and do some good old-fashioned hands-on work, and we couldn't help but act like the chipper young people we are on our ride in. Upon arriving at the community center we were given even more muffins, this time compliments of NYC Service. Score! We were each given a paint brush or roller and were pretty much given free rein for the next few hours of painting.
We worked in partnership with another FEMA Corps team, for a total of about 20 Corps Members, and the work went quickly with so many capable young people on the scene. By the time we finished painting the two-part room we were assigned, we were all laughing and singing along to somebody's iTunes playlist. Sounds like a pretty uneventful day, doesn't it? Well, that's what I initially thought too. Don't get me wrong, the work we did was incredibly helpful to the community, but I was just perplexed by the thought that us painting a room was considered a way of embodying MLK's visions.
We finished the painting much faster than had been anticipated, and there was no extra work to be had at the community center, so our team took off for home. It was still early in the day, so we ducked into a small cafe/ice cream shoppe for a quick treat and spent the next hour animatedly chatting at the counter over ice cream. I wandered off from the group to explore the cafe's customer wall of fame and mull over the seemingly uneventful day we had just had.
While perusing the various signs, pictures and miscellaneous items hanging from the wall and ceiling I was approached by two middle-aged men. They had noticed our gray AmeriCorps hoodies and khaki pants and wanted to know more about us. I spent the next half hour answering questions and telling stories to them as they repeated the same line over and over again. "Wow, that's great. Thanks for what you guys do!"
I get asked questions about AmeriCorps on a weekly basis and I'm thanked by disaster survivors on an almost daily basis, but these two guys' praise stood out to me for some reason. Yeah, they were charismatic and easy to talk to, but I just couldn't put my finger on the real reason I was so drawn to this conversation. It came time for us to head home and I shook hands with the two gentlemen as they wished our team the best and thanked us profusely for our service.
On the ride back I was in a fog, split between the pleasure of having an engaging conversation with complete strangers, but still searching for the meaning in our day of service. It took a little bit of abstract "big picture" thinking, but when it hit me, it hit me hard! I was only focusing on the meaning of our individual team's day of service in memory of MLK. In reality, the day is about an entire country, or even an entire planet, teaming up and doing things to better the lives of those around us. It's about putting aside our differences and working together for a common goal, even if only for one day a year.
Painting one room in a disaster zone that is home to 8.5 million people may seem like a drop in the bucket, but look at the big picture. Think of the thousands of rooms that must have been painted by volunteers on January 21st. Consider the tens of thousands, possibly millions, of other service projects that were completed on MLK day, none of which focused on the size of the project, rather the brotherhood and commitment involved in such an undertaking.
I was glad to finally understand the meaning of this day of service, and I'm certain it will help me find meaning in even the most mundane tasks in my years to come. So, here's to the legacy of a great man whose vision enabled wonderful voluntary service programs like AmeriCorps. My name is Cornflake, and I approve this message!