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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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It was Martin Luther King, Jr. day. As the morning rolled around, my alarm went faulty. As a woman who is known for being inappropriately early for everything in life – flights, dentist appointments, dinner at Mom’s, etc. – imagine my frazzled state when I realized I slept in. It was just the start to a bad day, and I was in a foul mood. But we had a mentoring and volunteering project planned so I grudgingly loaded my car with supplies for the day’s service project and was on my way.

I arrived at the Lighthouse Point Assisted Living Center and once I told the staff I was there from FedEx Ground, they welcomed me with smiles and kind words of gratitude, expressing how thankful the senior citizens and the staff were for spending time with them. Each staff member stopped what they were doing to help me unload my car and although cliché, they couldn’t have been nicer. Embarrassed for initially being so jaded, my perspective on the day quickly began to change.

In just a few minutes, fellow employee volunteers started trickling in one by one, and then the school bus of 20 students arrived from Urban Youth Action, an organization that serves underprivileged youth in Allegheny County and prepares the young people for education, employment, entrepreneurship and public service.

The day was a two-fold event. First, our employees were serving as mentors for the inner city high school students who have a special motivation and a gift to succeed. The second part was an intergenerational interview – paying tribute to the contributions of our senior citizens – focusing on the impact Martin Luther King, Jr. had on our lives. The entire days of service focused on Dr. King’s famous statement: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’”

Most of these seniors had endless stories to tell, and as a part of United Way’s “Open your heart to seniors” program, our visits to them were in many cases the first visit they’ve had in quite some time. So we let them talk, and we let them share wise words of advice.

Be yourself. Stay in school. Don’t wear make up, it will make you look old. Don’t do anything you will regret later in life. Keep your house clean.

But what resonated most for the students were the tales of the seniors’ lives. As the students took turns sharing with the group what they learned from their interviews, I was amazed at how deeply affected they were. And while they shared what was soon discovered as common threads among the seniors, it was the messages they took away from the interviews that meant the most.

The students articulated that no matter what age you are, you will go through hard times. We’ll get through them.

Money and social acceptance will always play a role in society from any standpoint. We’ll get through it.

The seniors lived simple, yet full lives because they made the most of what little they had. We need to do the same.

The seniors, for the most part, held a strong tie with family and neighbors. We’re nothing without our parents. We need to restore those relationships.

Seniors grew up and lived on hope and hard work. We need to do the same.

As the students were visibly struck with emotions, the employees were the actually the ones learning the most valuable lessons. I know it was definitely a humbling experience for me.

Dr. King would be proud.

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