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Volunteers come together in the name of community during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event at Town Park Village


Special to The Miami Herald
Drawing on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life as inspiration, hundreds of South Floridians gathered in some of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods Saturday for a day of volunteer service.

More than 700 volunteers came out to Town Park Village, 1680 NW Fourth Ave., to plant, paint and install energy-efficient porch lights as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event.

Overtown resident Monique Lubin-Strachan was grateful for the helping hand, but her heart was heavy with worry over the catastrophic earthquake that had struck Haiti earlier in the week. A member of Lubin-Strachan’s family is still missing from the quake.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Lubin-Strachan, one of 500 residents at the 147-unit housing cooperative Town Park Village, a public housing facility. Lubin-Strachan has lived there for more than 20 years.

Volunteers from the nonprofit Hands on Miami, Bacardi employees, students from Florida International University, local public and private schools, and other helpers participated.

Not too far from Overtown, more than 100 Barry University students also beautified Gratigny Elementary School, 11905 N. Miami Ave., on Saturday.

Wearing an orange cap and gardening gloves, FIU student Carla Duenas planted for the first time in an effort to help those in need.

“I’ve always wanted to help,” said Duenas, who drove from Weston. “With the situation in Haiti, I thought donating wasn’t enough, so I wanted to do something for the community.”

More than 20 high school girls from Miami-Dade and Broward counties’ Ivy Rosettes hand painted rain barrels — to help conserve water — while volunteers drew images of musicians with notes on a mural. At the same time, men hammered nails onto 38 2-by-4s to build wooden trash receptacles. Buildings were also painted.

“This will help revitalize the area,” said Leila Ripich, CEO of Hands on Miami.

Bacardi U.S.A., a spirits and wine producer, donated $25,000 to cover costs of 50 gallons of paint, more than 600 plants, 50 cubic yards of soil, 9,000 square feet of sod, 147 energy-efficient porch lights, first aid kits and school supply kits, which were distributed to children. The city of Miami also donated more than 100 trees.

The upgrade was needed, Lubin-Strachan said.

“We needed beautification so our property could get a better appearance to attract more people to let people know that we love our community,” she said.

The improvements will raise the spirits, she said.

“When you walk into a community and see the building’s paint peeling off and the landscaping isn’t good, it brings the morale of the community down.”

Resident Zekevie Rollerson, 17, has noticed the difference.

“It’s making the place look pretty,” she said. “To see change for the better makes me feel happy.”

In light of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, resident Patty Walker said the face-lift is only fitting.

“People here don’t know us; they know nothing about us, but they are here,” she said. “I think it’s a great representation of what Dr. King stood for.”

King, an icon of the civil rights movement, was born Jan. 15, 1929. Before he was assassinated in 1968, the Baptist minister had organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and the March on Washington in 1963.

His birthday became a national holiday in 1986.

FIU alumni Jose Roces said volunteering is necessary.

“It teaches young professionals social responsibility because it’s not about going out and getting money, but about giving back to the community,” he said.

Farther north, about 200 Barry University students painted, cleaned and landscaped Gratigny Elementary School as part of the sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Challenge.

“It’s important for students’ overall growth,” said Steffano Montano, coordinator of Barry University’s De Porres Center for Community Service. “It not only helps the outside community, but also helps students realize that their education is not just for themselves; it’s for the world.”

Lubin-Strachan agrees.

“We really appreciate everyone that came out to utilize a Saturday. They could have been doing anything else. Instead, they came out and helped us,” said Lubin-Strachan, who serves on the Town Park Village board as vice president.

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