Volunteers serve Joliet area communities in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
For Joliet resident Jimmy Hostert, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was a day on, not a day off. He said he believes the civil rights icon would’ve been proud to see people working to advocate for and protect the environment.
At Monday’s event, about 500 volunteers took to 23 service locations to perform 2,000 hours of service.
Kristine Schlismann, director of community and alumni relations for Joliet Township High School District 204, said they had a nice turnout this year. Joliet Township High School District 204 served as one of the partner agencies for the day of service.
Many schools in the Joliet area canceled classes to allow the community to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday named for the civil rights icon, marking his birthday.
Hostert was among several students taking time to help the Forest Preserve District of Will County to restore the prairieland at Theodore Marsh in Crest Hill.
“I really like nature, although it’s really cold out in January,” he said of why he chose this service project.
Members of the Joliet area community used the day not only to serve, but also to remember and celebrate the civil rights icon.
“He was an inspirational leader,” Hostert said. “He had an impact on history, so I think that it’s impossible for anyone to forget what he did, the changes he made for the better.”
At Theodore Marsh, volunteers worked to remove invasive species of buckthorn and honeysuckle. The 288-acre site, once cleared, allows the land to return to its prairie state.
Renee Gauchat, volunteer services supervisor for the Forest Preserve District of Will County, said volunteers’ work is greatly valued.
Mark Bettin, a steward and a volunteer for the Forest Preserve District of Will County, said it takes a lot of work to counter the growth of invasive species.
“You can just see how impenetrable it really is once it starts taking over,” he said. “It really changes the soil condition. It pushes out a lot of native bugs that are in the soil.”
Bettin said he puts in a couple hundred hours every year to help the forest preserve district.
“It’s very rewarding seeing something that’s gone through the restoration process,” he said.
Elsewhere in Joliet, a group of Citgo employees and their children put in work cleaning at the Catholic Charities Diocese of Joliet Daybreak Center.
“We encourage events that get employees and their children to get involved,” said April Elashik, public affairs and community relations coordinator for Citgo. “It helps foster a culture of giving back. There’s no sleeping in. We get out there. Hopefully, the children tell their friends at school what they did today.”
Volunteers on site were tasked with, among other things, cleaning lockers and disinfecting mattresses. Lawan Shumpert said participating in MLK Day of Service is something she takes great pride in.
“This is my community,” she said. “I feel I need to take responsibility. This is one of the good events.”
Nona Parker said it feels good knowing she can make a difference in the lives of others.
“Every day and every hour counts when you’re dealing with people in need,” she said. “Whether it’s a day or an hour, it all counts. That’s what human rights is about.”