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Hundreds of Thousands Volunteer on 2013 MLK Day of Service

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Inland kids honor the life and legacy of Dr. King by joining in volunteer service projects

By Chris Levister

Nine-year-old Leandre Delassixe has vivid memories of the January 12, 2010 massive earthquake that struck his home in Haiti. He still has nightmares. Mostly he remembers the injured and suffering children he and his family left behind in Portau- Prince when they escaped unharmed and found their way to America.

On the Thursday before Martin Luther King Day of Service, Leandre, his 13-year-old sister Loudine, and schoolmates 12-year-old Joy and 14-year-old Samuel are honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King by picking up paper cups, plastic bags and other trash from Bethune Community Park in Moreno Valley and joining in a volunteer letter writing project to children in Haiti.

“We like to clean up the park because it makes the people who come here friendlier and they feel safe,” said Leandre.

“Dr. King said people should take care of the earth and the people. They should be kind. They should love not hate. They shouldn’t curse, bully, hurt or kill others,” said Loudine.

“He said people should help keep the parks and streets and water clean and always say nice things to old people,” said Joy tossing a plastic bag stuffed with water bottles in a big green trash can.

Inland Empire “He said no matter if you’re a kid or an old person you can help others,” Leandre said reading from a book of Dr. King’s teachings.

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Gathered around a park bench the children happily pinned letters to Haitian children many of whom remain homeless and destitute more than three years after the deadly earthquake. Their words of hope and inspiration to the children of Haiti displayed wisdom beyond their tender years. Their letters included drawings of flowers, hearts and rainbows. And they began simply: Dear friend:

“I am 9 years old living and going to school in the United States. I came here after the earthquake messed up our house and school,” wrote Leandre. “The people here are mostly nice. But sometimes little kids get killed here, he said recalling the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

“Did you do something nice for someone today?” Loudine asked in her letter. “I helped clean the school playground and the park near my house. Maybe you can help clean up Pic Macaya National Park (located in the massif de la Hotte Mountain Range in the southern part of Haiti) Dr. King would like that,” she added.

Leandre said he thought writing letters to children in Haiti was a cool way to cheer them up and share with them Dr. King’s life and legacy of service.

The children wrote about their best friends, sports and their hobbies. “My hobbies are soccer, drawing, computer games and reading,” wrote, Joy. “I'm a total bookworm, but I'm not shy. My favorite flower is a rose, and I really do believe in a lot of stuff like vampires and fairies.”

The kids also wrote about Facebook, the Lakers basketball team and things they learned about space during a field trip to the Griffith Observatory.

Several of the kids wrote poems about happiness, and Samuel whose family emigrated from El Salvador drew a comic strip for someone to fill in because "they might have lost all their toys or possessions in the earthquake."

Leandre, Loudine, Joy and Samuel were along the thousands who volunteered sweat and spirit to honor MLK on a Day of Service.

The Corporation for National and Community Service released a new report about volunteerism in America, with highlights including the fact that parents are volunteering significantly more than their childless counterparts. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented that the data demonstrate “our schools are essential hubs for volunteering and civic activity... robust engagement from communities, families, mentors, tutors, and other volunteers is absolutely vital to achieving that core American ideal.”

Beginning on MLK Day thousands of young people across the country will begin a "Semester of Service," a sustained service and learning framework that integrates standards-based curriculum with substantive service to the community. Riverside student Odessa-Lynn Mitchell decided not to take the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend off.

Instead, Mitchell and 19 students from local schools joined about 25 parents, educators and others for volunteer community service in Mentone near Redlands Municipal Airport. Thursday afternoon, they spruced up an elementary school where 97% of the students are low-income, and applied a fresh coat of paint to benches at a local park.

“Dr. King had a dream that one day we would be able to get together and stop hating each other,” Mitchell said. “People really are embracing that. His dream really is coming true.”

For some, the national holiday honoring the prominent clergyman, activist, prominent leader of the African American civil rights movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate is a time to give back and serve the community, be it through removing graffiti or picking up litter in a local park.

“There's no better way to celebrate the “King” than to do something on behalf of others,” Mitchell said, later adding, “I'm sure Dr. King, were he here, he'd want to say thank you. People are still out there honoring his legacy by serving others.”

The 2013 commemoration of the King Holiday coincides with the 57th Presidential Inauguration, which will include a National Day of Service, continuing a tradition set four years ago when President-elect Obama and his family joined in the MLK National Day of Service the day before the official swearing in.

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