500 FIU volunteers make MLK Day of Service a whopping success

Rakes in hand, FIU’s baseball team travelled across town on Saturday morning to help level the playing field—literally. Instead of sleeping in, the guys worked to even out the surface of the baseball diamond at Gwen Cherry Park in Liberty City. They joined more than 500 other FIU volunteers who likewise turned out for the annual MLK Day of Service.

“This is coming out of our hearts,” said sophomore sports management major JC Escarra, who plays catcher for the Panthers. The team flattened out the infield edge where it meets the grass, shoveled out dirt that had accumulated around fencing and pulled weeds. “We’re trying to make it better,” Escarra said, “so the little kids can play and have fun here and not get hurt.”

The activity was just one of several undertaken at two inner-city parks by FIU students, faculty and staff as part of a concerted effort to give back to the community. Other projects included painting recreational buildings and parking lots and collecting downed foliage and other debris.

Soccer team at MLK Day

Members of the women’s soccer team, above, were among the 500-strong FIU crowd that turned out for a day of community service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

“I am really interested in the outdoors, and I really believe in the importance of Martin Luther King Day,” said Professor of Landscape Architecture Ebru Ozer, who grabbed a shovel to assist with beautification at MLK Park. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get out and help. I really wanted to be a part of that.”

Others expressed similar interest in sharing the workload for the common good.

“I wanted to get more involved in the community,” said junior history and political science major Gino Martinez, who recently moved to Miami from Loxahatchee. He joined fraternity brothers from Theta Chi, an organization he says will continue to do service throughout the semester. “You can’t rely on the government to get everything done,” Martinez said of his reasons for pitching in. “By getting everyone together to do something, this is how we can progress.”

Bobbie Johnson, a director at Gwen Cherry Park, agreed that such support is critical when shrinking budgets make covering the cost of park upkeep very difficult. The 38.5-acre park runs an active afterschool program that offers local youngsters homework help and tutoring along with sports such as tackle and flag football, soccer, softball and basketball.

Johnson summed up what FIU’s help means to the children as well as the adults who use the park and its facilities. 

“I think that says to the community that everybody cares, that we’re all a part of this community, that we’re all in this together,” he said. “I just can’t say enough about how this makes so much of a difference for the park. You can’t pay for this type of labor and you can’t pay for this type of dedication. I really appreciate FIU.”

Beverly Dalrymple, who heads FIU’s Center for Leadership and Service within the Division of Student Affairs, which has organized FIU’s annual MLK Day of Service for about a decade, noted that this year’s participation numbers set a school record.

“I think our students are very civic-minded. They do care about their communities,” she said. “Sometimes they might think, ‘This is just fun,’ or ‘It feels good to me,’ but they come back again because they know it makes a difference. It’s a way to be an engaged citizen.”

FIU’s commitment to public service has already been recognized. Last year the university received several awards, and service MLKWashington Monthly named FIU to its list of the top 25 community-engaged universities in the country.

To build upon that demonstrated record, FIU this year has chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding by consciously making a yearlong commitment to community service. Students, faculty, staff and alumni are all asked to find a way to give to their community in whatever ways resonate with them. Additionally, FIU will organize several days of group service throughout the year to which everyone will be invited.

Yvrose Merizier, a senior majoring in human resources and business management, believes FIU is living up to its potential by encouraging such participation.

“Because FIU is such a pillar in the community, it makes sense that it would want to get involved,” she said. “FIU’s not just a university. It’s a university that cares, a university that’s fulfilling its social responsibility. I’m proud to be a part of it.”