by Sue Ann Rybak
Chestnut Hill resident Todd Bernstein, founder of the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, said the theme for this year’s event is the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
Despite the court’s decision that “separate and equal” schools were unconstitutional, many Philadelphia public school students still attend schools that are racially and socioeconomically divided.
Research by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia found that lower income and minority public school students were “affected in significantly greater amounts compared to other students by the Corbett Administration cuts.”
Bernstein, who is also president of Global Citizen, a nonprofit organization promoting sustainable civic engagement through volunteer service, said King’s activism for educational equality and the Philadelphia’s current fiscal crisis remind us that as citizens we must take an active role “in helping to find common sense solutions to these tremendous problems, even if we don’t have children in Philadelphia public schools.”
“We the people can not afford to be casual observers as our elected and appointed leaders make critical decisions that directly affect the lives of about 200,000 young people going to Philadelphia Public Schools and their education,” Bernstein said. “The future of a great city is only as good as its public schools and active citizenry.”
Bernstein said a record 125,000 volunteers will participate in some 1,700 community service projects throughout the Philadelphia region on Monday, Jan. 20. He said for the fifth year in a row Girard College will serve as the area’s signature project site, where more than a hundred volunteers, led by Mayor Michael Nutter, will assemble, sort and pack critically needed, donated school supplies, classroom and library books to Philadelphia’s most underserved schools.
Bernstein added that this year his organization will be giving away more than a 100 computers to Philadelphia public school students for use at home.
“More than 40 percent of households in Philadelphia don’t have access to the Internet at home,” he said.
Bernstein noted that working to close the digital divide is essential to reducing the gap in quality education between students of different income and races.
“When you have a $304 million budget deficit, it may seem like a drop in the bucket to donate a box of pens, copy paper or crayons, but I can tell you that when deliveries are made to these schools it really does matter,” he said. “The point is we the people cannot afford to rely on others to help solve all the problems. We need to harness all the resources available, including an active citizenry to become more involved.”
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” There are several local community service projects in the area where volunteers can participate on Jan. 20.
The Trolley Car Diner will hold its annual Martin Luther King Day of Service project at Henry H. Houston Elementary School in Mt. Airy from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Volunteers can help in a variety of projects, including cleaning up the playground, organizing and cleaning books and storage areas, and painting.
Diner owner Ken Weinstein said Philly Office Retail will donate supplies need for the MLK service project.
“With recent school district budget cuts, maintenance staff is stretched further than ever, leaving needed repairs and maintenance projects uncompleted,” Weinstein said. “Many area residents have never seen the insides of area public schools, so volunteer projects like this one are badly needed. By working together, we can make improvements to area public schools that, otherwise, would not be made.”
In addition to the service project, the Trolley Car Diner will be working with Houston principal Reggie Johnson to provide materials and funding for the school’s wish list items.
“It’s easy to get caught up with the everyday struggles of working and living life,” Weinstein said. “MLK Day of Service provides us with a day to work for others. I am a big believer that what you give others comes back to you tenfold.”
For more information about volunteering at Houston Elementary School call Steven Urgo at 215-247-5555, ex. 201 or email@example.com.
Other service projects in our area include assembling breakfast bags and cards for Meals on Wheels recipients, painting and creating artwork for a wall at the Stenton Family Manor, a homeless shelter, and packing winter essential kits for local seniors at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, 6511 Lincoln Drive, from 8:30 a.m. to noon. For more information about volunteering for this project call 215-274-5780 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone interested in volunteering should register at www.mlkdayofservice.org or call 215-851-1811.