MLK Challenge inspires further service from App State students

Tucker Wulff

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App State and Appalachian & Community Together celebrated the 21st anniversary of the MLK Challenge with a day of service alongside an array of community partners Monday. 

Approximately 250 students met in Parkway Ballroom of the Plemmons Student Union at 9:30 a.m. for the opening ceremony before dispersing to different volunteer sites. Sunlight poured into the room through the flurrying snow as students met and greeted over the provided breakfast.

Guest speaker, pastor and activist Cedric Lundy addressed the student volunteers during the opening ceremony. 

Lundy said a large part of the challenge of service is serving for others and not for personal recognition. 

The purpose of service is to “cultivate and create good for the common good,” Lundy said in the speech. 

ACT hoped to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by serving Boone’s community organizations in whatever way they needed, said Annie Manges, Alternative Service Experience coordinator for the MLK Challenge committee within ACT. 

Community partners, organizations that have partnered with the MLK Challenge Committee, were required to have at least one representative of the organization present to talk with volunteers about why the service they will be doing matters.

Xanayra Marin-Lopez
Volunteers chop wood for Hospitality House, one of several community partners for this year’s MLK Challenge.

Some community partners that participated this year include The Children’s Playhouse, Hospitality House and App Builds a Home. 

“I think students have trouble understanding when they are cleaning a basement how this is benefiting an organization,” said Katie Feeny, chair of the MLK Challenge committee. “We’re hoping that community partners can explain to the students how their direct service will be of influence to the broader Boone community.”

Performing small acts of service around the community is a way of honoring the legacy of MLK and civil rights activists alike, said Feeny, senior psychology major. 

Feeny said when thinking about MLK, it’s easy to think of the big speech as his only service but, “his life was full of serving in small manners.”

Another goal of the challenge is to provide an “entry point” to service for students who may not be exposed to the Boone community outside of the “Appalachian State bubble,” Feeny said. 

“We’re hoping it can be a motivator for them to do more service, and maybe they’ll fall in love with this organization that they go to and want to continue working with them,” Feeny said. 

Multiple members of the MLK Challenge committee came to App State with a background in community service and said they feel a better connection to App State and Boone by organizing the event. 

Manges, a junior global studies major, said she was uncomfortable in her role at first because she was intimidated by the responsibility, but feels more grounded after working on the committee since October.

“I’m trying to give back to this community that App has kind of taken over,” Manges said.

Committee members were excited to host the event for the 21st time, but also recognized that adaptations had to be made to fit the community’s current needs.  

“I feel like I’m carrying on a torch,” said Meredith Ingram, marketing and recruitment chair of the MLK Challenge committee. 

Ingram, a sophomore sustainable development major, said it was surprising to see how things can change even less than a week away.

The initial registration cap for the event was 230 students, but the committee raised it to 250 students because the number of interested people, Ingram said. 

ACT hosts multiple large service events like the MLK Challenge not only to benefit the Boone community, but to encourage further service. 

“We do these big days of service but with the intention that it’s not just going to be one day of service that these students are engaging in,” Manges said. “This is just one thing that you can do, and there are so many other opportunities to continue to engage with your community.” 

The day of service ended with a closing ceremony that involved a time of reflection for the students. 

“So much of Boone is being served,” Macki Snyder, assistant director for leadership and outreach in the ACT office, said. “For one collective effort, we really get a lot done.”