MLK Challenge lets students make difference in community


The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Hundreds of Appalachian State University students repaired structural weaknesses, painted walls, cleaned debris and more at 20 locations throughout Boone on Jan. 19 as part of the 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Challenge.

The MLK Challenge is a charity event hosted by Appalachian and the Community Together that sends students to help with numerous service projects in the area. The event is designed to challenge the students socially just as much as it does physically.

“For a lot of [students], it’s the first time being exposed to the community,” said Kelsey Trevethan, the Committee Chair. “They have the chance to go out and see what Watauga County is really like, and see the needs of the community, rather than just be stuck in that university bubble.”

Daniel Burwell, the event’s registration coordinator said the day’s spirit of selfless charity and giving back to the community fits perfectly with the legacy of the man after whom the event is named.

Burwell said that the MLK Challenge made such an impact on him when he volunteered while he was in high school, it actually factored into his decision to attend Appalachian.

“If you just look at the person that this day is honoring – Martin Luther King Jr. – and everything he’s done for the country as well as the world, he’s been an inspiration to a lot of people all across the nation,” Burwell said. “Today we are honoring him and doing this service in honor of him, and I think it fits.”

Danielle Shannon, a junior health promotions major who participated in the event said she loves the feeling of making a difference in the community.

“It’s always good to give back, and we’re so fortunate at Appalachian State – why wouldn’t you want to do that?” Shannon said.

James Hanson, one of the group leaders in charge of keeping a team of volunteers on task and motivated, had a message to convince people to participate in the MLK Challenge.

“It’s a holiday you can actually go out and make a difference,” said Hanson, a college student development graduate student. “The biggest issue you would face is people would just rather be spending time at home or relaxing and not worrying about school, and I think it’s something that you can just get out there, you can make a difference, and just feel better about your day.”

Despite the profound impact the event has on the student volunteers, it has just as great an impact on the groups that receive much-needed assistance.

“Every year, we get an incredible number of thank-you letters,” Trevethan said. “Year after year, we have people who call us and ask that we send a group back because of the positive experiences they’ve had in the past.”

Over the years, the MLK Challenge has grown in scale and scope, something Trevethan said the event coordinators are very thankful of.

“At the start, there was probably 25 to 30 students, it had very limited sites, and since then it has grown into this huge event, and we’re so lucky to have such great local sponsors who are willing to contribute to this and allow our project to grow,” Trevethan said. “ I think this is one of those things that’s become a legacy on campus and it’s something that everyone knows about.”

Story: Tommy Culkin, News Reporter