On January 18th, the gymnasium at Fair Oaks Community School in Redwood City was bustling with people and buzzing with excitement. The day was still young, but plenty of volunteers arrived bright and early to participate in the MLK Day of Service. Breakfast was provided at four different locations for the total of over 500 volunteers who signed up to work for 28 projects at nine project sites.
The day at Fair Oaks formally began with a prayer from Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Redwood City. Her inspirational words set the tone of the Day of Service as she cited the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Following Rev. Etzbach-Dale, Lionel Engleman, the co-founder of Peninsula Multifaith Peninsula (PMC), expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the volunteers, as well as the parents for bringing their children to participate.
Founded in 2012, the PMC is a group of faith congregations and organizations working together on projects to improve our community. This volunteer led coalition holds or supports several events each year, such as the MLK Day of Service, Multifaith Family Gathering in August, and the annual Peninsula Freedom Seder, held in the spring. Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple is a proud member of the PMC and Shinnyo-en Foundation acts as a liaison between Shinnyo-en and the PMC.
The volunteers at Fair Oaks split into two main groups after enjoying breakfast with their project mates. One group focused on reading to the students as “reading buddies.” Meanwhile, the children’s parents went to a training session to learn how to incorporate more reading into their homes. The session was hosted by Joan Green, a reading specialist from the Jewish Coalition for Literacy. To read Stanford Shinnyo Fellow Carolina Ornelas’ reflection on volunteering as a “reading buddy,” please follow this link.
The other group at Fair Oaks focused on the school’s garden and landscaping. Trees were pruned, weeds were plucked, and lavender and rosemary were planted in planter boxes that punctuated the school grounds.
Some volunteers composted weeds, leaves, and branches from the garden while others cleaned up trash on the school grounds. An unexpected “harvest” came from the gardening group, as a lemon tree was among those that needed to be pruned . Veteran volunteers from Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple, Mitsuko Takagi and Takako Ogura, used the lemons to keep the sliced fruit from breakfast from turning brown. The rest of the lemons were given away to anyone who wanted them.
After the gardening and reading had wound down, a small group of volunteers set up tables for book and clothing donations for the children and families. These donations were graciously collected at the First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame and Peninsula Beth Jacob, where volunteers worked efficiently to sort books and clothing so they could be sent out and delivered to three school sites, including Fair Oaks Community School.
The Fourth Annual MLK Day of Service wouldn’t have been such a success without the many volunteers who return year after year. Every year, the number of volunteers continues to grow. This year, approximately 30 volunteers from Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple volunteered at John Gill Elementary School and Fair Oaks Community School in Redwood City.
The reasons why the PMC’s MLK Day of Service has been a huge success are multifold: the event has strong and dedicated co-leaders, Richard Heiman of Peninsula Temple Beth El and Vickie Sherman of the First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame. Richard and Vickie worked tirelessly to coordinate events, such as contacting volunteer sites, recruiting site and project leaders, identifying projects at each site, and budgeting. They also devoted many hours to make sure that all volunteers regardless of their faith backgrounds, age, and skill levels felt welcome. Every volunteer was warmly greeted, and received clear instructions and inspiring messages before, during and after the MLK Day of Service.
While expertise in teaching reading is not required to volunteer, our tutoring benefitted from the participation of several experienced educators, including Dr.Nancy Markowitz, professor of elementary education at San Jose State University. It was heartwarming to see Dr. Markowitz, a member of Peninsula Temple Beth El, taking time conversing with her 4th grade buddy reader over a cup of hot cocoa as they got to know each other and began to discuss what they read.
Whether you are a champion leader like Richard Heiman, an experienced educator like Nancy Markowitz, a veteran volunteer like Mitsuko Takagi and Takako Ogura, or new to volunteering, the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition sponsored MLK Day of Service is for everyone who has a big heart and wants to serve others. Thank you all who donated their time and skills to serve the Redwood City community!