BOONE, N.C. — Despite unexpected snow, high winds and chilly temperatures, about 150 students gathered for the 21st annual MLK Challenge — a day of reflection, education and service organized by Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT). The participants contributed 1,350 hours of service to 16 local organizations.
The annual event honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his message of social service, as participants accomplish challenging projects alongside community partners — all while being challenged intellectually, socially and physically. Teams of students paint, scrub, repair, organize and more at local nonprofit organizations while accompanied by graduate students, faculty or staff site leaders.
Senior Katie Feeny, a psychology major from Apex and chair of this year’s MLK Challenge event, said the goal for the day was for it to be an entry point of service, one that inspired students to serve long after the event and to understand the impact of small efforts.
“Essentially, the whole day is notable because it gives students an opportunity to help our community outside of Appalachian,” she said.
According to Feeny, one student who volunteered with Grace Builders’ Helping Hands Woodlot Ministry in Boone said she would return later in the week to continue her service work and invited others to join her. “That was very exciting to hear,” Feeny said.
Each organization asked students to complete a service project — from helping construct a house with App Builds a Home, to taking inventory of supplies at Children's Council of Watauga County, to deep cleaning facilities at F.A.R.M. Cafe.
Dani Hitchcock, a junior biology major with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology from Oak Island, shared that, based on conversations with fellow participants, all of the MLK Challenge service sites offered a learning opportunity for participants.
She said working at Helping Hands Wood Lot, which provides cut wood to individuals who cannot otherwise afford to buy wood to heat their homes, "taught me about a population of people who I didn't know needed help."
When asked how this experience complemented her classroom work, Hitchcock said, "I think that a project like this is so important because it brings together different people and allows us to all have mutual knowledge."
Jenny Koehn, Appalachian’s associate director of student programs, organized ACT’s first MLK Challenge in 1999. Since then, the event has become a model for campuses across the nation.
North Carolina Campus Compact, a member of a national coalition of 1,000-plus community-committed colleges and universities, wrote a $300,000 grant in 2011 to replicate the ACT program throughout the state and nation.
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About Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT)
Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) provides service experiences as opportunities to connect and engage with others to build authentic relationships, stimulate critical thinking and skill building, and recognize individual impact and responsibility to the local and global community. Between the 2004–05 and 2018–19 academic years, nearly $25.5 million of value has been contributed to the community via Appalachian State University’s Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) program (over 1.91 million hours of service plus $781,419 in funds raised) using the $25.43 per hour national standard for volunteer time. ACT partners with over 160 local nonprofits. Initiatives include blood drives, hunger and homeless awareness events, fundraising for local charities and alternative service experiences. Learn more at https://act.appstate.edu.
About the Division of Student Affairs
The Division of Student Affairs at Appalachian State University is committed to the development of lifelong learners and leaders by engaging and challenging students within a culture of care and inclusion. The division consists of 14 units that offer activities and services to help students develop more fully by becoming global learners, fostering healthy relationships, appreciating diversity and different perspectives, understanding community responsibility, enhancing self-awareness, developing autonomy and living ethically. These units include the Career Development Center, Wellness and Prevention Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, Health Services, Parent and Family Services, University Housing, Student Engagement and Leadership, Student Conduct, University Recreation, Intercultural Student Affairs, Student Legal Clinic and Off Campus Student Services, Electronic Student Services, Child Development Center, and Staff Development and Strategic Initiatives. Learn more at https://studentaffairs.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.