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 State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, 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 nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.