MLK Day of Service Project grows to help everyone from toddlers to seniors in Bay and Arenac

It takes a village to raise a service project that benefits everyone from toddlers to senior citizens.

Recently, a coalition of agencies, educators, senior citizens, and service clubs came together to pull off a MLK Day of Service Project that helped hundreds of people in Bay and Arenac counties.

The collaborative project took place in January during the week surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The aim of the project was to honor the legacy of the civil rights activist.

It all started with brainstorming, says Nicole Luczak, President and CEO of the United Way of Bay County.

Kids were the end users of the kits, but the seniors who assembled the bags benefitted from the project too.“We have done projects in the past for MLK Day of Service, 9/11 Day of Service, and Global Youth Service Project Day in the community that have focused on a variety of things such as healthcare heroes and food insecurity,” Luczak says.

“As we brainstormed what kind of project we wanted to complete, we considered our focus areas of health, education, and income stability and decided to align this one with education. The idea of providing tools and resources to families of youth around diversity and inclusion seemed like a perfect fit to honor MLK Day.”

The first logical partner was the Bay-Arenac ISD, who helped narrow down the ideas and offered expertise in what exactly should go into kits designed for kids to take home and share with their families.

As part of the MLK Day of Service, volunteers filled bags with supplies for families to use together at home.Rich Van Tol, Supervisor of the School-Home-Community Partnerships/Early Childhood Education for the Bay-Arenac ISD, says the collaboration promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for families and staff that serve young children.

The project leverages early literacy resources to encourage families to talk, sing, and learn about MLK and DEI,” he adds.

“The research-based materials are developmentally appropriate for the age of the children and encourage families to talk, read, and sing about a variety of topics, bolstering early language and literacy skills in children and fostering family engagement in their child's education,” Van Tol says.

The kits also include the Talking is Teaching Initiative, which provides families resources to engage with their children in a developmentally-appropriate manner to encourage, reading, talking, and singing.

The seniors building the bags created an assembly line to create more than 200 bags in a short time.Gretchen Wagner, Director of Early Childhood Education, was able to make the connections to make this project possible. When the idea was rolling, the United Way looked to the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) or Head Start.

“When we started to discuss this, I was able to make some connections to John Vincent at Head Start,” Wagner says. “Once we decided on the project, my role was to support and approve the budget expenses associated with the ISD.”

In total, 223 Head Start and Great Start to Readiness families received the kits.

“That is the big impact that can be made when collaborations like this happen,” Wagner says.

Staff at Bayfield Assisted Living said the project drew in people who don't typically participate in group activities.Families with young children weren’t the only beneficiaries of the project. The seniors living at Bayfield Assisted Living also see the project as a personal success, says Melissa Anderson, Life Enrichment Manager for Bayfield Assisted Living

“The turnout for this activity was amazing, with nearly 20 residents eager to help,” Anderson says. “Some of the residents who participated rarely come out for regular daily activities. We were able to put all the kits together within the hour.”

Anderson adds the residents really enjoyed the work, and everyone could participate regardless of their abilities.

“Activities such as this give our senior citizens a chance to be involved with the community and help others.  They also get a chance to work with each other to get a job done.”

A coalition of agencies, educators, senior citizens, and service clubs came together in January to create fun, educational kits for preschoolers in Bay and Arenac counties.Some of the residents created an assembly line process for a more efficient job.

“At the completion of this project, the whole room joined in with a round of applause for their hard work and accomplishment,” says Anderson. “After looking at all the kits they assembled, they felt proud and united as a team. Many of them could not believe that they accomplished so much in such a short time.”

The kits required assembly as they contained several different components, including a book, "We’re Different, We’re The Same," by Bobbi Jane Kates.

“This book has a great message reminding readers that we are all the same on the inside, and that our differences are what makes this a wonderful and interesting world,” says Luczak.

“It stars Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Street characters, which we thought was just timeless." 

A book and craft supplies encouraged families to talk, read, and sing together to teach lessons about diversity and inclusion.The kits also include a journal and marker set to be completed in a kindness calendar, posters, and tips for families through the Talking is Teaching Initiative. Bookmarks and bags were provided by the BAISD as well as the students in Arenac County.

All the kits went to students in the Great Start to Readiness Program (GSRP) and Head Start in Bay and Arenac counties.

John Vincent, Regional Manager for Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, assisted by providing materials for preschool aged children to go along with MLK Day.

“We (NEMCSA) have a total of 13 Head Start and GSRP preschool classrooms throughout Bay and Arenac counties,” he says. “Rich thought our kids would be an excellent recipient of the bags that were being put together with all of the fundraised money.”

Of course, no project like this happens without significant financial backing. And just like the rest of the project, the funding portion took a community.

Partial funding for the program came from the Bay City Noon Optimist Club, The Bay City Kiwanis, and the Michigan Community Service Commission.

“Without these grants and the partnership of the BAISD and Bayfield Assisting Living, this project would not be possible,” adds Luczak.

“BAISD/Great Start contributed $1,500, UW grant provided $500, Bay City Kiwanis $250, and Bay City Noon Optimist Club provided $250,” says Van Tol. “On top of that, Bayfield Assisted Living provided the volunteers to assemble the packages and NEMCSA Head Start distributed them to 233 children and families.”

In the future, the United Way of Bay County plans to continue to celebrate MLK Day with different projects and new ideas based on the needs of the community.

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