About 100 people participated in the inaugural MLK Day of Service Jan. 20, with headquarters at William Way LGBT Community Center. And LGBT volunteers participated in countless other projects across the city, including remodeling a West Philadelphia recreation center led by the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council.
At the center, volunteers started turning out before the noon kickoff time, said organizer Anna Aaegenes.
“We thought we’d have people stopping in and out throughout the day but the level of participation and people’s dedication really exceeded our expectations,” she said. “People came early and most stayed the entire day. They were really eager to help out and put in a lot of work.”
Volunteers had the option of participating in a wealth of community projects. Some sorted and delivered donations to Philadelphia AIDS Thrift and others worked at PAT. Groups of volunteers helped assemble more than 1,000 safe-sex kits organized by GALAEI, while others assisted in completing mailers from Hearts on a Wire, which corresponds with transgender and gender-variant inmates. Some volunteers scoured the Gayborhood and picked up trash, while still others helped organize materials in the center’s library.
“I personally was blown away by how excited and willing people were to help out,” Aaegenes said. “From the most menial task, picking up trash on the street, people were just happy to help out and about the service project overall.”
Many of the volunteers reconvened at William Way late in the afternoon for a reception honoring Bayard Rustin, the openly gay advisor to King who is largely credited with organizing the March on Washington.
Aaegenes said organizers had been hoping to stage a teach-in at Girard College focusing on Rustin but, since it was the event’s first year, they held off. But last week’s success will likely enable an even larger event next year, she said.
“I think we have enough people now who want to support this that we hopefully can do two locations next year.”
Also successful was BGMLC’s day of service at James L. Wright Recreation Center on Haverford Avenue.
Ten men pitched in to give the venue a “BGMLC makeover,” said group member Javontae Lee Williams.
The group painted walls in the basketball court, redid bleachers, updated bathrooms and cleaned windows. They plan to return over the summer to complete painting that required scaffolding and help the organization fundraise to install a new floor for the basketball court.
“The rec center is utilized by a lot of people in the African-American community and part of our mission at BGMLC is to build collaborations with the community, be they gay or straight,” Williams said. “So this was really important for us. There was the service project in the Gayborhood, but we wanted to go for something more off the beaten path.”
After the project, BGMLC members gathered for a networking happy hour at Sutton’s Parlor.
Williams called the day a “tremendous success.”
“It was a great wrap to a fantastic day,” he said.
Aaegenes said that, in addition to the tangible results that came from the service projects, the day allowed for countless networking opportunities.
“You could really see the connections being made,” she said. “There were people sitting at tables stuffing envelopes with someone they never met before, and that was great to see. A lot of people were already engaged in the community, but there were also a lot people who were newly engaged or who wanted to learn about how to help out in the neighborhood, so that was exciting. Generally the sense was that people were inspired by one another and that was the hope.”