Mike Walsh’s journey with Martin Luther King Jr. Day began before it was ever connected to an idea of service in central Pennsylvania.
In college, he interned with U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, who was an advisor to Dr. King in the 1960s. Wofford helped to pass a piece of legislation that President Bill Clinton signed into law, making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national day of service in 1994.
Walsh later co-founded the Central PA MLK Committee and serves as the vice chair today. In January, the committee will celebrate 10 years of service throughout our region.
“Ten years ago, we thought about doing something here in central Pennsylvania,” Walsh said. “There were projects already taking place. We sort of organized this under an umbrella group.”
For several years, the group held its signature events inside a Harrisburg public school. For the past three years, state Rep. Patty Kim has taken the lead as the committee’s chair and expanded signature sites to other places, including the Hadee Mosque on Division Street and Beth El Temple on Front Street.
“I feel like my job as chair is to bring all of these different communities under one roof and to really come together,” Kim said.
The Hadee Mosque was selected as the main organizing site after Steelton’s Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg received a hate letter. Kim said it was “therapeutic” to go there and heal together. It’s one of the highlights for Kim — getting to lock arms with people and find strength in the community’s diversity.
Although many of the projects take place in Harrisburg and Dauphin County, anyone can register their projects with the organization through its website. Walsh said that, in the past, they’ve had projects in York, Cumberland, Lancaster and Lebanon counties, too.
Kim presides over the signature site, where there is always an opening ceremony. The project there is typically family-focused, so that even kids can come participate. This year, the theme is “education,” and the day will begin at 9:30 a.m. at Susquehanna Township High School.
“There’s a lot of activities that are going to take place where volunteers are going to put together anti-bullying kits within Susquehanna Township school district schools,” Walsh said.
It’s all connected to King’s message that intelligence and character are goals of education. In addition to the anti-bullying kits, Kim said there will be crafts, artistic projects for children and opportunities for kids to read books about King and his message.
There also will be cultural tables at the high school with resources to connect different communities, something that Kim is passionate about.
“In the past couple years, the president has said some things that were very hurtful and divisive, and having our sites at a synagogue and a mosque were extra meaningful to me,” Kim said. “Being able to support these religious groups and learn more about them is pretty powerful”
Walsh said that the group of core volunteers comes from all walks of life and backgrounds, and the number grows every year. If you add up all the sites in the region, he expects the volunteers to number about 1,000. Last year alone, they had 300 people helping at the signature site at the temple, Kim said.
The projects range in terms of time and activity. Volunteers can check the committee’s website for information and background on the project and then register. That way, they know how many hours they’ll be there and what exactly they’ll do.
Organizations can also register their own events on the committee’s website, whether it’s for families or people with a specific skill.
Kim said she was “hooked” since her first day of service.
“It’s just a couple of hours, but you really leave feeling like you did something special for your community,” she said.
Due to inclement weather, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service events have been postponed. They will now take place on Sunday, Feb. 24. For more information, to register a project or to sign up for a project, visit www.centralpamlkday.org.