Volunteers spend King holiday giving back to community

  • AmeriCorps volunteers Branda Sok, left, and Celeste Tunde-Claye work on a painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. that will be part of a larger mural, during a day of service at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, in Santa Rosa on Monday, January 20, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Instead of taking Monday off, Claudia Bermudez brushed layers of light blue paint onto bare patches of the South Park Youth Center.

For Bermudez and about 150 other volunteers working to improve the south Santa Rosa neighborhood, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is a day on, dedicated not to themselves but to people and places that could use a little help.

"Volunteerism is vital to help people in need," said Bermudez, an AmeriCorps fellow. "A lot of service agencies have limited budgets. It's up to citizens to fill in the gaps, to step up and help out communities."

Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become a national day of service, a time when volunteers get together to celebrate King's legacy by giving back to their community.

Groups in Sonoma County planted gardens, restored creeks, cleaned up parks and built hiking trails.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Park near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Branda Sok of Santa Rosa joined a racially diverse group of young people painting murals.

"Martin Luther King wanted us to all work together," said Sok, 19, painting a portrait of the civil rights leader. "We're all here and we all look different, but we all want the same thing, to come together and make a difference."

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane spent the sunny, cloudless morning outside helping with the murals. The white sweatshirt she wore was emblazoned with a picture of Andy Lopez, the 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy fatally shot in October by a sheriff's deputy who said he mistook a BB gun Lopez was holding for an assault rifle. The boy's death sparked a series of protests, some of them racially charged, on city streets and inside government chambers.

Zane said that service events like those on Monday can help heal the divided community.

"Given what our community has gone through in terms of fracturing and pain and anguish because of the tragic shooting of Andy Lopez, I think it's even more important for the community to come together to build bridges," she said. "Community service should be a way of life for all of us."

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