Some people gather on Martin Luther King Day to talk. Others do a little bit more. Following the premise that actions speak louder than words, participants in Monday’s Day of Service event were quick to remind inquirers and themselves alike that the day signified an opportunity for action. Spurred by the University of Montana Office of Civic Engagement, the event placed over 60 volunteers at several nonprofit organizations in Missoula, including the American Red Cross, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity and the Clarkfork Coalition, in an effort to benefit the community.
At Goodwill, volunteer Josh Vanek, Americorp program manager at the Montana Campus Compact, spent most of the morning and afternoon sorting through bags of donated clothes. Vanek said it was important for the community to do something idealistic, and not just indulge another day off.
After volunteers finished their duties at the various locales, they convened for a two-hour workshop led by the Missoula chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), a nonprofit leadership training organization that seeks to eliminate prejudice and intergroup conflict in communities around the world. Volunteers were given the opportunity to learn how groups other than their own experience mistreatment. Volunteers were also shown the personal impacts of specific incidents of discrimination, and learned how to interrupt prejudicial jokes, remarks and slurs.
Jennifer Gibson-Snyder, a senior volunteer with NCBI, said the overall purpose of the workshop was to get people first to identify examples of diversity in their lives, and secondly put a personal face on issues of prejudice and discrimination by listening to each other’s stories. Vanek added that Missoula is an accepting place that supports people with different opinions and cultivates progressive thought. “That’s a very important part of the legacy of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said.