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The HyLife: Local volunteers work to build Martin Luther King’s ‘beloved community’

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Posted on: January 13, 2023

BY JESSICA ARENDS

 

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from a  Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” Every third Monday in January, we celebrate MLK Day — the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service — with a focus on improving our communities and remembering King’s emphases on values of justice, compassion and nonviolence. 

On this day and throughout the year, Hyattsville families, students and residents volunteer by distributing food, tutoring students and visiting or doing chores with those who need assistance. I spent some time with a few local volunteers to ask about their service experiences and how it feels, as King would say, to build the beloved community. 

Johnathan Mack (in Santa hat) and fellow students from DeMatha Catholic High School sort and package produce for the Dec. 20, 2022, food distribution.
Courtesy of the City of Hyattsville

“I’ve been living in Hyattsville for over 30 years. I never saw the need until I saw the need — and it was profound,” said Cherri Everhart, the City of Hyattsville’s deputy director of community services. Everhart and about 25  volunteers gather every third Tuesday to bag fresh produce for the emergency food distribution at the First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville. About 300 households, or around 900 people, receive fresh produce each month from the distribution, according to Colleen Aistis, the city’s community services manager. 

The City of Hyattsville reported $140,339,136 of food distributed, at a variety of sites, between March 2020 and June 2022. 

During that same time period, Hyattsville volunteers contributed about 261,184 total hours of service, which translates to an estimated total dollar value of $8,586,245. 

Pallets of produce for the City of Hyattsville food distribution on Dec. 20, 2022
Courtesy of the City of Hyattsville

Malik Drummon, a senior at DeMatha Catholic High School, helped bag a tower of onions and hand out produce at the distribution, which occurred during his winter break. Although he completed his required service hours for school last year, Drummon continues to volunteer. “It’s a heart-warming feeling to give back,” he said. 

Indeed, volunteering is literally good for our hearts. Serving others reduces stress and releases dopamine in the brain, which produces positive, relaxed feelings; lower stress levels, in turn, can decrease the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and strokes, along with the risk of depression and anxiety, according to a recent Mayo Clinic article. The interactions inherent in many forms of volunteering can also rebuild social skills and break down those layers of pandemic loneliness we may still be trying to shed. 

Andrew Sayer is one of about 70 tutors who serve as volunteers at the Hyattsville Teen Center, located at 3911 Hamilton Street in Driskell Park. Sayer said volunteering helped him connect to the community when he moved to Hyattsville from the United Kingdom. “I feel we are helping through the [tutoring] program, and it gives me a sense of place and a sense of belonging.” 

As a scientist, Sayer enjoys helping students connect STEM topics with everyday life and supporting learners who may need guidance with homework. “By volunteering, I am giving these opportunities to kids whose families can’t afford private tutoring,” Sayer said, adding that it could make education more equitable.  

In addition to tutoring and distributing food, Hyattsville volunteers are needed to assist with invasive plant removal and to support residents with yardwork, transportation, chores or snow shoveling. To facilitate these and other efforts, the city connects volunteers with civic groups in the community, such as Hyattsville Aging in Place and Meals on Wheels. More information about volunteer opportunities can be found by visiting the City of Hyattsville volunteer-focused website, hyattsville.galaxydigital.com. 

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