PORTLAND — As a way to encourage community fellowship, the Maine Commission for Community Service awarded 16 grants to organizations around the state for service projects in celebration of an upcoming Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Each organization received $450 to help plan the projects and purchase necessary materials for the programs surrounding the day of service on Jan. 18, 2010. The grants will allow schools and non-profits from York to Penobscot counties to reach out in the community to help those in need.

In Cumberland County, the University of Southern Maine’s Office of Community Engagement has partnered with Learning Works, a community-based, social service agency serving children, at-risk youth, and low-income families to engage students in a Telling Room-sponsored writing workshop to create a memoir. The Telling Room is a non-profit writing center focused on building confidence and strengthening literacy skills in children aged 6 to 18.

David Cimato, volunteer and leadership coordinator at the Office of Community Engagement, said nearly 60 university students will work one-on-one with students from Portland’s East End and Howard C. Reiche elementary schools to read and discuss the works of Martin Luther King Jr.

“With college students working with the students, sharing their high school and college experiences with them, we hope to encourage and inspire their pursuit of a higher education,” Cimato said. “We hope King’s teachings will resonate with the students.”

After the workshop, photos of the elementary and college students will be taken and their memoirs compiled. The $450 grant will be used to publish a book with the memoirs and photos.

“We are excited to work closely with these children,” Cimato said. “This project is about building community and having the students recognize their connection to the college and the greater area.”

In addition, the Telling Room received a grant to teach volunteers how to lead writing workshops for students using the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.

According to Executive Director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, volunteers from USM, the NAACP Youth Council, and the community have trained to hold literacy workshops for young writers in the three Portland Housing Authority study centers and the Parkside Neighborhood Center in Portland. During the workshop, students will listen to a speech given by King and will then discuss how his words relate to them.

“These workshops are not a history lesson, but a written word activity on how his life relates to theirs today,” Fay-LeBlanc said.

David Brown, community service and multicultural outreach coordinator at USM, said the workshops will be a reflection on the students as much as on King.

“Our goal is to bridge the gap between King’s life and the experience of today’s youth,” he said.

A slide show of the student’s work will be shown at the annual NAACP King Day breakfast on Jan. 18 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Another grant went to Family Focus, a non-profit organization that supports children throughout the Bath, Brunswick, Harpswell, Topsham and Bowdinham communities. It provides before and after school programs for children in kindergarten through fifth grades.

As a way to fit within a new curriculum to encourage service learning for all students, Director Laura Larson said they will create and donate personal hygiene baskets to children and adults at the Tetford Shelter, an agency that provides services and shelter for families or residents in need.

“We hope the children will learn about giving to others by gathering items for people who don’t have them,” Larson said. “We hope also to strengthen their connection to the community, and learn at an early age what it is to give back.”

The children will also have an opportunity to meet volunteers from the Tetford Shelter, who will share their personal stories about what it is like to be homeless, and explain how important the personal items will be for those in need.

“The grant was a way for us to begin our program of learning and service,” Larson said. “Our goal is to build from this project and we are excited about the possibilities.”

Meredith Charest, the coordinator for the Regional School Unit 5 Aspirations Partnership, said the grant awarded her organization will be used for numerous service projects on Monday, Jan. 18.

The day will begin with a free pancake breakfast at 8 a.m. at Freeport High School. At 9 a.m. the Greater Freeport Community Chorus will sing inspirational songs and Noel Bonam, executive director of the Institute for Civic Leadership, will talk about King’s message and the importance of volunteerism. By 9:45 a.m., the students and other volunteers will break into their groups to cook, knit, mentor younger students and build a toy box for a family in need.

Students will assemble and cook 30 casseroles for the Food Pantry at the Freeport Community Center while others make fleece blankets for Project Linus and knit blankets for children in Afghanistan. The Freeport High School varsity girls basketball team will host a clinic for younger athletes and the theater group will teach younger students how to build sets and participate in an acting workshop.

Some volunteers will make annual membership drives for the Freeport Historical Society, organize and sort clothes for the Clothes Tree Gift Shop, and help the Coastal Humane Society. There will be a chance to help plant container gardens at the PORT Teen Center with Wolfe’s Neck Farm volunteers and to assemble Tulip Walk signs for the Maine Cancer Society.

“With enough volunteers, materials and support, it is amazing what people can accomplish for others,” Charest said. “There is a lot to do in one day, but we have between 115 and 150 volunteers to help make it happen.”

Also In Freeport, Liz Brownlee will educate the public on how to grow food in indoor containers. With the help of Wolfe’s Neck Farm volunteers, community members can learn how to grow food for their own consumption, or for donation to the local food pantry. Participants will also examine food justice by participating in a “World Lunch,” a program that exemplifies the unjust food distribution in the world and more locally.

And in Portland, Reiche school fourth-grade students will partner with senior citizens at 100 State Street to create an intergenerational reading “Senior Buddy” project. The students will read a story and complete a project that represents their culture and their country to the seniors.

For more information on how to volunteer during the Day of Service, visit Volunteer Maine.org.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]

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