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Channeling MLK's dream through service

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that the world could live together as one, no matter their race, social standing, wealth or gender.

Woodbury Elementary is honoring and celebrating King on Jan. 20 during its first annual Family Service Night.

Family Service Night is Friday -- four days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Woodbury Elementary media specialist Marla Hall said she decided to organize a night where families can come together to perform a variety of service projects after coming across a story in the Pioneer Press about how St. Paul's EXPO for Excellence Elementary Magnet School organized a family service night and how it is becoming a national trend as a way to honor King.

"Something touched me when I read this," she said. "This is a way that is developed to honor (King) by giving back to the community - I like that connection for our students."

After speaking with parents and fellow teachers, Hall decided to move ahead with it because it would help instill a sense of volunteerism in the students.

"I want our students to know that they can reach out to others," she said, "and that giving of themselves is important, looking outside themselves is important."

During the Family Service Night, roughly a dozen service projects will be set up in the school for families to visit.

"The idea is to create stations here in the school where families can come anytime during the night and participate in any number of these service projects," Hall said. "But, they don't have to touch them all."

During the two-hour span, some of the service projects that families have the option of participating in include: tying fleece blankets for Project Linus; making toys for the Animal Humane Society; decorating placemats for Meals on Wheels; creating cards for Random Cards of Kindness as well as for currently deployed military; making bingo cards for the Woodbury Senior Center; assembling boxes of birthday party supplies for the Christian Cupboard Food Shelf; assembling emergency kits for the Red Cross; and one teacher will allow students to cut her hair for Locks of Love.

"We want to show students that nomatter how much or how little they have, they still have something to give, something to offer," Hall said.

Additionally, Woodbury Elementary will be collecting used books, which will be donated to low income students, and loose change for a variety of non-profit organizations, including quarters for bingo at the Woodbury Senior Center.

Hall said she is also hoping to have an information station set up so families that may need some of these services can know where to look.

Hall said the Family Service Night will be a bit different than other service projects in that it is focused on giving, not receiving.

"They're not getting a free T-shirt this time," she said. "The idea is that they're coming and they're not expecting anything."

Hall said she is hoping for at least 100 families during the event.

If the Family Service Night is a success, Hall said she could foresee the school making it an annual event - always coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"Hopefully I'm instilling that spirit of volunteering in them - that spirit of giving back," she said. "I want them to know that they can make a difference.

"We feel better about ourselves if we reach out to others - we forget our own problems."

Woodbury Elementary's Family Service Night will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 20 at the school. The school is currently looking for donations of cake mixes, cake frosting, napkins, paper plates, plastic cups, banners, streamers, balloons, goodie bags, candy and small toys to be included in the birthday boxes as well as old towels and socks for the Animal Humane Society toys. All donations can be brought to the school.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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