Organizers said they hope the event becomes an annual one that continues to grow

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FARMINGTON — Community building and inclusion were priorities for many celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day through the first Farmington-Four Corners Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday.

The morning-long event had volunteers from around the Four Corners community gathering to work on service projects at Berg Park, Childhaven, Family Crisis Center, New Beginnings community gardens, Sycamore Park Community Center and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Juan County.

The event was organized by a group of local churches and hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Juan County. Many individual groups have organized service projects for the January holiday, but this is the first time a coalition of groups have come together to celebrate, said Laura Marshall, event organizer and social justice coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Approximately 80 volunteers donated their day off to the event, Marshall said. 

“One of the huge lessons we have learned from this is how big the heart of Farmington and Four Corners is,” Marshall said during opening remarks.

After breakfast provided by local sponsors and remarks from local pastors, volunteers split up to work on several projects. They included playing with local children at the Family Crisis Center and Sycamore Park Community Center, cleaning up trash along the River Trail at Berg Park, reorganizing New Beginnings’ community garden, painting the common room at Childhaven and creating care bags for the homeless and writing letters to troops at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Bethany Christian Church pastor Tom Goebel, whose church was a co-sponsor for the event, said during a break in painting the hallways at Childhaven that the day was an opportunity to put the civil rights leader’s example to work in the community.

“I studied the civil rights movement, and this is an opportunity for me to be able to do something rather than just read something, to get out there and do hands-on, because that’s really what Dr. King would prize — communities coming together and working in a social environment,” Goebel said. “I don’t think he would just want them to take the day off.”

Estefania Ortiz volunteered with her three children at Childhaven. She said that coming to volunteer helped teach her family important lessons.

“(Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day) teaches, especially my kids, respect for other people and to always remember what the movement behind Martin Luther King was — civil rights and equality,” Ortiz said. “I think that’s something that’s very important for my kids to learn and carry on.”

For some volunteers, spending their federal holiday serving their community was cathartic.

“I think people want something good to do right now,” volunteer Emily Hoxie said at Childhaven. “It feels like a really tumultuous time, and it’s nice to be part of something positive in the community. And you get to meet cool people.”

Marshall said though Monday’s projects were in honor and remembrance of King, the event also had another agenda.

“Part of doing this is keeping Dr. King’s legacy alive, and I just love the things the ministers were saying, but part of it is meeting each other,” Marshall said. “When we come together like this, we meet people that we would have never met, and that helps us know that they’re people and not objects. Whether they’re from different faiths or races or live in different parts of our community, we can all come together and work together to make our community a better place.”

This was the first Day of Service event organized by the coalition of local groups and organizations, including Aztec Presbyterian, Bethany Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church of Farmington and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Marshall said they hope the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service becomes an annual event in the Four Corners.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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