On January 17 when the alarm clock sounds, some Americans will sit up grudgingly to face Monday morning, then plop back onto the pillow in relief when they remember it’s a federal holiday. But at Palm Beach Atlantic University, students will hop out of bed anyhow, not wanting to be late for Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
We expect about 300 students to climb onto buses heading out to various volunteer service sites organized by the University’s office of “Workship.” That’s PBA’s award-winning community service program, so named by combining the words work and worship. From the founding of the school in 1968, PBA students, faculty and staff have sought to build a culture of serving others, seeing our community service work as a form of worship, not just work alone.
To explain more about Workship and MLK Day of Service, I turned to Nathan Chau, director of the Workship program. He, in turn, pointed to two student volunteers he could always count on, Floyd and Tensia Clark.
“It didn’t matter how early the Workship event was,” said Nathan. “If we were supposed to be there at 6, those two would be showing up at 5:30.” The brother/sister pair of Floyd and Tensia were so faithful and enthusiastic that they became Workship leaders. With energetic volunteers like those two, Workship has provided nearly 3.7 million hours of community service.
Growing as you serve
Over the years Workship students have volunteered in a wide variety of service projects, including gleaning vegetables for the hungry, picking up litter, painting at community centers and tutoring inner-city schoolchildren. Volunteers found the service not only rewarding, but personally beneficial. Nathan observed how the introverted Floyd Clark served and grew in leadership. “Before long Floyd was a shining star, really communicating and doing things outside his comfort zone.”
Often as PBA students have rotated through different volunteer opportunities, the varied experiences have helped them discern career direction. And serving as a team in Workship projects, they’ve loved the camaraderie and they’ve grown in people skills and problem-solving methods.
They learned to “just go with the flow” when the unexpected happened in a project. “Workship kept me on my toes,” said Tensia. She’s now a preschool teacher, working with little ones “who do random stuff all the time,” so she still uses that approach of flexibility: “just work with it: make adjustments and move on.”
Tensia graduated from PBA in 2018 and her brother in 2020, but last year they both traveled back down from their North Florida home to serve as alumni volunteer leaders on MLK Day. Their parents are PBA alumni as well, and when they get the chance, the Clarks join a Workship project together as a family.
While Workship service projects happen throughout the school year, MLK Day of Service is extra special. It honors the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
Joining with Jewish Federation volunteers
On January 17, for the third year, PBA Workship students will serve in MLK Day projects alongside volunteers from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. “This interfaith relationship really honors what Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for when it came to injustices and challenges our country was facing,” said Nathan. “It’s a great opportunity for us to lock arms with the Jewish community, as well as whoever else wants to join us, to stand up and say, ‘Look: we’re all in this together. When it comes to serving and loving our community, it doesn’t matter what your skin color is or what your beliefs are. Let’s go in this together and be stronger together.’”
MLK Day projects planned include gleaning, packing food bags for the homeless and preparing literacy activity bags for young children in underserved communities. Returning volunteers know that as they serve, they will make new friends, sharing a special joy, “just being with people invested in the lives of others in the community,” said Tensia.
Floyd recalled that on MLK Day of 2021 while he was gleaning in a field of peppers, he noticed a volunteer from the Jewish Federation had brought along her young twins. “This mom was getting them grounded,” said Floyd, “grounded into the world of doing things for others.” That’s a key goal at PBA as we engage students in community service. We want them to develop a lifelong habit of serving others. How encouraging to think of that mother leading her twins into that joyous pattern so young.
You don’t need be in Palm Beach County or have ties to PBA or the Jewish Federation to join the MLK tribute and service on January 17. For service opportunities wherever you are, visit www.americorps.gov and type #MLK into the search bar.
As we serve others and honor this great American, let’s recall what he said about greatness. “Everybody can be great,” Dr. King declared in a sermon, “because everybody can serve.” And to serve, he said, “you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu) For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/