By Jeff Cloninger
Two hundred students from Appalachian State University participated in the annual MLK Challenge on Saturday, Jan. 21, giving over 1,200 combined hours of service to 23 local charitable organizations.
The MLK Challenge celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with a day devoted to service to the Boone area. This event is sponsored each year by the university’s ACT office. ACT stands for Appalachian and the Community Together, and its mission is to cultivate responsible citizenship through education and action.
Student participants gathered in the morning, were split into teams and were assigned a faculty or staff site leader. Each group was provided a local organization for which it was to accomplish a specific challenge, or task. These challenges involved everything from trail restoration, maintenance and cleaning, painting, to new construction. They provided students opportunity to serve alongside people in the community and to make a meaningful difference to organizations such as the Blue Ridge Conservancy, F.A.R.M. Cafe, Hospitality House, Hunger and Health Coalition, and Watauga County Habitat for Humanity.
According to the web site Independent Sector, which provides information on charitable activity, the estimated value of volunteer time is $23.56 per hour. This means that the 1,200 combined service hours that Appalachian students gave to the community during this year’s MLK Challenge had a monetary equivalent of $28,272.
Through bonus challenges, students also raised donations of over $450 for the Junaluska Heritage Association and more than 1,400 diapers for the Children’s Council. An additional part of the MLK Challenge is an upcoming silent auction of donated items. The auction will take place in the ACT Outreach Center on campus in Plemmons Student Union Tuesday, Jan. 31, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the Junaluska Heritage Association.
Emily Wolschlag, coordinator of Appalachian’s ACT program, spoke about Saturday’s event. “I am so proud of the work that was done to make our 18th MLK Challenge so successful. It’s easy to get stuck inside the campus bubble and not connect with the community, but I feel that this event helps to break down that barrier significantly,” she said.
“Sometimes the challenges that we give student teams are extremely difficult, but they always manage to not only come through but go above and beyond. I’m proud to be part of a campus that honors and supports its community so strongly.”
Wolschlag concluded with her favorite aspect of the MLK Challenge. “My favorite part…is hearing all of the stories about the obstacles students overcame, and the kindness they encountered from people throughout the day.”
Appalachian student Danielle Boase spoke of her experience. “Watching hundreds of students come together from all over campus to serve in honor of MLK’s legacy is inspiring and moving,” she said. “We’ve learned so much from other students and their experiences on this day, and it’s awesome to know that Dr. King is still making an impact in our hearts and in our community.”
Student Kayla Burnett participated in this year’s MLK Challenge and served on its organizing committee. “Part of our mission on the committee was to not only focus on the service part of King’s legacy but also his dedication to activism and advocacy for marginalized groups,” she said. “All in all, the whole experience will remain extremely close to my heart for years to come.”
In addition to the MLK Challenge, Appalachian’s ACT program carries out other events in which students volunteer to help others. The Dance Marathon each February raises money and provides assistance to local community organizations, while Alternative Service Experience each spring and fall offers students the opportunity to leave Boone and travel to places, both domestically and abroad, to serve others in numerous and diverse ways – from mentoring abused children to repairing community buildings and individual homes.
Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) cultivates responsible citizenship through education and action. Its activities have three objectives:
“To serve in honor of MLK’s legacy is inspiring and moving…it’s awesome to know that Dr. King is still making an impact in our hearts and in our community.”
– Danielle Boase, MLK Challenge participant
“I’m proud to be part of a campus that honors and supports its community so strongly.”
– Emily Wolschlag, coordinator of Appalachian’s ACT program