Tucson VISTA Team Leader Molly Sheehy reflects on the success and excitement of our Martin Luther King Day of Service in Tucson
It’s been almost two weeks since our Tucson Martin Luther King Day of Service event, and I’m still in awe of what was accomplished.
On January 19th, our AmeriCorps VISTA team joined forces with members of seven other national service teams representing not only VISTA but AmeriCorps State and National members, RSVP, and SeniorCorps to clean up and beautify the campus and ground of Los Ranchitos Elementary School.
Together, and with the help of yet more volunteers from the community, we painted four bathrooms, a classroom, and a pantry; cleaned almost a dozen classrooms; gathered, cleaned and sorted thousands of library books; raked and gardened across the entire campus; and--perhaps most importantly-- had a wonderful time celebrating Dr. King’s legacy through service to our community. At the end of the day, Los Ranchitos was visibly transformed. While there is still work to be done, it now looks well-kept, inviting, and most of all loved by its community.
Long-time Tucson residents may be surprised at the choice of Los Ranchitos for a service site-- it’s been closed to students for over a year, after all. Our choice to serve there was due not to what it is, but to what it can become. It is our hope, and the hope of many within the community, that with a little love Los Ranchitos can become the first of several school based sites offering much-needed services and support to low-income families. A bright and cheerful pantry means families will have access to healthy food. Clean, inviting classrooms will provide space for parenting classes and adult education. Already, there are a variety of much-needed wellness services offered on the now well-kept campus.
Los Ranchitos is just the beginning. Adding their voices to those expressing hope around the future of schools as resource centers for all families and children were State Senator David Bradley and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. Mayor Rothschild took the opportunity to announce an initiative to launch eight similar “community schools” within the coming year. “Tucson was built neighborhood by neighborhood, and at the heart of each neighborhood was a school and a park.” said the Mayor, “Many of our public schools are well-placed to be a hub for family services that enhance and support education, building stronger communities.”
As with many working to alleviate poverty, I sometimes struggle not to feel cynical or beleaguered. In the wake of this day of service, however, I am filled with nothing but buoyant gratitude and love for the national service members on my team and the Tucson community that supports us. I am filled with hopeful excitement about the difference community schools—like Los Ranchitos—can make in the lives of thousands of Tucsonans living in poverty. This is the end goal of service on Martin Luther King Day—to feel renewed in the belief that working for your community is a joyful honor rather than an obligation, and that this work can be sustained throughout the year.
As Dr. King said himself, “…The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”