Penn State students get to work on Martin Luther King Day of Service

crosenbl@centredaily.comJanuary 20, 2014 

— Katie Cristofano had every right to grumble.

For starters, it was cold outside the Pets Come First animal shelter. Her job wasn’t pleasant, either. Cristofano, a Penn State sophomore, scooped up snowy dog droppings across the kennel.

And yet, she couldn’t complain.

Joined by a pair of friendly mutts, Cristofano enjoyed her Monday morning.

“It helps that the dogs are out here,” she said. “They give me good company, and I love watching them play.”

Cristofano and six other students toiled at the shelter during Penn State’s annual Day of Service on Martin Luther King Day. At several sites on campus and community organizations across the county, students with a holiday from classes volunteered their hands, backs and energy.

The Pets Come First crew wiped down cabinets, washed windows and dishes and otherwise spruced up the former Pennsylvania SPCA shelter. Director Deb Warner appreciated the help.

“There’s so much during the week, taking care of so many animals, that we can’t get to these things,” Warner said.

Senior Abiola Ajibola, perched on a step ladder, erased dust with a spray bottle and a rag.

Having volunteered for community service before, he said he participated in his first MLK Day of Service to join “a diversity of people” who believe in helping others.

“I feel that this day exemplifies that attitude of everybody, and that’s why I’m here,” he said. “We’re giving a few hours that we have.”

Nearby, freshman Akinshola Jolaoso cleaned the tops of cat enclosures and left smeared windows spotless.

“Everybody is coming together and giving back,” he said. “It’s just another opportunity to give back.”

Junior Alexandria Babb knew all about altruism before she soaped and rinsed dishes Monday at the shelter.

Over the winter holiday, she said, she went to Ghana with the Global Brigades organization and helped build a latrine and water harvester. She also taught children about hygiene.

For last spring break, she said, she visited Nicaragua and helped children learn to handle medical emergencies at home.

Volunteering for the MLK Day of Service came naturally to her.

“There’s just something about helping people, improving conditions and contributing to the community that’s an amazing thing,” Babb said.

At the Centre Crest nursing home in Bellefonte, five students took down exterior holiday decorations and visited with residents suffering from dementia.

Bobbi Salvaterra, director of therapeutic recreation and the service coordinator for the day, said the Penn State volunteers saved her staff two hours of work — time that could be spent on projects or other needs.

“These students have the day off, so their dedication to service is impressive,” Salvaterra said. “They could have slept late.”

Junior Veronica Rangel traded some rest to assist the nursing home — one of 13 Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority sisters participating in the day.

In addition to cleaning up, she played the piano for residents.

“It’s always nice to make a difference in people’s lives,” Rangel said.

The Day of Service kicked off Penn State’s tribute to King and his legacy.

Author, lecturer and anti-racism educator Tim Wise will speak at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the HUB-Robeson Center’s Freeman Auditorium. At 6:30 p.m., the Speak for Peace: Oratorical Competition and Social Justice Reception, featuring student speeches about King, will take place in the Hintz Family Alumni Center’s Robb Hall.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, author and social equality activist Angela Davis will be the keynote speaker at the 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.

Cristofano, standing in the Pets Come First kennel with her scooper, was a long way from the lights of Schwab Auditorium and an evening with a legend.

But Cristofano, who also volunteers with the campus Fresh START Day of Service, echoed the spirit of the King tribute just the same.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from this, and I really think everyone else should get involved,” she said. “It’s such a great thing.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews.

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