Boots on the ground: Members clean, pack, and plant to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year, our Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) members join AmeriCorps programs across the country to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a “day on” rather than a “day off.” On MLK Day of Service, members transform Dr. King's life and teachings into community service that empowers individuals and helps solve social problems. Let's take a look at some projects our members arranged this year!

Five young adults stand in a line wearing dark blue shirts and carrying yellow and white plastic bags full of food.

Click photo to view a Flickr album featuring our AmeriCorps members' MLK Day projects. Pictured above (left to right): Members Raechal Burke, Jordan Billheimer, Presley Barbo, Emma Mobley, and Allie Trister spending MLK Day serving the non-profit organization Homeless Backpacks, in Lacey. Photo contributed by Raechal Burke.

Packing bags for food assistance  

One of our field crews in Tumwater took a break from planting trees and shrubs to help make sure youth experiencing homelessness had food for the following weekend. Members packed bags of food with Homeless Backpacks in Thurston County, an organization that provides free bags of food for middle and high school youth for the weekend, when government-supported meals are not available.

Members also served food or conducted inventory at 13 different food pantries or shelters across the state, including FISH Community Food Bank in Kittitas County, Everett Food Bank in Snohomish County, and Helping Hands Food Bank in Skagit County.

Mailing books to support education

Another field crew in Tumwater supported enrichment and educational opportunities for incarcerated people across the country through the nonprofit Books to Prisoners Olympia in Thurston County.

“It was a heartwarming and rewarding experience,” said WCC AmeriCorps member Grace McLarty. “We got to choose books based on letters we received, and write letters to incarcerated people.”

The crew rounded out their day leading volunteers in invasive species removal with Capitol Land Trust.

“We had an amazing day and are grateful to have been able to serve our communities,” Grace said.

Three young adults sit at an indoor table with books and letters on top. They are wearing dark blue sweatshirts.

Left to right: Members Julie Pick, Mason Haynes, and Rainer Connelly select books for specific prisoners based on hand-written letters. Photo by Grace McLarty.

Building and painting walls for accessible housing 

WCC members built homes, assembled furniture, and improved facilities at 15 different affordable housing or senior housing organizations across the state. In Jefferson, Pierce, and Skagit counties, members assisted with painting and construction activities with the global nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity.

One of our crews cleaned rooms and facilities at Admiral House in King County, one of Plymouth Healing Communities’ apartment buildings. Plymouth Healing Communities provides housing and companionship to people living with housing instability and mental illness. Staff and residents invited our WCC members to enjoy food and conversation together after they wrapped up cleaning tasks, and members shared that turned out to be a highlight of the day.

“My favorite and most challenging aspect of my MLK day of service experience was that it required me to exercise a completely different set of skills than the ones we use in our usual line of project work,” said AmeriCorps member Jon Simo. “Socializing with the residents is a skill that comes the least naturally to me than any other. However, that was precisely what made it so rewarding for me. I got to meet and help people from very different walks of life from my own.”

Planting trees for healthy ecosystems

Seven Individual Placement AmeriCorps members opted to serve outdoors for their MLK Day of Service with Nisqually Land Trust in Thurston County. Together with community volunteers, they planted more than 1,000 native trees and shrubs.

“All seven of us do monitoring for our everyday projects so it was nice to do some environmental restoration, and good exercise digging holes and hammering stakes into the ground,” said Lilya Jaeren, who serves on the state Department of Natural Resources' Aquatic Reserves Team. “It was nice to know that our efforts will have a positive impact on the Nisqually River Watershed.”
Seven young adults wearing dark blue sweatshirts stand in a field.

Left to right: Members Bryan Sibrian, Ben Papadopoulos, Malise Yun, Abby Jackson, Lilya Jaeren, Tyler Ransier, and Gabby Alampay. Photo contributed by Lilya Jaeren.

In addition, a handful of crew members honed their leadership skills by teaching community volunteers about safety and planting techniques for a restoration event at Whatcom Falls Park in Skagit County, with Nooksack Salmon Enhancement AssociationCity of Bellingham, and Washington Trails Association. In total, volunteers planted 592 native shrubs, ferns, and trees, re-planted more than 2,000 feet of social trails, spread almost 50 cubic yards of mulch, and removed almost 10 cubic yards of invasive Himalayan blackberry, English holly, and English ivy!

These activities will help improve habitat for salmon and octher wildlife along Whatcom Creek, and hopefully inspire local residents to continue getting their hands dirty and building community by attending future volunteer events.

Honoring Dr. King's legacy all year

Our WCC joins thousands of AmeriCorps members, community members, and organizations across the nation in striving to honor Dr. King's legacy every day. As an AmeriCorps program focusing on environmental stewardship, WCC commits to continuing conversations about justice and service, creating a service atmosphere where all can thrive, and working to ensure service opportunities are available to everyone.