Lawrenceville students perform community service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Students from the private school spend the morning of Jan. 11 volunteering at community centers, food banks, nursing homes.

By:Cara Latham Special Writer
Playing recreational games with children, reading books aloud to them and cleaning out their toy closets may not seem like activities of a typical school day for The Lawrenceville School students.
   In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., 814 students and 135 faculty members of the private school set out to give back to the community at organizations throughout New Jersey on Jan. 11. One of those places was the Lawrence Neighborhood Service Center on Eggerts Crossing Road, where they spent time with the children and helped reorganized the day-care center.
   From 9 a.m. to noon, the prep school students formed groups to tackle different tasks at the center. Six of the members of The Lawrenceville School’s wrestling team cleaned out the recreational closets throughout the facility, in addition to other odd jobs around the building. The students reorganized the balls and other sport equipment in one closet, and headed upstairs to straighten up the puzzles and games in another.
   "Community service is a good way to remember all that Martin Luther King did," said John McElwee,18, a senior and member of the wrestling team. "(He) helped people, and we’re doing that on a different level."
   While Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated Monday, Jan. 16, the school picked Jan. 11 because everything was closed during the holiday.
   This is the fourth year that the prep school students have done community service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The students do community service throughout the year, but every year in celebration of Dr. King, the school’s students and faculty members go out at the same time and work in groups.
   Kurt Owen, a math teacher and one of the wrestling coaches at the prep school, helped the students clean and organize the building. He said doing community service in honor of Dr. King was better than just having time off.
   "It creates community awareness, and I think it’s a lot more meaningful than just saying that you’ll have a day off," Mr. Owen said. "It’s good that (the students and faculty are) actually going out and doing something as opposed to just hearing a speaker for an hour and then just going on with their daily lives."
   Two girls from the school read storybooks to the group of 4- and 5-year-olds in the day-care center during their "circle time." The children, who were sitting in a circle on the floor around the girls, smiled and participated along with the girls as they reinforced the story’s ideas. A group of girls played with other children in the gym upstairs, who were running around and kicking and throwing balls around.
   The children really enjoyed the visit from the prep school students, according to Michelle McLeon, assistant teacher at the day care.
   Ms. McLeon also said that The Lawrenceville School students should come back for future visits because the children in the day care respond well to interaction with teenagers, and because it helps the younger children improve their communication skills.
   "They are open with me, but it’s nice to see them interact with other people when they come in," said Ms. McLeon. "When they come from other schools, they become attached to you. So, I think they should continue to do it."
   The students’ work helped with upholding the center’s mission statement, said Elliot Blame, the program manager at the Lawrence Neighborhood Service Center. The center seeks to "press upon the youth the importance of service (in their) community," Mr. Blame said.
   "If you’re able to instill that value in people when they’re young, then by the time they’re adults, they’ll be more productive members of the community and be able to come back to where they come from and make positive contributions," said Mr. Blame.
   Mr. Blame said that having the students from The Lawrenceville School, who are "very positive role models," volunteer for the day is very beneficial to the center.
   "They get to come and work with kids and spend time with kids who probably didn’t have the resources that they had when they were growing up," Mr. Blame said. "It helps because the kids like to have younger people here. They tend to respond well to having kids from the high school help with their homework and play basketball with them."
   The Lawrenceville students also spent the day at HomeFront on Princeton Avenue, the Little Kids College on Brunswick Avenue, the Special Olympics on Princess Road, and Morris Hall on Bishop’s Drive.
   Some were scattered at organizations around Princeton and Trenton. Mr. McElwee said that it wasn’t about the community’s reaction to their service that mattered.
   "Doing community service is for us to know that we did a good thing ourselves," Mr. McElwee said. "That’s what it’s all for."