The Catholic University of America may have closed for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but around 700 students, faculty, and staff observed the holiday by serving their Washington, D.C. community.
“Seeing Christ’s face in other people and serving them has an effect on you,” said Catholic University senior Joey Dichoso, who led a team of students in serving meals to the homeless at the So Others Might Eat dining room, located up the street from the U.S. Capitol.
Dichoso drew inspiration from having previously served with the Missionaries of Charity.
They “see Christ in the poor,” he told CNA in a Jan. 18 interview. “If you can see [Christ] especially in those that are rejected by society or those that are deemed unbeautiful by society, if you can see Christ in them, then it helps you see Christ in other people.”
The Catholic University of America has observed the MLK Day of Service since 2006. The number of volunteers has grown from 26 in its first year to around 700 in 2016. Volunteers, including John Garvey, the university's president, served at more than 20 locations in the city, from cleaning up parks and memorials to serving at homeless shelters and charities.
“The MLK Day of Service shows the power of community,” stated Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, the associate director of community service in CUA’s office of campus ministry. “The change we can make in that one day is significant. We get a chance to see what good we can do with our God-given talents.”
Some students volunteered to clean and organize clothes and food at the Jordan House in Northeast Washington, which provides psychiatric care and support for homeless men and women.
Jennifer Stanton, a senior, was participating in the service day for the first time. She hadn’t visited the Jordan House before, but learned of its mission before she arrived Monday morning. “I know what I’m doing and I know who I’m doing it for,” she told CNA. Martin Luther King, Jr. “set a very great example for service,” she added.
“MLK Day was created to be a service day,” said Isaiah Burroughs, a freshman politics major from nearby Fort Washington, Md. who was also serving at the Jordan House.
Gene Thornton, a senior crisis counselor at the house, was pleased that the students volunteered their time on their day off.
“Yeah, it definitely means a lot for them to come out, just to kind of spend some of their personal time, things of that nature, just to give back,” he told CNA.
A few blocks away, 11 students helped serve meals to the homeless at the So Others Might Eat kitchen. They had set up the dining room, served coffee and food, and talked with the homeless. Some played the piano for them.
“A lot of times when you’re walking around the city, especially in D.C., and you see homeless people, some people may be quick just to keep walking or to throw a couple of dollars their way,” Dichoso, who led the volunteer group, said.
He referenced his time as a mission worker in Jamaica, and previous MLK Days of Service, to emphasize that it is important “to really encounter that person as a human being and ask them how they’re doing.”
“Really the encounter part is making a friend,” he said.
How is the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected in the service day? Dichoso referred to a talk given the students just before they departed campus by Thomasine Johnson of the university staff, who had lived through the civil rights movement.
“All people of all colors deserve to be treated equally and they have a dignity,” he said of King’s legacy, “that all peoples have dignity really ties into service. Seeing the dignity in every human person.”
“That dignity in Christ is in all of us,” he concluded.