Students serve the community in honor of MLK
Education • Young Utahns learn by giving back throughout Salt Lake Valley, Park City.
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South Salt Lake • The basement of the Maliheh Free Clinic was packed Saturday morning with University of Utah students who were feeling great.

As part of the National Day of Service, at least 35 — wielding sandpaper, spools of blue masking tape and paint rollers — were forgoing a day off to spruce up the clinic's maze of below-grade hallways and offices. Danielle Johnson, a sophomore studying exercise and sports science, even brought her mom, Julie, along to help tape plastic over the hall carpets and patch walls with spackle.

Many hands might make light work, but they also can make it confusing, so the biggest challenge Saturday was ensuring all the walls wound up bearing the same shade of beige.

"They are awesome kids. They do a great job. We wouldn't be able to do our work without student volunteers," said Jeanie Ashby, the clinic's executive director. U. medical students also staff the clinic, which serves uninsured and low-income families, most Saturdays.

Utah students are fanning out all over the Salt Lake Valley and Park City this weekend, performing community projects serving an array of charitable organizations that help the vulnerable and disadvantaged, including homeless animals and gay youths.

President Barack Obama initiated the national service day four years ago on the Saturday before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. This Saturday he and the first lady joined dozens of others to fix up Burrville Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

The U.'s Bennion Community Service Center on Saturday dispatched about 300 students to six locations, mostly charitable organizations, such as the YWCA, the Maliheh clinic at 415 E. 3900 South, and the Utah AIDS Foundation, where they deep-cleaned facilities and helped with mass mailings. Bennion students also volunteered at the Utah State Fairpark, helping out with KUED's Super Readers party celebrating last fall's reading marathon.

Service projects honoring the legacy of the slain civil rights leader will continue this week. The Congregation Kol Ami, a Salt Lake City synagogue that operates a religious school, is holding its Mitzvah Day, a morning off from Jewish scripture to serve the larger community on Sunday.

Families associated with the school will assemble sack lunches for the Catholic Diocese's Good Samaritan Program, hygiene kits for homeless patients at Fourth Street Clinic, fleece blankets for Project Linus to distribute to ill and traumatized children, decorate packages for the Utah Food Bank, and arts and crafts bags for patients at Primary Children's Medical Center.

"Through this Mitzvah Day, we hope to bring Dr. King's message to life for our children and families, and to connect it to the legacy of social action and service to others that is a core Jewish value," said Pam Silberman, a congregation member chairing the event.

Then on Monday, Westminster College students will march through the Sugar House neighborhood and do a service project supporting the Crossroads Urban Center.

Max Wood, a U. undergraduate preparing for architecture school, led the Maliheh work crew.

"It's something we should all do, give our time," said Wood. "I have been blessed with the things I have. I want to give back to help those in need or don't have as much."

After Wood returned from a church mission to Taiwan last year, he became less interested in the fraternity life of his freshman year and thought about other ways to spend his free time. Linda Dunn, the mother of a friend and the Bennion Center's executive director, recruited him to serve as special-projects coordinator.

For Bennion, National Day of Service was just another Saturday, although busier than usual, according to Danielle Johnson. Once a month, the center hosts themed drop-in service projects, which are coordinated by Johnson and chemistry major Curtis Sudbury. For example, the Feb. 23 project targets literacy programs, and April 20 supports ecological health in honor of Earth Day.

Last year, the center supported 8,500 students in furnishing 225,000 service hours, according to outreach director Lacey Holmes.