OXFORD -- Members of Oxford High School’s Helping Hands committee pitched in on their Martin Luther King holiday to clean the senior center, shelve books at the library and generally help with chores at various locations around town.
But for Jennifer Carr, Heather Burnett and Meghan O’Connor, who were sweeping the senior center floor, volunteering is not an event out of the ordinary. In fact, whenever special events come around in the area, they said kids for the club are there to lend a hand.
“There’s always something going on, and we’re there. We help with the ham and oyster dinner, we feed the animals at Plumpton Park, pick up trash on Earth Day and rake the leaves for senior citizens,” Carr said.
On Monday, however, the day that celebrates the legacy of slain Civil Rights Activist Martin Luther King Jr., the students gave special thought to the meaning of service and how it related to his message.
Carr, a senior, said they are taught in history class that King preached the value of service and that people can learn to understand each other by giving back. “You learn in history you have to do it to understand it,” she said.
O’Connor, also a senior, said an attitude of helpfulness and mutual respect is widespread at Oxford. Lots of the teachers are themselves Oxford High School graduates and they seem to care deeply about their students and their families. Sometimes when teachers witness an act of kindness in a student, they send a postcard home to praise the action and inform the parents.
“There’s no place for hate here. Everybody gets along, If someone drops their books or needs help, there’s always someone to help,” Carr said.
The three students agreed that they knew that years ago Oxford had a reputation for racial unrest and discrimination, but that mood no longer predominates. Nobody gives much thought to interracial dating, and the school teams host students of all colors.
In fact, Oxford has a Diversity Club that meets regularly to discuss racial, gay and lesbian and bullying issues.
The volunteer projects Oxford students participated in on Monday ended at noon, but across town at Penn’s Grove Middle School, community residents joined for the Spirit of Giving Luncheon. The event, which was founded as the Spirit of Christmas luncheon in 1990 has evolved into the gathering to honor King.
This year, state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19, of West Whiteland addressed about 50 local leaders.
“Southern Chester County has a tradition of caring, and every individual know everybody else,” he said. He added that Martin Luther King represented the aspirations and hopes of all people -- the belief that they could achieve more than they believed they could.
“Stand up and be a good guy,” he said.
Cheryl McConnell, director of Neighborhood Services Center, the agency that was to receive the proceeds of the luncheon, said she is concerned about need in Oxford. Forty percent of the students in Oxford are eligible for reduced price lunches. this year we had 2,000 request for food and clothing -- up 22 percent from last year. She said also that she has been getting calls from other agencies saying they need help ministering to those in needs. “I’m hearing that their needs are not being met,” she said.
Lincoln University Rotaract President Khari Scott and Rotaract Vice President Aaron Warwick spoke about the club’s activity at the college. Rotaract is the collegiate arm of Rotary International service organization.
Scott said he has learned from King that “You can’t be merely good. You have to invest love, commitment, diligence and responsibility in your vocation.”
Warwick said he has learned that it is important to develop character and to develop character. He added that service moves people to understand others.