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Volunteers in Munhall, McKeesport see holiday as time to 'give back'

| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 11:57 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Habitat For Humanity's Tyler Cole and volunteers Abbey Whitewood and Jordan Smith prepare to paint a room inside the McKeesport Family Center.

While some may regard Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a time for quiet reflection, Steve Hussar of AmeriCorps sees it as an opportunity to make some noise.

Hussar is a training coordinator with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services KEYS — Knowledge to Empower Youths to Success — Service Corps.

“A lot of people think MLK Day is just a day they get off and can sleep in, but it's really a national day of service,” he said. “Dr. King was about getting engaged in the community and serving others. You're not honoring him by just sitting at home.”

That's why Hussar and about 70 volunteers spent Monday morning painting, polishing and cleaning parts of the Carnegie Library of Homestead and the adjacent Music Hall.

“The thing we like to say is, ‘This is a day on, not a day off,'” Hussar said. “Every year, we do something different, but this year we're working on the library, which is a great resource for the area.”

Carol Shrieve, director of administration at the Munhall facility, said she's immensely grateful the group of volunteers from across the country that approached library representatives about pitching in on the holiday.

“We always welcome this kind of opportunity because we have such a large building and a very small staff,” Shrieve said. “It's also a great opportunity for them to come and help out and learn about the history of the library and the community.”

Although the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps' parent organization, was designated by Congress in 1994 to take charge of the day of service, volunteers from other organizations participate as well.

In downtown McKeesport, Habitat For Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh oversaw the painting of a multi-purpose room inside the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's McKeesport Family Center along Fifth Avenue. It was one of Habitat's four projects in the region on Monday.

Tyler Cole, Habitat's community outreach and faith relations coordinator, said Monday's holiday affords his group a chance to give back to those who already give back to their communities.

“It's a good time for us to get out and do something a little bit different from what we normally do,” he said. “Typically, we work with homeowners through our home repair or home ownership programs. But for MLK Day, we take the opportunity to partner with organizations that are doing good in their communities.”

Laura Bosnak Thompson, site director for the McKeesport Family Center, said the facility on the second floor of the Wander Building hosts a variety of useful programs for area residents, including the First Steps parenting program and the Head Start program.

“We've been in this building for about eight or nine years, but with budget cuts, we have no extra money to do anything like fixing up,” she said. “So this is a wonderful opportunity we had to jump on.”

About 15 volunteers spent the day patching and painting the walls of one of the most used rooms in the center. Many, such as 17-year-old Abbey Whitewood of South Fayette Township and 15-year-old Jordan Smith of Upper St. Clair Township, belong to a youth group from Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park.

Jordan said members of the group have been volunteering on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the past several years.

“It's great that people who are less fortunate can be more recognized and people who are more fortunate can help to create change in their everyday lives,” she said.

Abbey echoed the sentiment.

“I think it helps you realize that by doing even the smallest things, you can make change,” she said.

“The people who use this room are going to come in and it'll make them realize somebody cares for them even if they don't know them.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1970, or