FAIRMONT — Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy was one of selflessness and service.

Thursday morning, Fairmont State University students and staff gathered in the Falcon Center on campus to honor that legacy by dispersing into the community and volunteering to help those in need just days before Americans take time out on Jan. 17 to celebrate the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The volunteers left campus and split into two groups. One group went to the Soup Opera downtown and the other went across the river to the Disability Action Center’s new location on Leonard Avenue.

At the Soup Opera, Fairmont State students and staff were tasked with sorting through bags of donations the nonprofit receives. Soup Opera Director Misty Tennant said the volunteers who work upstairs can easily get overwhelmed by the volume of donations that come in, so the help from Fairmont State was timely.

Barbara Copen, who usually works with the clothing, had around 10 trash bags full of clothes to be sorted and said that as the volunteers finished sorting them, there were still plenty more to go through.

“This is a big, tremendous help,” Tennant said. “Usually by the time they can get all the bags sorted and put away, 10 more come. This is the second or third time Fairmont State has come in to help us out and we really appreciate them and the United Way thinking of us.”

On the east side of the river, the second group was at work sorting paperwork and disinfecting equipment that was recently moved into the Disability Action Center’s new location just off of the Gateway Connector.

With the stress of the move and the impending grand opening, DAC Director Julie Sole said the help couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It means everything to us to have the community support and we’ve always been partners with Fairmont State and their Encova Career Development Center,” Sole said. “This timing just happened to be perfect with us completing our move last week, we still needed a lot of help cleaning and organizing.”

Before the group left campus, several speakers discussed why they were donating their time and the significance of doing so in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

“For us, we’re just doing what’s right by our neighbor. We’re just making sure that we are ever present in a community... from which we draw our existence,” Fairmont State President Mirta M. Martin said. “Serving others is part of the value system we teach our students.”

Thursday’s day of service was a partnership with the Tygart Valley United Way. Every year, the United Way’s Day of Action floods the community with volunteers and support. Despite the smaller size of Thursday’s event, the nonprofit’s community impact director, Casey Gilbert, said that it was just as important.

“Service is a big part of what we do as a local nonprofit that serves other local nonprofits,” Gilbert said. “Volunteer power is what keeps us afloat, so we wanted to encourage Fairmont State students, faculty and staff to help out our funded partners.”

Closing the opening ceremony was Fairmont State Professor Greg Hinton, who spoke about the connection between today’s day of service and honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

“That’s what Dr. King was trying to stress — if you want to be great, serve,” Hinton said. “As you go out today and help the community, you’re achieving the greatness that he talked about. Now’s your time... to emulate the great Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Reach David Kirk at email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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