How may we serve you? Decatur MLK Service Project, Day 1
The organizers of the MLK Service Project, which began in 2003, say that one of the most unpredictable things about it over the years has been the weather.
Volunteers have worked in icy rain and chilly overcast days. The weather was agreeable on Jan. 18, the first day of the three-day event. The volunteers stood in a wing of The Solarium in Oakhurst and looked down at their phones while they waited for someone to give them a task. Sunlight poured through the tall windows of the room, a place that was once part of a convalescent hospital.
Paul Mitchell, chairman of the MLK Service Project, stood in front of a ladder at the back of a room, holding his clipboard.
The volunteers listened as he assigned their chores and recited a list of safety instructions. Use a spotter to hold ladders. Be careful kneeling, because there might be broken glass on the ground. Don’t overfill the dumpsters.
There were 24 homes on his list, some in need of major repairs and some that just needed some maintenance. They are the homes of elderly people who live on a fixed income. They have trouble getting around and can’t afford to pay someone to do the work for them.
“Think of this like it’s for your grandmother,” Mitchell told the volunteers. “It’s like somebody helping your grandmother stay in her home for as long as she wants.”
City of Decatur Lifelong Community Coordinator Lee Ann Harvey began matching up teams of volunteers with houses, taking care to identify anyone with carpentry experience.
Louis Rice, a local attorney, pulled some Decatur High School students off to the side to brief them before sending them out with bags and rakes to do some yard work.
Mitchell gathered up a batch of mustard-colored building permits and made the rounds, dropping them off at homes with larger projects.
He stopped for a minute to speak to Carrie Evans, who has lived in Oakhurst for 16 years in a brick house she inherited from her grandparents. Her street is different now. She described what the neighborhood was like when she first moved in.
“Drugs here,” she said, pointing to one home across the street. “Drugs here. Now, it’s beautiful.”
Evans said her new neighbors come to check on her when she’s not feeling well.
At another house, Doug Thompson was building wooden forms to hold the concrete for a wheelchair ramp. He’s been participating in the MLK Service Project for seven years.
“It’s one of those things that make you feel good, contributing to your neighborhood, helping people,” Thompson said. “I enjoy doing this kind of work anyway.”
There’s still plenty of work left to do. The Service Project will resume Sunday at 1 pm and Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at 9 am.
Any volunteers are welcome, the organizers say. All you have to do is show up at The Solarium in Oakhurst, located at 321 West Hill Street. They’ll put you to work.