Teens, others honor MLK holiday with day of service

When 77-year-old Nazar Sayed picks up his cellphone, he’s like many of his contemporaries. The phone mystifies him.

“All I know is how to make a call. Other than that, I do not know anything about it,” he said. “How do I go to my voicemail?”

At Everett’s Broadway Plaza, where Sayed lives, two young helpers looked at his phone Monday, listened to his questions, and patiently offered simple lessons.

“You get to the menu by pushing this,” said Ryan Henderson, a 14-year-old freshman at Archbishop Murphy High School. The boy showed Sayed how to enter contacts in his phone, and how to type names and words from the keyboard’s buttons.

With help from Jackson High School’s Lessane Ketema, 16, Henderson also helped Sayed learn how to get information about his cellphone plan. At another table, Henderson’s brother, Brady, 16, taught 64-year-old Lorna Jenkins to send text messages using her voice. Jenkins said she suffers from hand tremors.

“These kids, they just know everything,” Sayed said.

The young technology tutors were volunteering as part of the MLK Day of Service. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday event, part of a national day of service in King’s memory, is organized by several local nonprofits, including the United Way of Snohomish County.

Sara Haner, a local United Way spokeswoman, said 301 area high school students helped Monday, an increase of about 20 percent over last year’s total for the day of service. There were 20 projects this year, and 58 adult volunteers pitched in, Haner said.

“We look forward to this event every year, and are so pleased with this year’s results,” said Dennis Smith, president and chief executive officer of the local United Way, in a statement about the event. The Day of Service is a partnership between United Way, the YMCA of Snohomish County, Catholic Community Services and Senior Corps’ Retired &Senior Volunteer Program.

Broadway Plaza, an Everett Housing Authority apartment complex, is home to low-income seniors and younger adults who are disabled. It was one of several Everett area sites hosting Day of Service volunteers.

Before starting their tasks, about 30 students at Broadway Plaza were welcomed by Michelle Morris of United Way and Jon Richardson, lead service coordinator with the Everett Housing Authority.

“I’m really impressed,” Richardson told the teens. “I don’t remember doing anything like this when I was your age.”

Morris, United Way of Snohomish County’s senior manager of community engagement, thanked the teens for getting up early, and said the holiday is more than a day off. “We are here to honor the life of Martin Luther King,” she said.

While tech tutors provided hands-on help, a larger crew of teens stepped up for cleaning duty in upstairs apartments.

“It’s just a godsend. I can’t do housework like I used to,” said Donna Draper, 52, a resident who said a back injury gives her trouble walking. “What they’re doing right now would probably take me a week to do.”

With pop music playing in the background, Everett High School’s Nathan Dodson, 14, mopped Draper’s bathroom floor. Reiley Schraeger, a 17-year-old Kamiak High School student, vacuumed her small bedroom.

Marysville Getchell High School’s Billy Appel, 18, helped clean the kitchen, with three Kamiak students, Nate Goodwin, 16, Hira Waqar, 19, and 17-year-old Alison Cantarano. “It’s an eye-opener,” Cantarano said after seeing residents’ needs.

Students weren’t the only ones volunteering. Ralph Quaas, a member of the Rotary Club of Everett and part of the Retired &Senior Volunteer Program, and Everett High School teacher Theresa Kemp were among the adult helpers. Kemp, who teaches English and AVID college readiness courses, said her students “just love helping.”

Broadway Plaza residents were grateful for the toil and the teens’ cheerful company, Richardson said. Some just needed their bed made.

“Sometimes the easy things are the hard things,” Richardson said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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