Teens volunteer around county for MLK Day of Service

EVERETT — Friends since middle school, Harneet Grewal, Jocelyn Ramirez and Mckayla Mueller spent the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday together. They didn’t see a movie. They didn’t shop. With heavy gloves and gardening tools, they volunteered for the MLK Day of Service.

At Howarth Park on Monday, the teens joined with the Green Everett Partnership in a cleanup and restoration effort. They ripped out invasive English ivy and put in native plants.

Tugging a tangle of ivy from the damp ground, 15-year-old Ramirez put some muscle into the task. “It’s really in there,” the Mariner High School freshman said.

Also a ninth-grader at Mariner, Grewal, 14, coaxed her friends into helping after volunteering previously with United Way of Snohomish County. Mueller, 14, attends Kamiak High School.

The work at Howarth Park was one of 14 projects organized for the MLK Day of Service in Snohomish County. Billed as a “day on” rather than a day off, the annual effort on the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader is a partnership of United Way of Snohomish County, YMCA of Snohomish County, Catholic Community Services and Senior Corps-RSVP.

“They could be sleeping in,” said Maria Serka, adviser of Meadowdale High School’s Colores Unidos club. About 15 club members helped at Howarth alongside Green Everett Partnership volunteers.

Started several years ago, the Green Everett Partnership brings together the Everett Parks and Recreation Department, the nonprofit conservation group Forterra and local volunteers to restore Everett’s forested parks. An October work party at Forest Park drew nearly 100 volunteers. Forterra’s Joanna Nelson de Flores said Monday that the partnership also has been at work at Thornton A. Sullivan Park and the South Everett Forest Preserve.

At Howarth, Meadowdale sophomore Paul Baez, 15, and senior Quenan Rangel, 17, dug a hole to plant a snowberry shrub near a steep slope. Baez said the school’s Colores Unidos club built planter boxes for a retirement home during last year’s MLK Day of Service.

“I know I’m making a difference,” said Marisol Stewart, a Meadowdale senior and the club’s president.

Nelson de Flores and Sara Noland, a volunteer forest steward with the Green Everett Partnership, said volunteers were filling in areas cleared of ivy with low-growing native plants — sword ferns, salal, Oregon grape and evergreen huckleberry.

“Ivy is the biggest thing. It grows rapidly, into a tree’s canopy, and crowds out other plants. A healthy forest needs biodiversity,” Nelson de Flores said.

Jessica Gaitan, United Way of Snohomish County’s community engagement coordinator, said this year’s Day of Service involved 208 teens and 20 adult volunteers.

Along with park efforts in Everett and Marysville, teens helped people with special needs through Quilceda Community Services; volunteered at senior centers in Monroe, Snohomish and Everett; gave their time to places helping animals, including the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project; worked at food banks in Everett and Marysville; volunteered at Take the Next Step and Matthew House in Monroe, and with other agencies. Youth teams were led by Senior Corps-RSVP helpers and other adult volunteers.

Volunteering was just one way the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored in Snohomish County this year.

A Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration was held Thursday at Edmonds Community College. Michael Eric Dyson’s lecture was hosted by the college and the city of Lynnwood. An American Book Award winner, Dyson is the author of “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X,” “I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.,” “Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster,” and other books.

On Sunday, Everett Community College hosted a King celebration, “The Dream is Alive Today For Tomorrow,” with a gospel choir and keynote speaker Toyia Taylor. It was organized by the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee.

The teens at Howarth Park on Monday learned about King’s mission for equality and justice in school. On their day off, they came out to do something for their community.

“It feels good to help,” Baez said.

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

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