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Volunteers roll up sleeves in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

You’re never too young to learn about giving back to your community.

Take it from 2-year-old Brady McCutcheon, who spent the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day toddling around the Water Resources Education Center while volunteers worked to remove invasive species and pick up trash.

Brady didn’t pull many blackberry bushes (for he is very small, and they are very thorny). But for Brady, his 6-year-old sister Avery and his mother, Tila, just the spirit of community service is worth fostering.

“It should really be a day to provide services,” said Tila McCutcheon, who now lives in Portland but used to intern at the water resources center. She attends the center’s annual service event every January, she added.

The McCutcheon family was among the 40-odd volunteers who showed up Monday morning to participate in one of several MLK Day events around the area. Half of the group scoured the banks of the Columbia River, participating in a beach cleanup that saw the removal of trash from the natural area. The rest remained around the building, hacking away at invasive blackberry bushes, ivy vines and vinca plants.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Alix Orihuela, an 18-year-old senior at Union High School who took a break from pulling blackberry bushes to survey the progress he and some schoolmates had already made. They’d knocked back the brush line by a few yards.

“I wanted to help give back to the community, and also start to build my resume for college,” Orihuela said. He’s part of a school club that requires community service; hopefully something that will get him noticed at Stanford University and the University of Washington, where he’s waiting to hear on his college applications, he said.

The thesis for MLK Day differs from that of other holidays. Instead of taking the day off from school or work to relax and reflect, citizens are encouraged to embody King’s legacy and partake in some form of community service.

King devoted his life to promoting social justice, fostering community and eradicating racist power structures in America. In 1994, after a decade of celebrating MLK Day as a national holiday, Congress designated the third Monday of January as a national day of service.

Service events have cropped up all over the country as citizens work to answer King’s call to action, made in a 1957 speech in Montgomery, Ala.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

In addition to the water resources cleanup project, the city organized a “spruce up” event at Homestead Park in east Vancouver. Volunteers planted 50 native spirea shrubs and about 20 trees on Monday.

Coordinating with the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, city staff also helped put together an effort to reforest the Burnt Bridge Creek greenway with native trees and shrubs. The volunteer crew spent the morning on the banks of Burnt Bridge Creek, planting native plants for about two and a half hours.

Additional service projects were held by various companies, nonprofits and other organizations. Some employees of Kaiser Permanente, a regional health care provider, spent the day at the Clark County Food Bank sorting potatoes, according to a media release. The effort involved more than 100 employees from Oregon and Washington — and about 20 tons of potatoes.

“It’s a day on, not a day off,” said Hailey Heath, volunteer coordinator for the city of Vancouver. “(It’s) the right thing to do, on a day that signifies and honors Martin Luther King Jr.”


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