In 1994, the U.S. Congress officially established a new federal holiday: Martin Luther King Day.
Commemorating the birthday of the late civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the holiday is officially observed on the third Monday in January. (King's actual birth date is Jan. 15.)
To honor King's legacy, MLK Day is designated as a day of service, with thousands of volunteer service projects being organized in communities nationwide.
In Detroit Lakes, the Boys & Girls Club joined forces with Mahube Community Council and the RSVP/Americorps VISTA Literacy Program to organize a special multi-generational service project.
After school program participants at the Boys & Girls Club were each given a chance to make and decorate table placemats for the residents of Oak Crossing, a local nursing home operated by St. Mary's Innovis Health.
The students were assisted by volunteers from the RSVP Literacy Project as well as Boys & Girls Club staff.
"We're hoping to do this every year (on MLK Day)," said Rhonda Hanson, RSVP/VISTA literacy coordinator.
"We'd like to build on it a little next year," she added.
The finished placemats will be laminated this week then formally presented by the students to Oak Crossing residents next Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 4 p.m.
"It's great for the kids," said Tahnee Moe, youth development director for the Boys & Girls Club. "Anything (with) arts and crafts, they like."
Though the program is open to all students in grades K-12, Moe said the majority of the participants are in sixth grade or younger. Even without the participation of older students, however, the program has grown to average roughly 114 kids every night, Monday through Friday, from 3 to 6:30 p.m.
"We've had as high (attendance) as the 140s," Moe added.
Participants in grades K-5 are taken by bus from Holy Rosary, Roosevelt and Rossman schools directly to the club, where their parents pick them up at the end of the day's activities. The club also has a second after school program at Grace Lutheran Church, which caters to participants age 11 and up.
It was the program's high participation rate that prompted Hanson to approach Boys & Girls Club executive director Patrick Petermann about working on a collaborative literacy project for MLK Day, Hanson said.
"We wanted it to be at a place with a lot of kids," Hanson said, explaining that it was also intended to be after school, "so we aren't disturbing class time."
The inaugural event was deemed a success, with several dozen participants making placements using old greeting cards, glue, glitter, stickers and any other materials that came to hand.
"We (the volunteers) raided our closets to see what we could come up with," Hanson said with a laugh. "It was a group effort."