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Martin Luther King Day 2010: Holiday not a day off for volunteers

PALMETTO — Bill Gaines would’ve been working in his yard.

Cleve Pearcey, gone fishing.

Alicia Waiters, hanging out at home.

Not on Monday, Martin Luther King Day.

Instead, they were among 80 volunteers who gutted the old Hayden Day Care Center on 17th Street East, cleaning it inside and out for its eventual transformation into the Kelly Brown Career Development Center.

They took their cue from a banner that read:

A Day ON, Not a Day off. MLK Day.

“Everybody’s got to do their part. This is mine,” said Gaines, holding a shovel.

The start of the renovation, funded by a $100,000 government grant and expected to be completed by May, brought volunteers from Volunteer Manatee, Americorps Vista 20/20, and the Anna Gayle Center.

There were also individuals, young and old, from around the community and as far away as Gainesville.

“This is perfect, because Dr. King was about service, about communities working together,” said Manatee School Board member Barbara Harvey, wearing a hard hat around the site.

This facility is going to be like a lighthouse, she said.

“Just as a lighthouse is supposed to serve those out at sea, here it will draw people and make a difference in those lives and address the needs of the community,” Harvey said. “When it comes to work, jobs, self-esteem, after-school tutorial for older students, this is going to be a positive for the community.”

The sound of hammers and power saws could be heard throughout the site. An industrial-sized dumpster overflowed with old cabinetry, pipes, concrete chunks and a sink.

Dozens of plastic garbage bags were stacked outside, filled with yard debris.

There would be more, too, from workers who were busy from 9 a.m. to about 1:30 p.m., said Alan Gedeon, an Americorps Vista volunteer and event organizer.

“All these volunteers! It just blew my socks off,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d have that many.”

Pearcey was glad to be there.

“It does my heart well to see these kids working for a good cause, keep them off the streets, give them some experience in knowing how to work and being responsible,” he said, scraping up linoleum.

“This makes you feel fantastic,” said County Commissioner Gwen Brown as she surveyed the work. “Someone gives up what’s considered to be a free day, working for kids they don’t even know.”

Like Phil Green, who came down from Clearwater with his wife, Calaina, a Vista volunteer.

“America is about helping out each other, doing your part, especially on MLK Day,” said the recent Ohio University graduate. “His dream is we are all equal. We all help out one another. I just wanted to show this world could be a better place if we all did that.”

His words resonated with Waiters, who was raking the yard.

“Just knowing I’m helping my community, helping kids, makes me feel good to be a part of this,” said the State College of Florida student. “I’ll be using this building when it’s up and running, so I’ll always remember I helped get it started.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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