Alex Trujillo and Jesse Birlson moving exercise equipment around at the YMCA.

Alex Trujillo and Jesse Birlson moving exercise equipment around at the YMCA.

OSKALOOSA – While many were off work or out of school resting at home in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students at William Penn University and a few Oskaloosa residents helped to keep the legacy of Dr. King alive by volunteering across Oskaloosa.

United Way and Penn Central Mall partnered this weekend to host Oskaloosa’s first ‘MLK: Day of Service’ event. According to United Way Executive Director Michella Friesen, the idea to have the service event came from Penn Central Mall’s Marketing and Events Coordinator Naomi Cochran.

“So this was actually Naomi’s brain child, and when she called to see if United Way would like to partner with this, we decided to give it a try,” Friesen said. “Our goal was four locations and 20 people and if we got that, would we be successful.”

With approximately 100 volunteers and 13 locations needing volunteers, Penn Central Mall’s Marketing and Events Coordinator Naomi Cochran said they definitely surpassed their initial goal.

“I think we had about 100 people here today, which definitely exceeds our goal of 20,” Cochran said. “We’re just really excited to do something where we really involve William Penn in the community. It’s beyond anything we expected, and we’re just really grateful for all the people who helped us spread the word, especially the staff at William Penn. They really made sure their students showed up, and we’re so impressed; it’s really incredible to have them all here.”

Although the event Monday morning was mainly geared toward William Penn students, there were some members of the community present as well. Going forward, Cochran said, their committee plans to welcome more community members to come out and volunteer alongside the students.

“We just thought, ‘Let’s just start with William Penn, see how that works out and then kind of expand it,’” she said. “Hopefully next year we can make it more of a community-based event and really combine all the groups together to make it a big celebration.”

Students that registered to volunteer where stationed across Oskaloosa with various organizations, like the George Daily Auditorium, United Way, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity (Oskaloosa and New Sharon), Friends Church, and more.

WPU freshman Axel Vazquez said he chose to volunteer his time with the community as a way to thank the community for all that they do for the track team.

“[The community] does so much for us, and they need to know that we appreciate them,” he said. “It’s Martin Luther King Day, so it just felt right. Dr. King just wanted that same level of contribution and everyone to have the same right to do it, so we thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it for him.’”

Across town, WPU seniors Kiara “KiKi” Davis and Briana Ridgway were volunteering their time helping out with a variety of actives and cleaning at United Way.

“We got to volunteer, meet some new people, see some new things, and see a new side of town for the most part,” Davis said. “We see these places, but we usually just drive past and never actually go in. I got to go to United Way and it was just kind of cool to go in there and see something different.”

Ridgway chimed in saying that growing up, she never knew that MLK Day was mainly about service and it was nice to get involved and make a difference in the community.

“Being African American, we all learned what he did, but I never actually did anything,” Ridgway said. “I think for my first time actually doing stuff, like being a part of the community, seeing all my friends and talking to people today really helped out a lot with learning what the day meant and even though we didn’t have really helpful task, the pamphlets that we folded and stapled helps that organization with what they were doing.”

After volunteering, the students and residents that participated met back at the mall for a free lunch and axe throwing session provided by WanderLunch and Ironside Axe Club.

Tiffany McDaniel can be reached by phone at (641) 660–9659, by email at or on Twitter @tmcdaniel_osky.

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