Instead of using the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday as a day off, volunteers from Decatur recognize the day as serving the community.
For the 11th year in a row, thousands of volunteers will participate in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project, which provides home maintenance and repair free of charge to low-income Decatur senior citizen homeowners.
“We do this to honor the senior citizens and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” said Lee Ann Harvey of Volunteer! Decatur.
Sponsored by the Decatur Preservation Alliance (DPA) in partnership with the city of Decatur, the project is scheduled for Jan. 19, 20 and 21. The three-day weekend project started in 2003.
Harvey said the project was started after a board member of a nonprofit organization, Decatur Preservation Alliance—which preserves Decatur’s historic structures and green spaces—suggested to save the homes of Decatur’s older citizens.
“The reason why we started doing this was to try to help our senior citizens to be able to continue to live in Decatur and to be able to live safely, comfortably and affordably in their homes,” Harvey said.
To be eligible for the service, homeowners must reside in their homes within the city limits of Decatur, be at least 65 years old and meet certain income criteria.
Paul Mitchell, this year’s chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project, has volunteered since its founding. He assesses the work to be done at all of the homes and develops reports for the operations committee to review before in-depth assessments on between 25 and 40 homes.
Mitchell said this project is a great thing to do for the senior citizens.
“The homeowners get a tremendous amount of benefit from it,” he said. “These are [repairs] that they can’t do. They don’t have the knowledge of how to do home repairs in general, and so we’re able to step in and put our knowledge in.”
The homes are then selected based on the number of major and minor repairs needed to be done and yard work. Repairs may include electrical, plumbing, floor and roof repairs, and more.
“We had a home the second year of the project that had a fire and it had knocked out the electrical system in the home,” Harvey said. “So we had to have an electrician come in the home and rewire the entire house.”
Harvey said they also do a lot of weatherization to the homes to help the homeowners reduce utility bills.
“We also build a lot of handicap ramps because some of the seniors use walkers or wheelchairs and can’t get in their homes because they aren’t able to,” Harvey said.
The project has grown from 100 volunteers in 2003 to 1,300 volunteers participating in last year’s project. There is a minimum age of 12 years old to volunteer.
“It’s 12 unless they are coming with a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop,” Harvey said. “They need to make advance arrangements with us for that because we need the parents’ consent.”
Harvey said it is important to help senior citizens because they are the foundation of the Decatur community.
“They’ve lived here 30, 40 years and they’ve made Decatur what it is today,” she said. “They started neighborhood associations and they volunteered in the schools. Part of it is giving back to them for all that they’ve given to the community.”
“It allows them to live in their house, as long as they want to,” Mitchell added.
For more information about the project, visit www.mlkserviceproject.com.