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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King with a Day of Service

Lisa Melsted

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”                                                                                           - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When legislation was signed in 1983 making Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK), Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday, Congress also tasked a federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, with leading an effort to make the commemoration not just another holiday, but to make it a “day on, not a day off” where people across the U.S. would gather in their communities to volunteer and serve together.

According to the agency, the annual MLK Day of Service is “intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”

This year, NetApp sites across the U.S.  gathered groups of volunteers to participate in the Day On for the first time. Organized events took place in Sunnyvale, RTP, and Wichita with joint sponsorship from NetApp Serves and the newly formed site chapters of NetApp Network of Blacks in Technology (NNBT).

Cleaning up the MLK Shoreline in the East Bay

NNBT members Ed Shepard, GEM Manager for Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, and Peeya Iwagoshi, a Technical Program Manager, helped to organize the volunteer event for the Sunnyvale office. Ed says NetApp Serves Senior Manager Michelle Mann reached out to NNBT as the group was forming to see if they would like to get involved in the service day.

“I did some research on it and found out it is a day of service to recognize what Martin Luther King did for our country, and I thought, ‘This is something I can do,’ so I took on that responsibility to try to get some folks in our organization involved,” he says.

Peeya says he believes the service day is a good way to commemorate King’s birthday. “It’s a day of volunteering and doing something for the general good rather than just taking a day off. I thought that would be a great idea and a great thing to do to honor Martin Luther King for his contributions to the good of others and risking his life for that,” he says.

Ed says Michelle provided a number of volunteering options for the group to choose from. A short survey was conducted and the number one choice was a project with the East Bay Regional Parks District to do clean-up at the Martin Luther King Shoreline in Oakland and San Leandro, Calif.

The event was a half-day event, which took place in the morning. Ed says the half-day was a good option because volunteers could spend the morning volunteering and still spend time with their families during the afternoon. Families were also encouraged to attend the volunteer event.

“I felt it would be a good time, and it was an opportunity not only for us to participate but for our families and children. For a half day you could get out with your family and do some good for the community and for the service and recognition of Martin Luther King,” Ed says. Approximately 15 NetApp employees and their families turned out to help with the clean-up effort.

“We enjoyed giving back to the community and spent the morning cleaning up an enormous amount of trash that had washed up on the shoreline. Our efforts definitely had an impact,” Ed says.

Ed and Peeya both feel it’s important for NetApp to not only showcase our culture of caring but to help increase diverse representation at NetApp. Being out in the community and participating in events like the MLK Day of Service are an important step in doing both.

“I think if we’re able to show other folks out there that we are interested in these types of activities and that we’re participating in the community, we can recruit more of the talent we need. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to transform our company to attract this next generation of employees, so I think this is an important part of helping us in that transformation,” Ed says.

“Millennials want to work for a company and do things that have a purpose. Having a good culture and volunteering shows that NetApp is supportive of that type of initiative,” Peeya added.

Ed says many of his peers in the sales organization commended him for heading up the event. Peeya feels Ed has created a spark with this event that he hopes will encourage others to volunteer and be a part of events like this in the future. And as persons of color, both want to reach out to others to show that NetApp—and events like the MLK Service Day—is for everyone.

“I think it’s a good thing for people to know we’re out there doing something for the community. This is important for me as a person but also as an employee of NetApp,” Ed says. “They’re both equally important.”

Sorting books for kids in Durham

Community Relations Coordinator Tanja Jackman says there were various activities and events in the Durham, N.C. area for families to participate in on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In looking for an event for NetApp to participate in the Research Triangle (RTP) Park area, Tanja says she was wanted to find something that would allow employees to volunteer with their families, and she also wanted to find an activity that would support education and help underserved communities. Book Harvest, a Durham-based non-profit that provides books and literacy support to underserved families that sponsors an annual book drive and celebration in downtown Durham in honor of MLK Day, fit the bill.

Tanja arranged for a late afternoon volunteer shift with Book Harvest where employees and their families could help the organization collect and sort books and help clean up at the end of Book Harvest’s Dream Big book drive. Each year, the organization kicks off its annual book collection and fundraising efforts on MLK Day with a large celebration held in Durham Central Park, which the organization bills as “part book drive, part food truck rode, part activity fair, part volunteer opportunity and ALL celebration and fun.”

Tanja says she loved this event because it was an opportunity for families to take part in the local festivities and give back to the community as part of the MLK Day celebration. “You could make it a family day with all these activities you can do with your family. It goes from toddler to teenagers and a lot of these events don’t always include older kids, so I wanted something where literally everybody could bring everybody.”

The RTP MLK Service Day was also the inaugural VTO outing for the RTP chapter of NNBT. Tanja says holding a VTO outing on that day really resonated with employees for both reasons.

“The VTO resonated with a lot of people on a personal level and being able to do it as a family and inviting friends and neighbors and making it a big community event—that really spoke to me,” she says.

NNBT Co-Chair and KB Programs Project Manager Tymeka Whiteside says giving back has always been a tradition in her family. She believes participating in events like these illustrate NetApp’s connection and commitment to the community. Participating also gave her a greater level of appreciation for the true sacrifices of those who have come before her, she says.

“What better way to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King than through literacy?” says Tymeka.

Program Manager, CSC Global Ops Bonita Nettles says volunteering with Book Harvest was particularly special for her family. Her husband is a teacher in Wake County, N.C. who stocks a library shelf in his classroom for his students so they can read and discuss books and expand their worlds, she says. As an avid reader herself, Bonita understands the possibilities that reading can open to children. Growing up, she says her family only had a set of encyclopedias at home. When she’d finished reading it, she began walking to the local library on a weekly basis to read for hours. “I visited so many wonderful places and had so many adventures without ever leaving my little town,” she says.

As such, Bonita and her husband were excited to be part of the event. “It’s important to pass our love of reading on to children. Reading increases a child’s vocabulary and helps them to learn and grow, taking them to places they never could have imagined,” she says.

Despite a cold and windy day in RTP, Tanja Jackman says 13 NetApp employees and family members attended the event. Book Harvest was able to collect more than 44,000 books, which will be given to more than 4,000 local children. NetApp and other sponsors donated more than $100,000, and he organization will be donating a bookshelf of books to all Habitat for Humanity homes in the RTP area.

“It was a perfect tie-in event that highlights many of the activities NetApp either already sponsors or supports in some way,” Tanja says.

Building homes in Wichita

Wichita celebrated their “day on” by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Support Account Manager Kevin Moore, who also coordinates VTO activities for NetApp Serves at the site, says the event, which was held in partnership with Volunteer Kansas and the City of Wichita, kicked off the 2019 building season for the Wichita chapter of Habitat and brought together more than 100 volunteers together to build the interior and exterior walls of two three-bedroom homes. According to Kevin, after the walls are built, they will be loaded into trailers and semis to be taken to lots where they will be finished later.

As in Sunnyvale and RTP, the event was co-sponsored by the Wichita chapter of NNBT. Ten NetApp employees and family members gathered together to hammer and nail the frames of both homes. MTS SW Jami Jarman, who attended the event, says getting family involved in the event was significant for her. “I think it is important to get our children started volunteering at a young age. This was a perfect event for my daughter and I to do together. It was well organized, fun and had a lot of community support,” she says.

Advanced Technical Content Developer Mariama Beemer, who attended the event with her husband, two sons and sister-in-law, agrees. Mariama says it was a pleasure to represent NetApp and NNBT and to have an impact on her community. Honoring the life of Dr. King through service is not only a great way for NetApp employees to give back, roll up their sleeves and help others, but also a great way to honor the history of African Americans, she says.

“It is a tradition in my family to make this day of service a day on, not a day off,” she says. “It’s also a great way to honor our history and Dr. King’s legacy. As Dr. King said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”’ By volunteering as a family on MLK day, my husband and I are strengthening this core value in our two sons,” says Mariama.

Lisa Melsted

Lisa Melsted develops culture strategies and content for NetApp’s Employee Engagement team. A tech industry veteran with more than 15 years’ experience in various communications and marketing roles, she holds Master’s degrees in Creative Non-Fiction from Emerson College and English from the University of Iowa. She has also written articles about technology for publications such as Forbes BrandVoice and TechPageOne.

View all Posts by Lisa Melsted

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