Big names, bigger numbers

Dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, and looking very much like any other person there, Sen. Al Franken crouched beside students from MCTC and chatted as he sorted bottles of shampoo.

Senator Al Franken and other volunteers sort donated hygiene products at the Bridge for Youth, Minneapolis, MN, Jan. 15, 2011. The Bridge for Youth provides transitional and permanent housing for youth in need. (Photography Aaron DuBois/City College News)

He was volunteering at The Bridge for Youth, a community resource for runaway and homeless teens.

“Their whole life for one reason or another has been broken apart and they need a place to go,” Franken said of the young adults served by programs like The Bridge. “It would be better to bring them here.”

The Bridge for Youth was one of the 13 sites for MCTC’s third annual MLK Day of Service.

Franken joined students there to help sort donations and clean the facility.

Hundreds more MCTC students, faculty and community members also spent their Saturday at 12 other organizations across the city as part of the volunteer event.

The day kicked off with a breakfast reception and speech from Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, founder of Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB).

MCTC is the first campus in the state to start its own chapter of this national organization, whose aim is to increase the number of African American males graduating from college.

Bledsoe spoke about the importance of community and education, tying King’s legacy of service with the importance of reaching out to our peers and neighbors to reach goals as a community.

Senator Franken echoed Bledsoe’s message of working together.

“We don’t expect them to build these places alone,” Franken said. “And we don’t expect places like The Bridge to do this for people alone.”

Participants and volunteers were provided transportation to the 13 local organizations that partnered with MCTC to receive service.

Some groups worked with the Literacy Council and Minneapolis Public Schools to organize books and read to children.

Other groups prepared meals with the Ascension Place, a shelter for women.

John Woolfrey volunteered by fixing up houses with Urban Homeworks, an organization that builds housing and promotes strong neighborhood relationships.

Jeremy Bjerke, a student, volunteered sorting donations.

“It’s a committment to the community,” he said as he organized CDs and books.

Members of the Student Veterans of America volunteered by mopping floors and cleaning for People Serving People, an organization that provides emergency housing and community assistance for families experiencing, or anticipating homelessness.

“We’re just going through all the floors sweeping and mopping,” said Andrew Qualy, MCTC chapter president of the SVA, “we did some sanitizing of hallways, rooms, and door knobs. Just kind of engaging with the folks who live here.”

The SVA were one of many MCTC student organizations volunteering for the day’s many services opportunites.

“We are happy to be here in any capacity, just to help out,” said Qualy.

According to Franken, problems like homelessness among teens are on the rise, but he remains hopeful.

According to Bledsoe, these are not only barriers to education, but also barriers to reaching common community goals.

Homelessness and hunger have been prevalent topics of discussion on the MCTC campus since last semester’s W.A.Y. survey, which found roughly 10 percent of the students surveyed reporting a lack of either adequate food or housing.

“I’m working on legislation to help with schooling, housing and medical care,” Franken said after he finished sorting donations and completed a tour of The Bridge. “This is a really wonderful place.”

The day was considered a success, according to organizers and volunteers, like Andrew Qualy.

“We are honoring the legacy of MLK and what the day means by giving ourselves to perform services to our community,” he said.

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