For Vail Mountain School students, Martin Luther King Day is a day ‘on’
VMS students spend MLK Day working on community service projects
VAIL — While many took a day off Monday, Vail Mountain School students continued their three-decade tradition of service for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“It’s a day on, not a day off,” VMS student Alexander Viola said.
National day of service
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating the third Monday in January a federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His birthday is Jan. 15. In 1994, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service.
Service can be almost anything, and on Monday, VMS students and staff helped build Habitat for Humanity homes, packed lunches, baked dog treats, wrote letters to people serving in the military: The list is long and noble — and they learned good stuff along the way.
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Students have been doing this since they were small, and they say they wouldn’t want to spend MLK Day any other way.
VMS students do this a few times a year, upper school student Oly Holguin said.
“We learned from lower school the value helping where and when you can,” upper school student Julia Hartz said.
Most days Ross Sappenfield teaches Advanced Placement biology and other science classes at VMS. On MLK Day the lessons were more about physics — how hard you have to whack a piece of metal scaffolding with a hammer, in single-digit weather, to knock the snow and ice off of it.
“It gives everyone a sense of how hard work is part of the bigger picture of helping improve other peoples’ lives,” said Nick Mejia, a volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley.
Kelly Liken, the famous restaurateur, now runs the Community Market, a Gypsum-based food bank. She loves it and said she has enjoyed working with VMS students for years.
“Vail Mountain School students heard we were doing some food waste work. So for one of our first projects with VMS, they wanted to rescue food from their own cafeteria,” Liken said.
The Community Market hosted 20 VMS students Monday morning, and Liken was happy to have them all.
“There is lots of work going on at the Community Market,” Liken said.
Learning and serving
Before MLK Day, VMS students talk about King’s achievements and the importance of community service. On MLK Day they put legs on their lessons and headed out into the community, with King’s recipe for greatness in their hearts and heads: “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace,” King said in a 1968 sermon.
Kabe ErkenBrack, VMS middle school director, says MLK Day service teaches students that they are called to be something larger than themselves.
“They have talents and passions. We’re trying to help them use those talents and passions to improve their community,” ErkenBrack said.
Students volunteer with more than a dozen nonprofits in Eagle and Summit counties, said Vail Mountain School’s Kate Blakslee, who’s in charge of it all.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.