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Volunteers use day to honor MLK
As part of the annual Hands on Forsyth Day of Service, volunteers joined residents of Chestnut Ridge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center for some bingo Monday. - photo by Jennifer Sami

What a difference a day makes.

Five Forsyth County roads are cleaner, while a group of senior citizens got to relive their youth. And thousands of miles away, American soldiers can expect hand-crafted greeting cards from local children.

It was all in a day’s work for volunteers honoring the legacy of the late Martin Luther King Jr. with the annual Hands on Forsyth Day of Service.

The road cleanup was dirty work, but so was coloring military cards, at least for Genna Van Alstyne.

The 3-year-old’s hands proudly displayed every color in the marker pack she’d used. She may be too young to understand what she’s giving to those fighting overseas, but that wasn't the case for her two older siblings.

“They love to draw and they love to write, so this was an activity that they could understand,” said the children's mother, JoAnn Van Alstyne. “Their grandfather was in the Air Force.

"I’ve talked to them before and now we’re here and writing [their thoughts] down. I think writing it makes it easier for them to comprehend.”

Several families began the national holiday honoring the slain Civil Rights leader at the Forsyth Family Center. The finished greeting cards -- which they made there using construction paper, glue, markers and colored pencils -- will be sent to soldiers serving overseas.

“I brought them so I can teach my kids about giving back and what a day of service means and this was something they could do,” she said.

The military card project holds a special place for Angela Elkowitz, whose husband is in Afghanistan as chaplain of the Army's 101st Airborne Division.

Monday’s card event is the third Elkowitz has helped organize in the past year.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me to bring the soldiers to the forefront of the minds of Forsyth County," she said. "We are already a patriotic county, I think, but this gives them an opportunity to write cards and letters and show their appreciation to soldiers.”

Elkowitz’s husband is due to return in about two weeks. But for those staying behind, the cards “really boost their morale.”

“They miss their children, so getting a note from a ... little girl or boy telling them what they do, who they are and the things that they’re doing, I think it tugs at their heart," Elkowitz said.

“It’s like another letter from home for them. It may not be their child, but they know there’s a child thinking about them.”

Just down the street at Chestnut Ridge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Casey Hoover was charming a senior citizen during a game of bingo.

What started out as a goal to earn a Boy Scout Church and God merit badge turned into a day of pleasure.

“This was more fun than I thought it would be when I started to come here,” said Hoover, a Lanier Middle School student. "I get to help people and that’s what being a Boy Scout is all about."

Hoover sat with one of the center’s newest residents, helping her find the numbers other community volunteers called out.

He was one of several local students who spent their day off giving back to the community. It was worth it, he said.

“The people here are all very nice,” he said. “And instead of just them sitting in their room watching political news and TV and stuff, they get to come out and have a little bit of fun.”

The county’s final service project was a road cleanup, with about 30 volunteers canvassing stretches of Post Road, Hwy. 20 and Ga. 400.

Volunteers worked under the direction of Kevin Smith, community outreach specialist for Keep Forsyth County Beautiful.

“We got close to 100 bags of trash with just 30 people,” he said. “We wrapped up just in time for the rain to start.”

Smith said he put the volunteers to work, “making sure that each group had more work than they could handle."

"They were fighting to get through everything they had,” he said.

To Nicole McCoy, the MLK event showed off “the wonderful nature of our community.”

“The turnout was fantastic, but moreover the spirit of those that joined us truly celebrated the legacy of Dr. King,” said McCoy, executive director of Hands on Forsyth.