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Volunteerism spreads
Turnout high for MLK event
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Jonas, left, and Sky Hancock put on safety vests before heading out to pick up trash along Lake Lanier. - photo by Jim Dean
Alongside his brothers, parents and girlfriend, Jeff Scott helped spruce up Forsyth County during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

The 17-year-old and his family traveled from Rabun County on Monday to clean up the grounds of the Forsyth County Family Center.

“It’s good family bonding time,” he said. “It just feels good to help other people and with your family being there, it just adds to it.”

Lisa Dunnigan and her nephew, daughter, son-in-law and mother traveled from Douglas County.

“We have a wide variety of ages,” she said. “My mom came, so she didn’t want to do something outside, and my nephew, he’s only 16, so we had to choose something we could all do together.”

Organized by Forsyth County Community Connection, the King holiday event encourages participants to continue the late Civil Rights leader’s legacy of public service by spending their day off working for the community.

Unlike the previous three years, there were more volunteers than the nonprofit organization knew what to do with.

Some 400 people came —more than double last year’s turnout—largely because of a new promotion, organizers said.

“Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” offers a free ticket to Walt Disney World for a full day of service through Dec. 10 or until tickets run out.

The program has encouraged many people to give back, but Community Connection Volunteer Coordinator Kerry Rosewall hopes it will also jump start a new generation of volunteers.

“These volunteers have never been exposed to us and it’s huge,” she said. “We’re trying to tell them we’ll be here after the Disney program is over and we’ll still be doing projects, so keep us in mind.”

Scott said his family regularly volunteers with various homeless shelters and food drives.

“This whole Disney thing is just extra icing on the cake,” he said.

The Webber family planned to visit Disney World for a birthday celebration, so getting the free tickets will help on costs.

But having her children spend their day off from school writing letters to soldiers was the real value of the day, Ashby Webber said.

“It’s a great thing for our kids to appreciate the soldiers,” she said. “We get to do it all together as a family, which is kind of nice.”

Webber’s husband, Andrew, said volunteering to create the cards was a great way for the family to work together.

“It was an opportunity that all four of us could do that they would get some meaning out of and appreciate, more so than us just doing something and them tagging along,” he said.

For members of River United Methodist Church, giving back to the community is nothing new. Ashley Colbert said a group from the church was eager to create cards for soldiers.

“It’s just a way of saying thank you,” she said. “It’s just a small thing we can do here in little Cumming, Ga., to tell them that we appreciate them and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Sisters Monica and Paulina Suarez spent their service day visiting an elderly resident of Chestnut Ridge nursing home. Monica Suarez said the woman made her laugh, but with the laughter came sadness.

“It’s kind of hard seeing all of the family members visiting their loved ones that are not doing very good,” she said. “But it’s also nice to see that ... they’re still having fun and playing games and meeting people.”

Paulina Suarez thought about her own future after the day at the senior living home.

“You feel like you have helped someone in need and that maybe someday, someone else will do that for you,” she said. “It felt rewarding.”

Darcy Salie echoed those sentiments. The stay-at-home mom managed Monday’s silverware wrap for Hosea Feed the Hungry.

“I just love volunteering ... I enjoy it because it’s fulfilling,” she said. “You meet people, the kids enjoy it, they have fun and everyone comes together and they’re all happy.

“It’s just something I wish more people did. Everybody needs help all the time.”