While the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. constitutes an off day for city officials and public schools, it also serves as a reminder for one to better his or her community.
This “day of service” meaning to the holiday has been embodied for years by the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps at South Kitsap High School. With COVID fading away, all 150 cadets took to the streets, walkways and properties of Port Orchard and Bremerton Jan. 16 to assist in clean-up and building projects.
The cadets are tasked with providing services to the community throughout the year, but this event is considered its biggest effort. Senior chief petty officer Harold Vickers started the program while working at John Sedgwick Middle School, saying that he wanted to ask kids to take part on their day-off to clean up the community.
“I had an adult that said, ‘Man, you’re out of your mind if you think you’re going to get some kids to go out and clean up on MLK Day,’” he said. “I was, like, game on. Let’s do it.”
Up to 60 kids volunteered the next year, and when Vickers was brought onto the NJROTC program, it became a regular event. “It really is to try to get them to understand that this is their community and that they can impact their community in a positive way,” he said.
Every year, the NJROTC partners with groups such as Adopt-a-Highway, Kitsap Parks and Recreation and Habitat for Humanity, among others, to deploy cadets where service is needed. Several crews picked up trash in parks, along the waterfront in Port Orchard and on the sides of streets. Others worked to trim up the area around the Port Orchard Eagles building, and a couple crews worked with landscaping and painting for some new housing units.
In just those few hours, Vickers said the before and after of each project was incredible, especially with the litter crews. Crews have been known to pick up hundreds of pounds of trash. And this does not include some off-limit items, such as drug paraphernalia, which are not picked up for the safety of the kids.
“One of the things we have to be careful with is what are these kids coming into contact with? They’re not picking up dead animals, but yes, they encounter dead animals. They’re not picking up anything sharp, needles, broken glass, but they do encounter all of that stuff,” Vickers said.
He said in the feedback he gets from his kids, it’s extremely unpleasant work, but it also serves as an eye-opening experience. He said that response shows the kids at least have the desire to change their community for the better.
“If they don’t like what they’re seeing in their community, then they have the ability to change that. They don’t have to wait for someone else to do it or for someone to give them permission,” he said.