What a difference a Martin Luther King Jr. Day makes.
“This was just a big, gray, dingy room,” Devone Chezem said Monday afternoon. The state AmeriCorps director was standing inside the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Oklahoma County, where she and about 15 members of AmeriCorps, along with other helpers, were busy painting, repairing and remodeling two large rooms as part of a Martin Luther King Day Jr. project.
The volunteers, most working for the Red Cross as their one-year stint with AmeriCorps, came from across Oklahoma to help upgrade two large rooms in the facility. The center provides classes that help people prepare for the job market with literacy courses, GED training and computer classes.
Brenda Young drove from Muskogee to chip in. She moved to Oklahoma three months ago and joined AmeriCorps to help her new state.
“I wanted to get involved with the community,” she said. “This gave me an opportunity.”
Melanie Jennings, 24, of Norman, was helping lay carpet squares in a classroom that will become a resource center for tutors. “It's really rewarding knowing that it's going to go for a good cause,” she said.
The AmeriCorps workers began at 7 p.m. Sunday and worked until after 10, returning Monday at 7 a.m. Those from out of town stayed in a hotel.
Besides the resource center, the workers were also remodeling and updating a lounge/break area that will be used by Opportunities Industrialization Center students. “They will actually have a really cool place to come and relax and chill out,” Chezem said.
Volunteers were adding, new furniture and appliances, including microwave ovens, bar stools and other items provided by local businesses and individuals.
Whenever people heard what the volunteers were up to, they came through with just about all materials, furniture and other things needed for the work day, “everything down to the paint brushes,” Chezem said.
The MLK work day is an annual event for AmeriCorps members, Chezem said. In previous years, the organization has held MLK Day work days at a YWCA, the Battered Women's Shelter and a children's shelter. The OIC project was suggested by AmeriCorps member Stephanie Troy, who once interviewed there when she was looking for a nonprofit center in which to serve a college practicum.
“This was the first place I thought of,” she said.
Opportunities Industrialization Center Executive Director Patricia Kelly said the center had endured extra wear and tear when it served recently as a staging area for creation of a large mosaic in erected in nearby Bricktown. The center could not afford to do any repair or remodeling, she said, so the work day was greatly appreciated.
“We're just elated ... that they're reaching out and offering services to us,” she said. “We're excited here.”