Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It's not only a time for Americans to remember the slain civil rights leader, but also a day set aside as a national day of service.
King once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"
Today, we write about Midlanders who have committed themselves to serving their neighbors and communities.
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Stepping up for city's youths
Arlene Dacus began leading the Condors drill team in the same year that Martin Luther King Jr. led the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
That was 1965.
Forty-eight years later, the 70-year-old Dacus still serves as volunteer director of the drill team, now known as the Bryant Center Condors Drum Corps. Today, she'll lead the Condors in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade through downtown Las Vegas.
The troupe has 37 members, most between the ages of 12 and 17.
Some are grandchildren of Condors whom Dacus led in parades when they were children.
That's a lot of stepping over a lot of years.
“It's about our kids,” Dacus said. “It's about our future. It wasn't by design or desire. I just led, and they followed.”
She has taught literally generations of young Omahans lessons about stepping, and about life, such as responsibility, teamwork and how far hard work can take you.
Not to mention, fun.
“They enjoy it, because it offers them opportunities to have experiences they otherwise wouldn't have been able to have,” Dacus said.
Through the years, the Condors have performed from coast to coast and many points between: the White House, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta, California and Manitoba, as well as in Nebraska and Iowa parades.
As director, Dacus also is the tour bus organizer and fundraiser-in-chief, buying bulk candy and helping Condor members sell it, staffing the Bryant Center outdoor basketball court concession stand with other volunteers, coordinating coupon fundraisers and working with donors.
Dacus and co-director Perlie Whitley give rides to the majority of members for thrice-weekly practices — and then lead the practices.
Often, though Dacus doesn't really talk about this part, those rides include a trip to a drive-through for kids who haven't eaten yet.
As fiercely committed as Dacus has been, she nearly let go of the Condors in recent years.
“We had a lull in kids who were interested in marching and playing drums,” Dacus said.
Membership had waned from the usual 55 to about 25. They were really short on drummers, a role usually filled by boys and young men.
Gangs took a toll, partly because of the Condors' strict rule that if young people had any gang affiliation at all, they could not be in the group.
“We couldn't have a situation where we're marching down 24th Street and somebody takes a shot at us,” she said. “It was so disheartening and so discouraging to be telling them you can't participate for safety reasons.”
Then the group became affiliated with the Bryant Center Association, which began promoting the Condors at Bryant Center basketball and other programs.
Young people began joining, including 14-year-old Camren Engram, who became a Condor last summer. He rides his bike to be on time for practices — even on a blustery Thursday, when volunteer drum leader Brad Dacus, the director's son, helped drummers fine-tune beats for today's parade.
Camren joined for “friends, and it looked like fun.”
Condors majorettes Eryan Davis, 14, and Taiyonna Johnson, 12, said they've gained self-confidence and social skills, in addition to taking fun trips. They also are learning from Dacus' example of service.
“It's a way to give back to the community,” Taiyonna said, “keep kids off the streets, and give them a chance to ...”
“Be themselves ...” Eryan continued,
“Without anybody judging them,” Taiyonna finished.
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Millions answer call to service
They serve soup to the hungry. They sew quilts for the chilled. They hold the hands of the ill.
They mentor young people, build homes for the homeless and help immigrants and the poor advance their computer literacy.
They are volunteers. They pitch in in countless ways wherever a helping hand is needed, from making homemade cookies for hospice patients in urban communities to training binoculars on a whooping crane in a Sand Hills meadow.
Millions of Americans answer the call to serve on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and throughout the year. Today is a federal holiday observed as a national day of service.
Volunteering is a core American value, said Wendy Spencer, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service. The organization was chartered after World War II to harness the era's patriotic energy and national civic involvement.
“Americans who volunteer enrich our communities and keep our nation strong," she said.
— By David Hendee
Childhood lessons about King became part of life for Nebraska Guard major
By Steve Liewer / World-Herald staff writer
Dale Burrage's schoolteacher mom, Addie, never gave him a spanking or a timeout when he acted up as a boy.
She gave him papers to write.
That's how he learned about Martin Luther King Jr., who was one of Addie's heroes. She told stories of his courage, nonviolence and service to others.
“She had personal memories of Dr. King,” Burrage said. “She impressed upon us his importance.”
Burrage, 46, of Lincoln, grew up in urban Dayton, Ohio, and came to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a track scholarship.
Now he's a father of three, grandfather of three more, and a major in the Nebraska Army National Guard.
Burrage strives to live one of King's messages: Serve others.
Besides military service, he is a church elder, a youth sports coach and mentor in Tom Osborne's TeamMates youth program.
Today, Burrage will once again take part in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Rally and March in Lincoln. It will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student union and proceed to the State Capitol.
Burrage joined the first parade in 1995 at the invitation of a friend. He hasn't missed one since. In 2003, he marched one day before reporting to his Guard unit for a deployment to Kuwait and Iraq. He came home early after hurting his back — in time to join the 2004 event.
It has become a family tradition for Burrage, his wife, Theresa, and their four kids.
“His message is still important,” Burrage said. “That's the only way we keep these life lessons alive for our children and grandchildren.”
'That could have been me' attitude drives volunteer
By Andrew J. Nelson / World-Herald staff writer
COUNCIL BLUFFS — Anna Buhman of Omaha knows what it is like to be at risk of being homeless.
That's why she is considering a career in social work. That's why she finds opportunities to help those in need.
This week, Buhman, 23, will volunteer with Youth Emergency Services; the organization is trying to get an accurate count of the number of homeless youths in Omaha so it can better provide them services. She will approach them where they gather and ask demographic questions.
“I have a really strong interest in helping youth who may be having problems with housing,” she said. “I've been in situations where, but for a little bit of luck, that could have been me.”
Buhman, who grew up in Yutan, Neb., and majored in computer science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Currently, she works as a member of AmeriCorps in Council Bluffs, at Iowa Legal Aid. There, she conducts interviews, attends community meetings and meets with low-income people to explain how Iowa Legal Aid can help them.
Buhman said she is inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s courage in advancing the cause of marginalized people.
“Martin Luther King was an amazing, amazing, man,” she said. “The more I become involved in things, the more I realize what he did and how much it must have taken for him to do what he did.”
King's message is 'something we're living'
By Maggie O'Brien / World-Herald staff writer
Today's holiday isn't a day off for Symone Sanders.
It is, in her words, “a day on.”
Sanders, who graduated from Creighton University in May, is spreading Martin Luther King, Jr.'s message in both her work and volunteering.
With her employer, the Empowerment Network, she's running a civil rights bus that includes movement memorabilia from icons like Rosa Parks as well as items specific to Omaha, like a life-size cutouts of the Omaha Star, a longtime African American newspaper.
With members of African American Young Professionals, Sanders, 24, is partnering with the United Way to do readings of MLK's message of service at seven locations across the city.
“It's not something we learn,” she said. “It's something we're living, every day.”
Helping out in community 'enriches my life,' Iowan says
By David Hendee / World-Herald staff writer
The daily 10 o'clock coffee and pastry break attracted Marty Koefoed, but it was the conversation that hooked him.
Koefoed, 61, of Missouri Valley, Iowa, volunteers about 10 hours a week at the Danish American Archive and Library in Blair, Neb. He erects shelving, scans historical photographs, writes grant proposals and answers questions from callers and visitors.
Koefoed grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and worked as a defense industry electrical and aerospace engineer in California and Virginia before he and his wife moved six years ago to Missouri Valley to be nearer relatives. After Dana College in Blair closed in 2010, he volunteered to help the archive and library set up in a new location on the city's main street.
John W. Nielsen's vision — shared during cookie and Danish pastry breaks — to collect and preserve the material inspired Koefoed to continue volunteering. Nielsen is the facility's executive director emeritus.
“The experience enriches my life," Koefoed said.
As a teenager in northeast Iowa during the 1960s, Koefoed was aware of segregation and the civil rights movement. The sacrifices of Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers were inspirational lessons that matured in Koefoed over time, he said.
Koefoed also helps St. Paul Lutheran Church in Missouri Valley serve a community meal monthly.
“You learn to appreciate other people and their experiences,'' he said.
UNO volunteers coordinator says getting involved is 'vital for society'
By Julie Anderson / World-Herald staff writer
Julie Smith organizes a lot of service days — 15 a year — as service program coordinator in the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Office of Civic and Social Responsibility.
But her favorite one happens today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. She expects about 400 students from UNO, Metropolitan Community College, the South Omaha YMCA, student groups and area high schools to check in at North High School and board buses that will take them to more than two dozen project sites across the metropolitan area.
The office is working with more than 20 nonprofit groups, including its partners — Metro, United Way of the Midlands, the Corporation for National and Community Service and Youth Service America.
Students will be working at Habitat for Humanity construction sites, designing a mural on Leavenworth Street, helping with projects at Fontenelle Forest and Lauritzen Gardens, if weather permits, and making fleece blankets for children served by Project Harmony and Camp Kindle, a program for children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Smith, 25, a graduate student in urban studies at UNO, said she's passionate about service and about King and his message.
It's vital for society, she said, that people get involved in their communities, from voting to volunteering.
Smith said the service day always draws lots of return volunteers.
“It's a really good way for students to figure out what they're passionate about,” she said. “They always learn something new, whether it's about a nonprofit in the community or an issue or how to put siding on a house.”
» One in four adults volunteered through an organization in 2012, according to a recent national study.
» Altogether, 64.5 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.9 billion hours at a value of nearly $175 billion.
» Generation X — people born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s — has the highest volunteer rate of any age group.
» Volunteering has trended upward among people ages 16 to 19 over the past six years, up nearly 3 percentage points since 2007.
» Working mothers continue to volunteer at a significantly higher rate than the population as a whole.