Thousands of Volunteers Honor MLK’s Memory on Day of Service

Philadelphia, January 18, 2011-The noise from thousands of Martin Luther King Day of Service volunteers packed yesterday into the Girard College Armory didn’t distract Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey one bit from the work at hand.

Under the guidance of 18-year-old Dylen Rivera, Ramsey was able to refurbish a donated desktop computer in under an hour, including the installation of memory and a hard drive. Rivera, a digital scholar with AmeriCorps, and the city’s top cop were among the 75,000 volunteers working on 1,200 service projects held during the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service, the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday.

The nation’s largest King Day event drew 3,000 volunteers to Girard College alone, said Todd Bernstein, founder and director of the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service.

The Ramsey-refurbished computer will now go to a deserving student who doesn’t have one. It was one of nearly 100 that were fixed to kick off the Freedom Rings Partnership, a $25 million initiative that aims to combat the city’s digital divide, one that runs deep: 41 percent of the city’s residents don’t know how to access the Internet, the project’s partners say.

“It’s something that has to be fixed, and that’s what today is all about,” said Ramsey, whose fellow city-leader volunteers included Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and Mayor Nutter. “Refurbishing these computers, but more importantly getting them out to the people who otherwise would not have one.”

The Freedom Rings Partnership, an initiative of the Urban Affairs Coalition, Drexel University and the city, will spend $25 million ($18 million of it stimulus money) over the next two years by giving out computers to people living in public housing, providing hands-on training and establishing public computer centers across the city.

“The King Day of Service is really about a one-day opportunity that serves as a springboard to ongoing community involvement,” Bernstein said. “I think if Dr. King were alive today, he would see the disparities in access to technology and he would have a lot to say about it, frankly.”

Another group of volunteers stuffed 2,000 digital-access kits to be given out at the computer centers, which should begin to open next month, organizers said. The kit included literature on how to access local portals and resources for low-income families, said coordinator Nasha Taylor, 28, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer with the People’s Emergency Center.

The kits “fit into the big picture of equalizing the playing field to ensure that everyone has opportunity,” Taylor said.

Earlier in the morning, Nutter echoed her remark. “The world is limitless when you have access, and that’s what this is really all about,” he said. “This is what freedom is all about.”

By Regina Medina, Philadelphia Daily News

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