On the morning of Jan. 21, over 350 people listened intently as youth from the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (GNPAL) took turns reading aloud the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Addressing the audience from high above in the gymnasium’s balcony, the youth proudly proclaimed the words of King, whose speech relayed his dream that one day citizens of this nation will be free to be judged, not by how they look but on what they do.
Before reaching the end of the speech, the audience, most of whom were strangers at that point, was then asked to clasp hands and in unison proclaim the last words of King’s speech:
"Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
This was how the 2013 MLK Day of Service began at GNPAL.
“If you needed to be reminded why you are here today, you just were,” Brett Wells, GNPAL operations director, told the audience, who responded with eager applause.
Each of the estimated 350 people in attendance were volunteers for the GNPAL event, which lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prior to the start of the event, breakfast was provided by Catering to Your Whims, and sponsored by Gateway Health Plan.
Of the over 350 volunteers at the event, most came with large groups from local businesses, educational organizations and youth groups.
“It feels great to know everyone is coming together for one cause,” Peggy Ann Scott, a claims processor with All State, said. “And that’s to serve.”
Scott, whose office is based in Malvern, said that this was the first time her company has dedicated volunteers at GNPAL. As a Norristown resident, Scott was happy to be able to help a hometown resource that offers positive programs for a diverse population of youth and adults.
Other large groups of volunteers said they returned to GNPAL to honor the MLK Day of Service because they liked the options for volunteer opportunities.
“We enjoyed it so much, we wanted to come here again,” Pete Davisson, a partner with the King of Prussia-based commercial real estate firm Jackson Cross, said. “It’s certainly a worthwhile community effort related not only to Martin Luther King and his legacy, but also the PAL in Norristown.”
Volunteers were divided into groups. Each group was assigned a certain task in-and-around the GNPAL facility, located at 340 Harding Blvd. in Norristown.
The volunteer tasks included:
- Shelves and reorganizing the GNPAL library
- Sports Bin Storage cleaning
- General organization
- Tending to the garden
“You can be at home playing video games on your day off, or you can volunteer and come down to the PAL and paint, and make it look nice for others who come here,” Julian Jackson, a senior at Norristown High School, said.
Jackson was part of approximately 15 other students in the Montgomery County Community College Upward Bound program, which helps students pursue higher education. He was helping his fellow students paint the downstairs hallway.
Outside in the garden, members from the Norristown High School Junior ROTC, Junior Girl Scout Troop 72028, Boy Scout Troop 113 out of Trappe, as well as other volunteers braved the cold and were hard at work clearing debris from the garden and prepping it for the upcoming planting season.
“Volunteering is a really important aspect of Scouting,” Nathan Koehler, Troop 113 Scout and Perkiomen Valley High School student, said. “The Scout slogan is, ‘Do a good turn daily,’ and especially because today is MLK Day, and we’re bettering our community and nation.”
Other organizations involved throughout the day’s volunteer event, represented a patchwork of communities:
- Montgomery County Community College
- Ursinus College
- Cabrini College
- Einstein Medical Center Montgomery
- McNeil Pharmaceutical
- Lease Direct
- Big Unkle (Funk Fusion band, performing for volunteers)
The local chapters of the sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Sigma Gamma Rho, as well as the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, Norristown Alumni Chapter; were present and helping to bring order to the GNPAL library.
According to Kappa Alpha Psi member, Marc E. Jones of Fort Washington, the sororities and fraternities have a foundation of service to the community.
“We feel it’s important to have a presence in theory and in practice,” Jones said.
Ken Fennal, GNPAL programs director and MLK Day of Service event organizer, is also a member of the fraternity.
He said that the event’s volunteers have grown exponentially over the years, and credits the GNPAL operations director for his vision of wanting it to grow.
“Our Event is about uniting, establishing interpersonal relations and committing to work that benefits the youth,” Fennal said, adding that anyone can volunteer on the MLK Day of Service, and is not limited to race, economics, culture or politics. “These are a few core foundations of Dr. martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.”
Fennal said that the event participation has grown so large that the GNPAL has reached out to other community-based organizations in partnership for the day of service. This partnership makes GNPAL one of the largest hubs for volunteerism in Montgomery County and the start of a Norristown-wide day of service.
Those organizations include:
- Centre Theater
- Theater Horizon
- Elmwood Park Zoo
- Haws Avenue United Methodist Church
He said that it’s important to volunteer for these organizations, including GNPAL, as such organizations are dedicated to improving the community in some way. He highlighted some of GNPAL programming, from youth sports, such as basketball; to family cultural education, such as its popular Mexican Folk Dancing.
For more information, visit www.greaternorristownpal.org.