Novi students strive to bring unity to community in honor of MLK

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published January 11, 2023

 Novi High School students pose for a photo after volunteering at the Manoogian Senior Living facility during the 2022 Unity in the Community Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

Novi High School students pose for a photo after volunteering at the Manoogian Senior Living facility during the 2022 Unity in the Community Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

Photo provided by Bill Li and Marcie Woodard

NOVI — For the second year, students enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Novi High School have been working to improve their community in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. through the Unity in the Community project.

The project will take place Jan. 16, which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The IB students have been working since the school year began to find organizations and coordinate a variety of volunteer projects for Novi High School students to participate in on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The IB students hope to recruit approximately 100 of their peers to volunteer to help others, rather than enjoy a day off school.

Novi High School teacher Christopher Capuano, who coordinates the Creativity, Activity, Service IB program and who helped to bring the Unity in the Community volunteer program to the school, said that prior to the 2021-22 school year students had been giving speeches and performances on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When the pandemic hit, the school decided to take the Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities away from speeches and more toward involvement in what was going on in the community.   

“It’s an easy way to bring Novi together and to help out neighboring communities in a very easy and direct way,” said Sofia Garnica, a junior at Novi High School. “A lot of times I feel like people just volunteer here and there, but to be able to do it focused and meaningfully I think is more important.”

Senior Meghna Reddy said that the Unity in the Community project highlights what the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is all about. She said the program emphasizes inclusivity and to be open-minded to different perspectives.

“That is kind of what we hope to gain by sending Novi High School kids out into the community on MLK Day. To kind of learn from the community and see how they can find their place and help out in our community,” said Reddy. “I guess the significance of the entire project is that it is really a great opportunity to come together to embrace not just our differences, but our similarities and just help out everybody in our community, which is something that Dr. King was working towards his entire life.”

According to senior Anastasia Minkova, this year has been much easier to not only recruit students for volunteer work, but to find places to volunteer as well. She said that when the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme started the project last year, organizations interested in volunteers — and volunteers themselves — were scarce because of the pandemic. According to Minkova and Reddy, there was space for 20-25 volunteers last year, whereas this year they have the capacity for approximately 100 volunteers. Capuano said that aside from the pandemic being ongoing in 2021-22, the project was so new that the students needed to gain experience to be able to coordinate it better, as they have done this year.

“It’s student generated and student run,” Capuano said “So this year they have more experience and knew some of the hurdles that they were going to run into, and basically as a group they brainstormed ways to get around those things. … How to get more people involved, what organizations to reach out to and what to do if they couldn’t reach them. Because they are students in this age, not getting a response throws them. Building up a little grit, developing those skills to interact with adults and try to get some sort of outcome for what they were looking for have all played out, and so this year we have a much more extensive list of volunteer opportunities. The hitch in the giddyup is that we still have to get students to fill those holes, which takes them into a whole different avenue of recruiting people that they know will do a good job and are willing to take time on a day that they have off. Because the genius of the idea is based off the idea of Martin Luther King’s concept of involvement, getting people and giving back.”

Minkova said that the improvement from last year to this year has been evident.

“This year we could see the change because we got I want to say 11 organizations that were wanting volunteers, and they were very open to wanting to embrace the help of student volunteers,” said Minkova. “This year we are hoping to have many more people step up and I guess see the positives of what it really means to help out a community and what it really means to offer your help out in a community, no matter how minimal it may seem from your own perspective. It really does mean a lot to an organization that might be in need.”

Organizations opening their doors to volunteers this Martin Luther King Jr. Day include  Fleece & Thank You in Farmington Hills, which makes and provides fleece blankets for children in hospitals;  Manoogian Manor Senior Living in Livonia; Almost Home Animal Rescue League in West Bloomfield; Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit; Cass Community Social Services in Detroit; Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit; Hospitality House Food Pantry in Commerce Township; and Cambrian Senior Living in South Lyon.

Student volunteers will be doing a variety of things depending on which organization they sign up to help. Marcie Woodard, life enrichment coordinator at Manoogian Manor Senior Living, looks forward to the interaction.

“It enriches both sides. The students can learn from the residents and the residents can definitely learn from the students, because the students are bringing things that are happening out in the world to residents that they are not necessarily seeing first hand,” said Woodard. “It’s kind of a neat environment because the two generations can get together, and I always encourage intergenerational activities. Just learning from each other is interesting.”

“Every time they get out in the community they’re getting something that they wouldn’t get just from a classroom experience,” said Capuano.

The students stressed that the project really helps to bond the community together.

“If it wasn’t for Martin Luther King, there may be many people who wouldn’t have their rights and freedoms that they have today. He brought everyone together in one bonded group, and if he hadn’t done that, people would still be judging each other,” said Remi Zacharias.

The volunteer opportunities will vary in duration, but on average they will range from one to four hours. Novi High School students can sign up through SignUpGenius or via Instagram @noviibcohort.