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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

UTC Students Spend MLK Day of Service Revamping Doors at Local Elementary School

Mason Edwards, Staff Writer for the University Echo

Destiny Camp paints a doorway into the Woodmore Elementary cafeteria. Monday, January 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

Hundreds of gleeful Woodmore Elementary students found a fresh coat of paint on their cafeteria doors this morning, thanks to the efforts of a few Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteers.


Across Chattanooga, volunteers from local universities, schools, churches and other community organizations spent three hours serving in one of 20 organized projects. 

Volunteers paint doors inside Woodmore Elementary for the MLK Day of Service. Monday, January 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

Numerous UTC students, staff and faculty joined the effort, including the Center for Career and Leadership Development. Executive Director Rob Liddell and Director Daniel Grzesik chaperoned volunteering students on a trip to Woodmore Elementary School.


“It’s work that makes a difference, but it’s hard to find the time to make that difference,” Liddell explained. “Every student in the school will hopefully feel the impression that people care about them… it’s not a symbolic gesture, but I think that it’s a meaningful one.”

Graham Liddell paints the window outline of a door in Woodmore Elementary his father Rob Liddell painting the door behind him. Monday, January 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

The team collaborated with Woodmore Principal Dionne Upton and a few other contributors, including a local family, to renew the school’s cafeteria doors. Woodmore Elementary teaches students from pre-K to fifth grade, and it serves as a testament of how Chattanooga is adopting Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream: despite being a historically African American majority school, its diversity rates are increasing at a substantial rate.


“When I first arrived at Woodmore, it was a state-priority school. We were in the bottom 5% of the state,” Upton revealed. Now with Woodmore within Tennessee’s 33rd percentile of all schools, Upton values how “because we are one of the smaller elementary schools, we have an opportunity to know the students more intimately.


Time had weathered their baby-blue cafeteria doors, so the volunteers scraped away the faded, chipped paint. They wore face masks to avoid inhaling the falling paint chips and dressed in clothes they didn’t care to get paint on.


A freshman and an environmental science major, Ja’Toria Powell, jumped at the opportunity to serve on a day she had off. Besides her passion for her major, Powell plays for the school band. She thrived as she worked with the paint, having worked at a home improvement store.

Ja'Toria Powell scrapes off old, peeling paint on a Woodmore Elementray doorway. Monday, January 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

“I felt like, since I started this semester, I haven't done much in the community.” Powell shared after scraping paint from the door’s upper threshold. For her, volunteering on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was especially important given that “we’re trying to get rid of those old ideas of separation.”


While Powell and Grzesik sanded down the front doors, Liddell and his son, Graham, coated the rear cafeteria doors in a much-needed shade of gray base coat. With precise, cut-in brush strokes, the two revitalized the entrance. The Chief Equity Officer for the City of Chattanooga, Tamara Steward, also pitched in with the rear doors.


Steward and her assistant visited several project locations; they greeted people, ensured volunteers had necessary supplies and helped wherever necessary. Staying true to this year’s theme of “Beloved Community,” her department led the kickoff, project ideas and volunteer assignments. All participants needed to do was fill out an online form and arrive at their scheduled location.


“When you think about Dr. King’s legacy, there’s the fight for social justice and racial equality, but there’s also an element of service: service to your community, service to each other, service as a part of the fabric of what makes us Americans,” Steward stated. “It also helps you to meet people and network from different walks of life who are driven from the call to serve.”


Powell and her roommate, freshman Destiny Camp, snacked on goldfish and water at the cafeteria tables while waiting for paint to dry.


“I feel very satisfied; I like the way it came out,” Camp commented. “I wish I could be there for the reaction. They’re going to be so excited.”


During the ride back to campus, Grzesik asked reflection questions relevant to the students’ majors. He feels community service is a key component of servant leadership.


“Hopefully this reinforces that we always need active volunteers in the community,” Grzesik said. “UTC is a group of people who care about making the community better, and that’s evident by the students and community members that are here.”


More can be read about the Center for Career and Leadership Development on UTC’s website by clicking this link.

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