Icy conditions, snow flurries and chilly temperatures didn’t stop more than 70 people from coming together at Dan Ryan Woods on Chicago’s South Side for a day of service in honor of the late Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was big on giving back to his community, providing service to people and wanted to encourage folks to do the same,” Forest Preserves Outreach Program Coordinator Credell Walls said. “A great part about the restoration work is that participants can give back to their forest preserve community, helping people feel safe in the preserves and ensuring plants and animals have healthy habitats so they may thrive.”
Participants representing the Sierra Club from Crane High School and Universidad Popular, AmeriCorps, Public Allies Chicago and Lost Boyz Inc.—as well as individuals who wanted to donate their time to the preserve—spent nearly three hours clearing European buckthorn from the forested area of the woods.
Lost Boyz Inc., an organization that uses sports as a means to decrease violence, promote youth development and provide opportunities for employment, bussed over 50 youth from Chicago’s South Shore, Pilsen and Humboldt Park neighborhoods for the event.
Frank Sartin, a member of Lost Boyz Inc. administration, said the group has participated in the event for several years. He said the service day teaches youth the importance of the environment in their day-to-day lives, such as how trees provide oxygen to breathe. He also said the event encourages students to practice solid work ethic, preparedness and how to carry themselves in diverse groups.
Lost Boyz Inc. member and South Shore resident LaVonté Stewart Jr., 14, said this wasn’t his first time at the event and that he likes that the event includes making s’mores and drinking hot chocolate after working hard in the cold.
“To me it’s giving back,” Stewart said. “We do the work for the environment to keep it safe and healthy.”
Walls said he is pleased Lost Boyz Inc. repeatedly volunteers for the annual MLK Jr. Day of Service event.
“I’m impressed with the number of youth who come out, whether it’s their first time doing restoration work or the second,” Walls said. “I’m happy they continue to grow with us and demonstrate how important it is to expose young people to careers and opportunities in the environmental field.”
In addition to restoration work, attendees enjoyed a nature hike and activities in the pavilion, such as crafts and an MLK scavenger hunt quiz meant to teach participants about Martin Luther King Jr.’s history and legacy.
Every year community members also participate in the event. Robert Lloyd and Mallari Peace of Chicago’s Brainerd neighborhood brought their 6-year-old son, Robert. Peace said she gave him two options for volunteering on the holiday and he picked the forest preserve.
“We wanted to give back and get some air,” Peace said. “It’ll be his favorite spot when he’s older, so we want to get him out here.”