While the campus at The University of Texas-Pan American will officially be closed Jan. 17 in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, UTPA staff member Erica Lopez hopes a large number of students, faculty and staff members will join together in volunteer service and remembrance that day to honor the legendary civil rights leader.
Lopez, program coordinator in the Office of Student Life and Transition Services, has organized, along with a committee comprised of staff and students, UTPA's inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, which will begin at 8 a.m., Jan. 17 in the University Ballroom with a motivational/reflective piece based on King's legacy and message. Volunteers for the day will then head to Restlawn Cemetery to help provide needed upkeep to the small corner of Edinburg's Hillcrest Cemetery where many African-American citizens in the city were buried in times of segregation.
Lopez said she believed that King's message of peace, civility and service to all mankind is a message that would resonate well with the UTPA family. She said the service project also provides a great opportunity for outreach to the local community and the City of Edinburg.
"This project directly impacts a part of Edinburg that a lot of citizens still do not know about, so to create that awareness not only benefits our students, but our community as a whole," she said.
At the cemetery, where many World War I and World War II veterans are buried, volunteers will pick up trash, tear down an old fence surrounding one of the graves, repaint a fence that borders part of the cemetery, wash headstones, and mark the graves with small American flags. Volunteers will then return to the campus and hear from representatives of the Rio Grande Valley NAACP regarding King's impact before the day of service ends at 2 p.m.
The project involves the collaboration of many UTPA departments and organizations as well as volunteers from the community, Lopez said. Participating groups so far include Student Development, Residence Life, Student Union, University Program Board, and the Office of the Dean of Students. The UTPA Office of Sustainability will share their expertise on native plants that are being proposed to be planted in phases at the cemetery. Valerie Ramirez, a volunteer for the Museum of South Texas History who helped Restlawn obtain a state historical marker in 2008, is also collaborating on the project, as well as the American Legion Post 408 in Edinburg which will donate the American flags to be placed at the cemetery.
Restlawn, which relies on volunteers to help in its upkeep, is located in the northwest corner of Hillcrest Cemetery, 122 W. Samano Street, Edinburg.
Although designed as a service project for UTPA students, faculty and staff, all persons or organizations interested in participating or contributing to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service are welcome. To sign up, go to Room 305, UTPA University Center or call Lopez at (956) 665-2492.