Back when he was just plain Martin Jr., the future Dr. King apparently was your typical youngster.

According to those who knew him then, he didn’t particularly like taking piano lessons or doing the dishes, and he occasionally would pull the heads off dolls belonging to his sister, Willie, for makeshift baseballs.

“He actually got a C in public speaking,” Amanda Sekanic said, “and then he gave this great speech later in his life. So he had to work at that.”

She shared a few of those types of stories Monday to help welcome young participants in the Upper St. Clair Community and Recreation Center’s annual MLK Day of Service program.

“Everyone knows him for his ‘I Had a Dream’ speech, so I helped relate him more to them,” she said about the students in first through eighth grades who gathered on their day off school to work on a variety of projects.

Sekanic joined the recreation center’s staff as assistant community programs coordinator just after MLK Day of Service 2019 and looked forward to helping to lead this year’s proceedings.

“One of the big takeaways I have from this morning is how engaged that the children are,” she said.

“I don’t really see any of them sitting around bored or not interested in what’s going on. They are very on task with anything we’ve asked them to do and all the projects that we have for them.”

The students took part in activities that included making toys for cats and pet rabbits, constructing “snuffle mats” for dogs to sniff and search for hidden treats, creating valentines for veterans and preparing blankets for distribution to the needy.

Another project involved making bags out of old T-shirts that were sitting around the recreation center or that employees donated, an idea Sekanic brought to the day of service.

“We’re re-purposing them for food banks,” she said. “That way, we can replace some of the plastic, as a lot of the supermarkets are doing these days. We are trying to move beyond plastic on planet Earth, in general, so I thought this was a good idea.”

She attributed much of the day’s success to volunteers working with youngsters, including a group of students from the University of Pittsburgh. Their participation is part of the university’s own MLK Day of Service, organized by PittServes, an initiative that engages students in meaningful service to the community on a local, national and international scale.

The group visiting Upper St. Clair represented the Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed international service organization.

“We go out into the community and seek opportunities to help different populations of people,” Pitt senior Austin Miller said, explaining about his membership: “The opportunity to really help somebody you don’t know is pretty cool. Also, with Alpha Phi Omega, it’s people of all different majors and years. So you get to know people of different backgrounds and ways of life, and better understand how to help people through that.”

This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday marked the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the civil rights leader’s life and legacy. Observed as “a day on, not a day off,” MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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