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400 Volunteers Turn Out for MLK Day of Service at Kennedy Center in Harlem

Members of Alpha Kappa Sorority participated in MLK Day of serivce at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Center

“The wonderful work Martin inspired us to do”
January 20, was a holiday for public schools, federal offices—and Catholic Charities of New York. But Deacon Rodney A. Beckford, director of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Center in Harlem, part of Catholic Charities Community Services, unlocked the door and was on hand all day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hope and vision in a day of service  with Habitat for Humanity New York City and other volunteer groups, including members of the Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

Nearly 400 volunteers in total came that day to the venerable building to lend a helping hand priming walls, painting offices, restoring a client waiting area and assembling care packages for families in local shelters. The Habitat team of 50 included 15 AKA sorority sisters and members of local churches.

The volunteers gave a clean look to a space where foot traffic is an estimated 8,000 to 14,000 people monthly, according to Deacon Rodney. They come in for housing eviction assistance and Feeding Our Neighbors food pantry services, among other Catholic Charities resources. Located on West 134th Street, the Kennedy Center serves Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods. The food pantry alone provides groceries for about 100 to 150 guests per week.

The hope is that with a smooth, new coat of paint, spirits will be lifted for clients at the place named for President John F. Kennedy’s older brother–who was killed in action during World War II–and run by Catholic Charities of New York since 1954.

“Most of the offices we painted have no windows, and the colors were darker,” the deacon said. “To make them feel more spacious and cheerful, we chose lighter colors. It can help change the experience for clients facing eviction when they come in to see their case managers.”


“The greatest thing we can do on Martin Luther King’s birthday is not just to celebrate and enjoy a day off, but to do service, as Martin would have,” said Deacon Rodney, who was born and raised in Harlem. “This is the wonderful work Martin has inspired us to do.”

“Over 200 sorority and fraternity members were here, some painting and many making care packages of new clothing or toiletries for local family shelters,” he added.

“Martin Luther King was an Alpha and Coretta Scott King was an honorary member of AKA,” the deacon said of the fraternity and sorority volunteering that day. Additional help came from the Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York; teens and young adults from the Order of Bethesda Fraternity; Staten Island Academy; New Light Baptist Church NYC; and a group of volunteers from the Bowery in Chinatown.  

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Karen Haycox, CEO at Habitat for Humanity NYC were on hand to applaud the effort.

And in the spirt of remembering a gifted man on his birthday, tunes played all day, thanks to Bluetooth speakers—and the DJ the AKA sorority sisters brought along. 

Volunteers painted offices and assembled care packages for families among other acts of service


The Kennedy Center is a treasured community resource, providing help for individuals and families in need. The center is available for community events, health and educational workshops, sports events, civic and religious gatherings and diverse activities for children ages 4 to 17, adults and seniors.

“Habitat wants to paint the whole building, and they will be working here through the end of February,” the deacon said. “Our services match up with their vision—helping people in need of housing.” He said Habitat also plans murals with a Harlem community theme.

The MLK Day project was part of Habitat NYC’s A Brush with Kindness (BWK) program, which provides volunteers to work on neighborhood projects, community centers, playgrounds, parks and schools. BWK serves over 6,000 New Yorkers each year.


Want to fit volunteering into your life? Visit Catholic Charities of New York’s volunteer website to make a difference. “Volunteering as part of a group often brings the best results,” Deacon Rodney said. “These groups were serious about making an impact on Martin Luther King Day.”