January 19, 2009 1:32 PM
Responding to President-elect Barack Obama's "call to service" on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people across the Chicago area today were taking part in efforts to help others.
Students from Kenwood Academy work on a mural at Martin Luther King Jr. College Prep High School in Chicago. (José M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)
At the University of Chicago Medical Center, more than 200 colorful knit hats made by a national group called Knitters for Obama and hospital employees were handed out to cancer treatment patients. The 4,000-member group was started in support of Obama's presidential campaign, said Chicagoan Kristen Rengren, one of the group's founders.
"For a lot of people, this is their first time doing public service," Rengren said. "I think that's one of the great things about Obama -- that he's inspired people to do service for the first time."
Connie Williams, 50, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, was one of those trying on some of the knit hats on display. She said it was "phenomenal" to see the commitment of people helping strangers.
City Year, a non-profit group that enlists young people for a year of full-time community service, decided to lend a helping hand today to Sherwood Elementary School in the Englewood neighborhood.
Students who were out of school today for the national holiday will likely be surprised when they return Tuesday to a building with freshly painted hallways and classrooms, and murals of the food pyramid in the lunchroom and children's book characters in the library.
Volunteers were using 100 gallons of paint, 250 paint brushes and rollers, and 100 rolls of tape for the five-hour job today, said Taylor Finchum, the group's logistics coordinator. More than 200 volunteers donned latex gloves and masks to help, she said.
City Year usually does service projects at locations around the city on the King holiday, said Johnny Barr, the group's director of external relations. But this year there appeared to be more volunteers than projects.
"We've had to turn people away, unfortunately," he said. "It's an amazing day to see people who want to come out and do service."
-- Robert Mitchum and Lauren R. Harrison