Monday marked the 37th year that Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated, inspiring communities to give back through volunteer work. But it’s a first for one Central Oregon organization, which seeks to connect folks with opportunities to serve.
Volunteers who signed up with Connect Central Oregon gave their time to schools, animal shelters and environmental projects Monday.
“This is the first year in about five years that we’ve actually done a coordinated in-person event,” Executive Director Scot Brees said. “We had almost 25 organizations create just that many more opportunities. Almost all of them filled up within the last few days as people saw opportunities and suddenly realized the weather’s great and it’s a good time to get out.”
At one point, Connect Central Oregon and Volunteer Central Oregon worked as separate entities, but this is the first time they have worked together under one name for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Those organizations added their need to Connect Central Oregon’s volunteer database, which allowed members of the public to sign up for various opportunities.
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One of those needs was at HeartSpace Horse Sanctuary in Redmond, where young volunteers from Heart of Oregon Corps spent the day bonding with horses with cleaning up after them.
“We’ve got a great group of young adults right here that are helping pick up manure and some of the old hay out of the pasture, to keep it clean and dry and safe for the horses that live here,” Program Director Tanner Rohne said, gesturing around the pasture. “We also have another group out in another pasture going around and picking up a lot of the large rocks that the horses can trip over.”
Across Central Oregon, around 250 volunteers poured into those good causes through Connect Central Oregon on Monday.
This particular cause was started by Melanie Monge in 2015.
“I wanted to help those horses that kind of are out of options,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to care for an old horses. You know, sometimes they have trouble with them dying and it’s too difficult or their situation changes and you know, they move. So every horse that comes here, they stay here through the rest of their life.”
17-year-olds Ezra Lentz and Ellie Corrales were among the Heart of Oregon volunteers Monday.
“My favorite part about being around the horses is probably brushing them and sitting there and really listening to them,” Lentz said. “Like, I feel like they read my mind and yeah, they’re like really spiritual animals.”
“One thing I like being a being here is the fact that you get to meet horses that were in trauma, and you get to help them and be here and connect with them and make them feel better in a certain way,” Corrales said, referring to a few horses rescued from abusive situations who live there with the older horses.
Connect Central Oregon hopes that the taste of giving provided through Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will become insatiable.
“Doing coordinated and structured activities really gives people an opportunity to step up if they haven’t already, or perhaps try a new volunteer opportunity that they haven’t already,” Brees said. “Our hope, of course, is that this becomes a gateway drug, if you will, and they end up doing more and more. Our community gets strengthened with every volunteer minute they put in.”
The organization provides volunteer opportunities year-round.
To find out about the openings available, visit connectcentraloregon.org.