About three years ago I was asked to join the Board of Director’s of the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi Purpose Center located at 110 Bethune Boulevard in Spring Valley. The invitation was both surprising and welcoming as it afforded me the opportunity to learn more about a wonderful organization that not only keeps the legacy of Dr. King alive but even more importantly helps a good number of people within our community.
While I have been involved with several not-for-profits both as an administrator, volunteer and board member, I must admit that the MLK Center is a unique place that I knew little about. During these past three years I have learned about its mission of service and found it to be most impressive. I liken the MLK Center as a very special place that does a lot with little resources; to me it is the small center with an enormous heart. Since joining the board I have been deeply impressed with what the center offers and the leadership of its executive director Nathan Mungin.
The Center is a small, 1-level building that holds a special place within the Spring Valley community. It was founded by Dr. Stella Marrs in 1978 to assist young people and families. Dr. Marrs is a member of the Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame who retired about six years ago. She serves as an advisor to the current executive director Nathan Mungin and is still beloved within the community.
Over the years I have gotten to know Nathan a bit and found him to be one of the hardest working and most humble of executive directors. Nathan is soft spoken, but carries a self confidence and ambition to change lives that is clear to all who meet him. I think Nathan has grown into his leadership role nicely as a person who did not attempt to replace Stella Marrs as much as honor her legacy of service. In that regard Nathan got it right when he made himself great as expressed by Dr. King in the famous quote offered above.
So all of the hyperbole aside what does the MLK Center do? First and foremost it is a safe place within the community that offers supportive services and a place for nurturing. The center operates after school programs for children from the first through eighth grade that allows working parents an affordable option for after school care. This program has 66 students enrolled currently and provides a wide array of activities. According to Nathan,
“Approximately 85 percent of all the students’ families come from low to moderate-income families. These students have the opportunity to participate daily in activities like Homework Help, Research Project Assistance, Tutoring (Reading, Math), Computer Lab, Martial Arts, Multi-Cultural Arts and an Animation Workshop. For many they also receive a nutritional dinner before they go home.
We also operate a 7-week Summer Day Program that serves around 85 students a day. The program operates 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week for seven weeks starting after July 4. Students spend their mornings performing educational skill maintenance and enrichment activities, before moving to more traditional summer camp type programming later in the day. We want a place where kids can maintain and improve skills for school but also have fun in a traditional summer camp type program.”
Another important program is a youth employment empowerment program that assists young people between the ages of 14 and 18 by offering work experiences within the center and community. According to Mungin
“The participants are trained by the Rockland County Youth Bureau (RCYB) and then are placed with employers. The Center also employs five to eight students during the fall through spring with that number increasing to 12 to 16 students during the summer. Students perform activities like childcare, maintenance, and office and clerical work as part of their placement.”
This program allows young people to build skills as they are growing older and eventually move into the workforce and adult life. It is here where Nathan really shines as a mentor, not just for the younger children, but for the older ones to help them prepare for adult life. In addition, the MLK Center provides a wide array of recreational and social opportunities that are typically found at community centers. These include gang prevention and a Police and Youth program that promotes a positive learning experience for youth with all levels of the law enforcement community. One last youth program is the Phoenix program that is a skills-based program for about 20 youths that meets weekly to build skills and promote discussion on important topics of interest to young people.
While these programs mentioned thus far primarily are aimed at the youth, the center serves families and the elderly as well. According to Nathan,
“We operate a Senior Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that serves about 20 seniors participate. The program provides a place where these seniors receive nourishment and fellowship in a center-based program. We also help homebound seniors who have their meals delivered to their homes by staff. We also provide further assistance by holding seminars on things like housing, healthcare, finance and other topics designed to help seniors be as independent as possible. We also provide a number of trips and offer regular health care screenings—in some cases we even have staff help these seniors when they need it in scheduling and attending appointments.”
One last program is the food pantry that is increasing in size and numbers served. According to Nathan,
“We distributed over 100,000 pounds of food to people and families in need in 2010. We also distribute clothing and furniture as well free of charge to community members.”
The center also provides a home for other programs including the Nyack Recovery and Addiction Services administered by Nyack Hospital, a BOCES parenting group, free income tax preparation services, a community garden and a community meeting room available for use for families. As I said earlier the array and strength of the services offered is impressive for any not-for-profit especially one that is as small as the MLK Center.
So how can you help? Nathan has a few suggestions:
“Well, first by attending our Annual Dinner Dance, which is one of our major events for the year, being held on May 1 at the Pearl River Hilton. I invite you to be present as we recognize the people that have made a difference in the community and also to have some fun dancing the early evening away.
Supporters can also make monetary donations by sending them directly to the Center or electronically by going to the Center’s website martinlutherking-mpc.org. Your support will assist us in continuing to provide needed services and programming to the most vulnerable members of our community during these difficult economic times. I also encourage people to get involved with the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center’s family by donating their time and labor or sharing their special skills, hobbies and interest with the community first-hand. The Center provides programs vital to the health of the community of Rockland, not just the Village of Spring Valley.”
He offered that perhaps the best reason to help is summed up in the words of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is on the center’s website it reads in part,
“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies; education and culture for their minds; and dignity, quality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up."
Words to live by and believe in the power to change lives, something that Nathan and his small but dedicated staff do every day.
Please consider taking a journal ad or attending the annual dinner on May 1 or contacting Nathan to find other ways in which you can help the MLK Center serve others in our community.
Join us for our Annual 2011 Awards Benefit Dinner Dance
- RSVP by April 25, 2011 by calling (845)425-8910
- To RSVP through email: Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate the total number of seats you would like, anyone you would like to be seated with and how we should expect to receive payment for your reservation.
Don't forget to place an ad in our Annual Dinner Dance Journal commemorating this years honorees. For more information visit the Dinner Dance Journal link found on our homepage.
- Honorable David Carlucci – New York State Senator
- Ms. Marianna Carter – Longtime Center Administrative Assistant & Community Volunteer
- Christ's Ambassadors of Charity Inc., Christopher A. Zuccaro - Community Service Organization
- Hands 2 Mouth Garden Initiative, Ms. Lisa Kaess & Mr. Anthony Geathers – Community Service Organization
- Honorable James Kralik – Rockland County Sheriff
- Ms. Gerri Levy – Executive Director of Rockland Housing Action Coalition, Inc.
- Mr. Cullen & Ms. Jana Soares – Suffern High School Students & Community Service Volunteers