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Volunteers Clean Up Sandy-Damaged Red Hook Rec Center on MLK Jr. Day

By Alan Neuhauser | January 21, 2013 2:53pm

RED HOOK — In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Red Hook Recreation Center joined sites across the nation where volunteers pitched in as part of the national MLK Day of Service to make the holiday "a day on, not a day off."

More than 120 volunteers and Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid a visit Monday to the recreation center, located about four blocks from the waterfront at 55 Bay St. The site sustained severe flooding in its basement, and had "to be scraped, and it needs to be repainted," said Dihann Billings-Burford, 40, chief service officer for the Mayor's Office.

"Thankfully, the structure was sound. Mold wasn't here.... All that was taken care of."

Volunteers, some clad head-to-toe in plastic coveralls, scraped and repainted the walls of the basement and several multipurpose rooms and painted canvas murals that would later be distributed to neighborhood nonprofits. Groups organized by the Red Hook Community Justice Center  also facilitated discussions with local teens about King's life and work. 

"We're educating our own community and sharing in his legacy," said Medina Henry, 30, program coordinator for the New York Juvenile Justice Corps, one of the groups taking part in the Day of Service at the recreation center.

"When you walk outside your home, you want to feel proud, you want to feel comfortable, you want to feel as if you're a part of something."

The Mayor's Service Office organized nine service projects across the five boroughs, officials said, each in an area damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

"Learn about…King's legacy and nonviolent intervention — we make sure we don't take him for granted, that it doesn't become another day for sales, just another day off," said Jessica Colon, the justice center's program director. "Carry on his legacy, that's the most important thing we can do."

Outside in the building's lobby, volunteer Gloria Rodriguez wiped paint-scrapings from Alison Lazaro's nose and forehead. Both are students at John Jay College, Rodriguez a senior from Brooklyn studying criminal justice, Lazaro a second-year graduate student from The Bronx pursuing a master's degree in public administration.

"My hair looked nicer earlier," Lazaro said with a laugh. "It's fun. We are talking, joking around." She added, "He wanted the communities coming together," pointing to herself and Rodriguez, who said she agreed.

"Martin Luther King Day is a day you should value," Rodriguez said. "Not just stay at your house. You should take part."