Shovel in hand, McLennan Community College freshman Austin Roye dug a small trench for an irrigation line in the backyard at the Good Neighbor House, alongside several other students Monday afternoon.

“I just came from work to help do this. I love it, because I know it helps impact our community,” the 18-year-old Waco native said. “This allows us to be part of this, especially on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

Hundreds of students, community members and business representatives joined forces for Mission Waco’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Volunteers participated in about a dozen service projects across the city after a meal and an open discussion about race and the positive impact community members can have.

Mission Waco started the events about 13 years ago, with a focus on bringing community members together to have conversations about racial equality, respect and dignity, Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell said. While neighborhoods have made great progress, division still remains a distressing issue in Waco, Dorrell said.

“We have to keep working on it and we can’t just react when something happens,” Dorrell said. “In the early years, I saw that we have a city that is very multicultural. King could not be a more important person in human history to help us confront the prejudice of our nation, and we wanted to figure out something to do.”

Earlier in the morning, community members walked across the Waco Suspension Bridge and laid wreaths at Indian Spring Park in remembrance of the civil rights leader. More than 300 Baylor University students also spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day working in partnership with Baylor Campus Kitchen and the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition.

“MLK Day of Service is something we do across the whole community and not just in the Baylor community,” Baylor Community Garden manager Madison Stewart said. “We have about 10 sites throughout Waco that are dedicated to feeding those in need and we are putting in good practices of giving back and bettering our community together.”

Environmental Science Laboratory coordinator Doug Nesmith said he helped found Baylor’s community garden in 2011, and the growth and service of students has excelled in the garden.

“Martin Luther King Service Day is more than serving the community. It’s serving yourself,” Nesmith said. “It’s serving our neighbors. It’s taking care of ourselves and getting better food, food quality, education and teaching others how to give back to each other.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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