Organizers of Joliet’s MLK Day of Service thank volunteers despite cancellation

Some of the projects may still happen at a later date

Volunteers assisting with construction tasks for Will County Habitat for Humanity at an MLK Day of Service. The MLK Day of Service planning committee is seeking service projects for the 17th annual Joliet-Area MLK Day of Service on Jan. 15, 2024.

Joliet Township High School’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Day of Service, scheduled for Monday, had to be called off due to extreme cold temperatures impacting the area.

Over 800 people were scheduled to take part in the event at the high school and sites around the community, however, a wind chill advisory from the National Weather Service warning of subzero air temperatures and windchills as low as -40 degrees, put a halt to most scheduled activities.

JTHS and the African American Business Association of Will County made the announcement on Sunday writing “it is with a heavy heart that we regret to inform you that the MLK Day of Service event and all associated projects have been cancelled.

All JTS buildings were closed on Monday, Jan. 15 and all activities, practices, games, and events, such as the MLK Day of Service, were canceled. While exercising an abundance of caution, the safety of all our participants is our primary concern, and we believe it is in the best interest of everyone involved.”

“This was not a decision we took lightly, but our of concern for the safety of the participants, we and the agencies decided to cancel yesterday,” said Kristine Schlismann, Day of Service coordinator and JTHS director of community and alumni relations. “We’re so grateful to all our sponsors and donors who worked to put this event together. This event is only made possible by local business and the community coming together and we’re heartbroken to have to cancel.”

Some of the activities which were planned for the event included working at a Habitat for Humanity site, running games for kids at the Boys and Girls Club, creating care packages for Bridges to a New Day, creating blankets for the Children’s Advocacy Center and Project Linus, and organizing donations at the Morning Star Mission Thrift Store.

Volunteers, who include JTHS students and staff, families with young children, seniors, and other community members were organized into teams to benefit 28 charitable agencies in the Joliet community, and are usually treated to a full breakfast and lunch for their efforts, provided by local businesses and accompanied by live entertainment.

“We’re so grateful to all our sponsors and donors who worked to put this event together. This event is only made possible by local business and the community coming together and we’re heartbroken to have to cancel.”

—  Kristine Schlismann, JTHS director of community and alumni relations

Some of the entertainment this year included the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Choir, Chicago Bulls and Bears DJ Gabriel “RIEL” Lozano, and local singer Brandye Phillips performing her tribute to Tina Turner.

Phillips’ was also facilitating one of the service projects making Valentine’s cards for veterans through Helping Hands Outreach. Restaurants partnering with the event included Louie’s Pancake House, The Curator’s Café, Home Cut Donuts, Ta Canijo Tacos, Pizzas by Marchelloni – Joliet, Jody’s Hot Dogs, National Hook-Up of Black Women, Inc. Joliet Chapter, and NAACP - Joliet Chapter.

“It’s an event for everyone. We’ve had children as young as three and people in their 80s volunteer with their families,” said Schlismann. “It makes this event unique and a really amazing way to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The whole Joliet community should be proud of the work that is done each year.”

While the weather caused the event to be cancelled, some of the projects may still go forward at a later date.

Christopher Parker, president of the African American Business Association, which partnered with JTHS to provide over 50 volunteers as project managers at the remote charity sites this year, said that the AABA is planning to create a service event to partially make up for the cancellation.

“It’s hard to replace the Martin Luther King Day of Service,” Parker said. “But AABA is planning a service day for sometime in February for Black History Month, which we are going to call A Day of Light to help make it up and maybe give some of the people who wanted to take part today a chance to get involved.”

Parker noted that plans for the event are still tentative but more information should be made available by the organization in the next week, and will allow some of the donated supplies and materials for the Day of Service to be used.

“JTHS and Kristine and Ericka [Williams] worked tirelessly on this thing,” Parker said. “Even though it had to be cancelled, they, especially Kristine, put in countless hours to pull it off, and that should be appreciated. So many folks put in so much to make this successful and we look forward to expanding and growing this partnership and event in 2025.”

In the announcement cancelling the event, organizers encouraged participants to “take time to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to find alternative ways to honor his memory in the future, such as engaging in personal acts of service, talking to young people people about empathy for others, and the uniqueness and beauty of our differences.”

“Everyone was very supportive and understanding of our decision,” said Schlismann. “I am very grateful for the work of the planning committee and co-chair Ericka Williams. Without them, and AABA, an event of this magnitude would never be possible. We were more organized than ever before and we hope next year it will be back bigger and greater than ever.”