Community Outreach Draws Over 800 Volunteers to D.C. Schools Ahead of Palau Festival

WASHINGTON – More than 800 volunteers showed up across 10 elementary, middle and high schools in Washington, D.C., on Saturday as part of a new community outreach initiative organized by the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association.

Volunteers from all age groups, economic classes and professions worked together as one body as part of Operation Compassion, ahead of the upcoming Luis Palau D.C. Festival, which opens at the National Mall Oct. 8-9.

“In the story of the Parable of the rich fool, God says to whom much is given, much is expected,” explained Robert Garnier, a 40-year-old lawyer from South Riding, Va. “This is our opportunity and our responsibility to give back.”

“Hopefully [the schoolchildren] will see that there is bigger reason for it,” he added. “Maybe, this will become a recognition of Christ for them.”

Plans for the D.C. schools project began months earlier as the Luis Palau D.C. Festival team sought ways to impact the local community in a lasting manner. The project forms partnerships with schools in District 4 - one of the most impoverished districts in the city urgent needs for repair and cleanup.

With this goal in mind, volunteers contacted principals in the district to see if they needed a helping hand in maintaining their schools. For the 10 schools that responded, the Palau crew set aside a team of volunteers and assigned churches to organize the cleaning “blitz.”

Patrick Melbourne, 15, was among 91 volunteers who showed up to the Malcom X elementary school Saturday to clean-up, build, and “trim the edges” as part of Operation Compassion.

“When we got here, there were broken pieces of glass and bottles everywhere,” said Melbourne, of Ashburn, Va., who began setting up operations since 7 a.m. “Now we picked up everything and got everything clean.”

Kia Payne, project manager for Malcom X elementary school, said several members from her church, Faith Tabernacle Prayer in Washington, D.C., came out together for the “wonderful event.” Some of the tasks completed that day included playground trash pick-up, pressure washing, and re-painting the interior and exterior of the building.

“Together we delivered [the principal] a gift on behalf of the Luis Palau team,” said Payne, 35, who added that this is just one way churches can “let our light shine.”

“Jesus was a servant, and He let His light shine,” said Payne. “I felt good in my own spirit to help those who can’t technically help themselves. The principal only has three janitors to take care of this huge campus.”

Principal Vaughn Kimbrough, meanwhile, said he was thankful for the much-needed help.

“I feel very warm about it, and very touched that people are giving back to us,” said Kimbrough, who served at Malcom X for the last 8 years. “These people have good spirits who expect to give with nothing in return.”

Kimbrough explained that while volunteers from many organizations came out to help his school in the past, there has never been a group “quite so large” as the Palau team. “Since the time they signed in, they were all business, they were all focused, and they just started working.”

Past volunteers also lacked a sense of community because “many of them just come and leave.” That’s why Kimbrough suggests that the new volunteers “make this an ongoing effort” and “interact with the kids” on a longer term.

“In order for an organization to build community, they have to let the students feel close to them,” he said. “This has to be more than a one-time shot, and trust has to be built.

“Our kids have some academic challenges, and it would be a great plus for us if more people could get involved as mentors,” Kimbrough continued. “I would be very receptive to an ongoing relationship.”

Ongoing mentorship poses no problems for Payne, who said she is “thankful the principal is on the same page” as the Palau team.

“We want to foster a relationship with the principals and the schools, and we will continue to come out and do more volunteer works,” she said. “This is part of Luis Palau’s vision.”

Payne explained that the clean-up work on Saturday was only the first stage of what will hopefully blossom into a permanent relationship.

“This is only the blitz,” she explained. “The second phase is to foster the union that the principal wants through mentoring and through all the services we have available to offer.”

Melbourne, whose father and older brother were also volunteering, said he would definitely return if given the chance.

“We’ll be back, no doubt about it,” he said. “We had a great time helping out, and I’m glad we could provide a good environment for the children to learn.”

The D.C. schools project is just one of four community service outreach efforts under the Operation Compassion banner. The other components are: the missions team, which will bring in and set up national missions teams in various venues across Washington; the on-site food drive, which will collect food items throughout the National Mall during the Festival on Oct. 8-9; and the on-site community services, which brings in service agencies and health care teams to serve a variety of needs on the National Mall during the festival.

Washington D.C. District officials estimate that the Saturday clean up operations equaled $1.2 million in donated time, materials and work.