Volunteers shoveled snow, buffed floors and painted a bathroom Saturday morning at Friendship House in Billings.

But the event, designated the MLK Jr. Day of Service, involved more than lending a hand at the South Side center, said Mike Yakawich, Billings City Council member and vice chairman of Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend in Billings.

“What I find a lot of time is people doing service together don’t care what color your skin is, what school you go to or what church you go to,” he said, taking a moment away from painting. “Just working together breaks down a lot of barriers.”

The theme of this year’s commemoration of the venerated civil rights leader is “Never Lose Hope: Unity Wins.”

By mid-morning about eight people had stopped by to help. Yakawich hoped that number would climb to 20 by the time the event ended at noon.

The MLK Jr. Day of Service is a national event, he said. In Billings, it kicked off several events that will continue through Monday, the day that legally recognizes King’s life and his legacy.

The morning brought in volunteers from the school, area churches and the community. Both kids and adults pitched in.

“Martin Luther King Jr. said you don’t have to have a college degree to serve,” Yakawich said. “You just have to have a heart.”

Matt Lundgren, executive director at Friendship House, said the nonprofit has been in existence for more than 60 years and is very much a part of the neighborhood. Its connections run deep.

Some of the volunteers came from the All Nations Christian Fellowship Church, where the Rev. Melvin Terry is pastor. Eunice Terry, Melvin Terry’s mother was one of the original board members at Friendship House, Lundgren said, and Melvin Terry “came here as a Friendship House kid.”

“Part of what we’re trying to do here is help people to celebrate their freedom and help celebrate all the things that God has given them, and this is just another way to do it,” he said.

Gil Martell, a member of Community of Christ and a friend of Terry’s, has taken part in the annual MLK Jr. events for the past four years. On Saturday, mop in hand, he was cleaning the floor.

Martell volunteers at Friendship House as a way to give back to the community. He is inspired by the example the civil rights leader set.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspiration to all, to see the value and worth of all people,” he said. “He desired that all people see the beauty in everybody else.”

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.