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Honoring King's legacy
Hundreds of volunteers brave bitter cold to participate in day of service

For hundreds of volunteers who braved Monday's arctic cold to participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service, the mission was to help protect residents of two Buffalo neighborhoods from winter's chill.

Installing weatherization kits in more than 100 homes in the Martin Luther King Park and Old First Ward neighborhoods was among the tasks tackled by volunteers from Western New York AmeriCorps, who first mobilized at HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo.

"What better day to put in insulation than zero degrees," said Mark P. Lazzara, chief executive officer of WNY AmeriCorps. "We'll know if it's working immediately."

On a more somber note, Lazzara continued: "In the last two years, I have seen probably 50 windows that were not windows but just blankets. It really, really is an issue."

Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday established in 1986 to honor the slain civil rights leader, whose birthday was Jan. 15. Congress designated the holiday a national day of service in 1994.

The weatherization effort was a collaboration by AmeriCorps and its Hands On Greater Buffalo initiative, as well as the Buffalo Sabres Green Team and National Fuel.

The homes of two veterans were chosen for "extreme weatherization makeovers," which included new furnaces, windows and plumbing fixtures.

Gregory Repman, a disabled Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, was one of the beneficiaries.

He said the furnace in his O'Connell Avenue home is about 40 years old. "You're warm, but you're not warm," Repman explained. "You've got to keep turning it up."

It was replaced Monday with a new high-efficiency model.

Repman said he and his wife were "overwhelmed" when they were notified Friday that they were chosen to receive a new furnace.

Elsewhere in Buffalo:

*Volunteers from Hilbert College were at St. Vincent de Paul Society of Buffalo, preparing and serving meals in the dining room, and working in the discount store and warehouse.

*The Buffalo Museum of Science, which offered free admission, held a health and wellness fair and dental screenings.

*Volunteers from Buffalo State College and youth from the Asarese-Matters Recreation Center worked together to create a ceramic tile mural for the lobby of the West Side community center.

At the Belle Center on Wyoming Avenue, volunteers from AmeriCorps, Hilbert College and the University at Buffalo were busy throughout the building, which houses VIVE La Casa, a refugee shelter.

Daytuan Antonetti, program director of Buffalo AmeriCorps, was painting the vestibule on the building's east side, while one group of volunteers painted the south entrance, and another group replaced ceiling tiles in the basement. A load of donated furniture was waiting to be installed in the administrative office.

The odor of bleach was detectable in a playroom on the main floor, where volunteers meticulously wiped down every surface.

"These are toys that the refugee children play with," said Pamela James, program coordinator for Buffalo AmeriCorps.

"We have had 40 [to] 50 people here doing volunteer work," said Ursula J. Davis, director of operations for the shelter, where 120 refugees are in residence. "I can't tell you how happy I am and honored that they chose us this year."


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