Parades and speeches may be the established traditions, but at the University of South Florida, students commemorate the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with another kind of tribute: community service.
Today is USF's Stampede of Service, with more than 2,000 students fanning out around the community to paint, clean, repair, build, spread mulch and tackle other chores for more than 30 different organizations.
The university's Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement organizes the event to engage students with current social issues and introduce them to the importance of community service.
The center appears to be succeeding.
"I know that a little bit of my time makes a huge difference," said Miguel Martinez, 20, a pre-nursing student from Plant City participating in his second Stampede. "Sometimes, I've needed help myself, and being able to help another person when they're in need is so worth it."
Students will work at food banks, assisted living residences, an equestrian center that serves the disabled, preschools and dozens of other facilities identified by the center and the local United Way as in need of volunteers.
The event began in 2006, when one student sought a more meaningful way to celebrate the King holiday.
"Our university is really committed to the engagement of our students and leadership initiatives that address positive change," said Mallory Trochesset, associate director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement. "The Stampede of Service is one of the most visual ones. It's our biggest service tradition and certainly has a lot of attention and support."
Kimberly Cure, 21, a sociology major from Barranquilla, Colombia, will serve as a site leader for a team from her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta. "I love to volunteer," she said. "One of the goals of our sorority is to volunteer and give back to the community. And I get to work with my sisters."
None of the volunteers know what their assignments will be until a welcome event this morning at the USF track and field stadium. An after-party is planned for the end of the workday.
USF also marked MLK Commemorative Week with a candlelight vigil, a luncheon and a keynote speech by former National Football League coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards.