Kids First celebrates King’s legacy

Members of Alabaster's Kids First Awareness Community Center dance during a Jan. 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Shelby County Instructional Services Center. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

Members of Alabaster’s Kids First Awareness Community Center dance during a Jan. 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Shelby County Instructional Services Center. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – When Kids First Awareness Community Center Executive Director Cindy Hawkins looked around the gymnasium on Jan. 19, she was awestruck by what she saw.

“If you are in this room today, you are doing what Dr. Martin Luther King preached and what he laid down his life for,” Hawkins said to more than 200 people gathered in the Shelby County Instructional Services Center gymnasium. “It takes touching people’s lives and helping people to make a difference in a community. That’s what we are doing here today.”

For the fifth year in a row, Kids First drew hundreds of visitors to the SCISC to celebrate King’s memory. For the past 10 years, Kids First has offered after-school and summer programs to at-risk youth in Alabaster’s Simmsville community.

The event featured dancing, inflatable games, health and fitness screenings and basketball games pitting the city’s leaders and public servants against each other.

After the basketball games, volunteers handed out more than 4,000 pounds of free food to those in need in the community, all of which was bagged by members of the Thompson High School football, basketball and baseball teams and cheerleaders at the beginning of the day.

Kids First members join local public servants and officials at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

Kids First members join local public servants and officials at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

“I’m so glad Dr. King had a dream, because I feel we are living that dream today,” Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon told the group. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this community.”

Kenneth Paschal, director of governmental affairs for the Alabama Family Rights Association, echoed Hawkins’ thoughts, praising the city for gathering to honor King’s memory.

“Today is to celebrate not only Dr. Martin Luther King’s lifetime, but also to celebrate the unity of our community,” Paschal said.

Paul Morin, a representative from the Alabama Afterschool Community Network encouraged those in attendance to contact their local legislators to stress the importance of funding programs such as Kids First.

“Almost 20 million kids every day do not have a place to go after school each day,” Morin said, noting legislation has already been filed in the U.S. Congress this year to do away with federal funding for after-school programs. “This is not a social entitlement program. It’s a true need.”