MONMOUTH COUNTY, NJ: In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County is encouraging local residents to help strengthen the community through a new volunteer initiative announced Friday at the organization’s 31st Commemorative Breakfast honoring the civil rights leader.

Called “Togetherhood,” the YMCA program will mobilize volunteers to carry out projects throughout the year to support community needs, YMCA President and CEO Laurie Goganzer said at the event, which took place at the Sheraton Eatontown Hotel.

“The Y is here to lift each other and to empower one another. Join us in coming together to make our community stronger together by giving back to help neighbors in need,” Goganzer urged.

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The annual Dr. King memorial breakfast brought together 300 people to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King and his “extraordinary service to others,” said Michael Wright, a YMCA Board member who led the community Advisory Committee that planned the inspiring event.

In addition to introducing the Togetherhood program, the Y presented its inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Human Dignity Award to Wayne Boatwright, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at Hackensack Meridian Health. Boatwright, the keynote speaker, was honored for his efforts to put Dr. King’s principles and ideals into action by helping to build inclusive and diverse work environments and communities.

The Y also presented two $1,000 scholarships to winners of this year’s annual MLK Essay Contest: Maya Gerke, a junior at Freehold Township High School; and Nghi Nguyen, a junior at Raritan High School. The scholarships were sponsored by New Jersey Natural Gas and Hackensack Meridian Health. Wright noted that the Y received a strong response to the essay contest with 44 students participating from schools throughout Monmouth County.

Highlights of the event were a moving rendition of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” by Imamu Mayfield, Sr., a professional boxer and speaker who was a member of Dr. King’s Community Players, and remarks from YMCA alumnus Itzel Perez, an advocate for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Goganzer stressed that the Togetherhood initiative will give the community opportunities to take action for social good throughout the year beginning with a winter clothing drive to benefit vulnerable families served by Lunch Break, a nonprofit based in Red Bank. The Y is asking YMCA members and the public to drop off new and gently used coats, hats, mittens, socks and other winter clothing at Y locations in Red Bank, Freehold and Old Bridge through the end of January.

Lined up for February is a blood drive to benefit the American Red Cross and in March volunteers are needed to read to children in YMCA programs for Read Across America. In April, the Y is seeking volunteers to support beach and park sweeps for Clean Ocean Action and the Monmouth County Park System. Volunteers are also needed for camp cleanups in May, the Red Bank Classic in June, a food drive for Fulfill and JBJ Soul Kitchen in July and a backpack drive in August to benefit Pilgrim Baptist Church, United Way of Monmouth and Ocean counties and the HOSA Fund.

For a full list of YMCA Togetherhood® volunteer opportunities and information on how to lend a hand, visit ymcanj.org/togetherhood or call 732.671.5505.

About YMCA of Greater Monmouth County

YMCA of Greater Monmouth County is here for all – to empower youth and teens, improve health and strengthen community. A leading nonprofit charity, the Y unites 36,000 people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds. In 2019, we provided $875,000 in financial assistance to strengthen approximately 2,820 families in need. The Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County formed the countywide Y on Sept. 1, 2019. Our life-changing programs and services are anchored in 10 communities: health and wellness facilities in Freehold Township, Old Bridge and Red Bank; outdoor day camps in Millstone and Wall; a community center in Freehold Borough; counseling and social service centers in Eatontown, Matawan and Middletown; child care centers in Freehold Township, Matawan and Red Bank; and integrated in nearly 100 schools in Monmouth and Ocean counties. We’re based in Shrewsbury, NJ. Learn more at www.ymcanj.org/strongertogether.