CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his family took part Monday in a day of service on the West Side for the Martin Luther King holiday.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine got a tip that the Mayor and his family would be among hundreds of volunteers in North Lawndale. At first, mayoral aides didn’t want to let a news crew in, but they gave in.

Emanuel, arm in arm with his daughters Leah and Ilana and his wife, Amy, posed for pictures with the girls’ friends and other volunteers for the day of service at the West Side YMCA.

Volunteers at the day of service swarmed like an army of worker bees, painting walls and door frames, getting the athletic and day care center ready for students and preschoolers who’d be coming here each day.

“I think on this day, on Martin Luther King Day, it’s better to have a day on than a day off,” Emanuel said as he pitched in. “There’s nothing more important than giving back to the community.”

The mayor worked side by side with other volunteers, from grade school students to the cast of the Goodman Theatre production “Race” – including actor Geoffrey Owens and director Chuck Smith.

“They (cast members) don’t follow directions too well here,” Smith joked.

The event was organized by City Year, a group which caught the mayor’s eye during the campaign.

“We have a 145 of these young people in the red vests that are currently serving as tutors and mentors in 16 Chicago public schools. Every year, we take a day on King Day and just come do physical service,”

More than 900 people signed up to volunteer at the Y and two schools in North Lawndale, as the Y’s lone engineer, Jay L. Hunt, looked on in amazement.

Asked how long would it take him to do all that work himself, Hunt said, “a long time; months and months.”

The participation of the Mayor and his family – just four of the hundreds volunteering – was largely symbolic.

“Now the kids that are gonna be here are gonna have a totally spanking-new building, for early childhood (and) other activities,” Emanuel said. “Everybody that contributed made their city much better.”

While the City Year event was just a one-day deal, the city actually has a year-round volunteer program. The website, matches volunteers with community activities.