On Monday January 21, many will take a day off from school and work to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in what way will we honor that legacy? Sleeping in? Going to the mall? Watching a movie?
It’s not that we shouldn’t enjoy a day off, but this day can be enjoyed in a very specific way for a very specific purpose: through volunteering.
In 1983 Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was finally recognized as federal holiday. In 1994 this day was officially set aside to be a day of service. The Martin Luther King, Jr. “Day of Service” is a part of the president’s national call to service initiative known as “United We Serve,” the goal of which is to encourage all of us to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing problems. In essence, the initiative aims to acknowledge that “together we make a difference,” and that we all can help:
• Strengthen our community
• Empower individuals
• Bridge barriers
• Create solutions
But where to start? How do we find a way to meet a specific need (such as helping to build a playground or mentoring a child), or a “need of spirit” (perhaps you’ve done this by sending a snowflake to the students at Sandy Hook Elementary, for example)?
Last year my children and I participated by helping to re-paint and re-furbish a local children’s home. It was a messy, long day, but knowing that we contributed back to our community, as a family, made it a worthwhile experience.
Because we all have something we can contribute. Maybe you are a skilled electrician, gardener, or cook. Maybe you have always been praised for your hospitality and kindness. And maybe you have a community project that needs to be completed.
Well, here is your day to give back. Many people have started to volunteer over the weekend and many more will continue to do so on Monday.
I’ve found that lots of local (city) governments have a list-serv where you can find a match to a specific volunteer activity, such as helping to clean a park or paint a community center. But if you seem to be unable to find a connection that way, you can contact any of the following groups to see what opportunities are available near your home:
It may be that you don’t find the perfect match or project fit for your skill-set; but you will find something. And doing that something is better than not doing anything at all.
It’s important to remember that the MLK Day of Service shouldn’t just be about one day of service; communities will always need volunteers willing to step in and help out. There are children who will always need a Big Brother/Big Sister, or a teenager who will always need a mentor. There will always be senior citizens who need help around the house or help getting to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment. There will always be parks that need garbage picked up and schools that need a playground to be re-mulched.
Community sustainability is a long-term process, not a one-time event. We best honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life by helping our neighbors and working together to create positive, meaningful, long-term change. And volunteering is a necessary part of creating a community of compassion and care.
And that’s a great legacy to live up to, one that our children will be proud of and work along side us to achieve.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” — Greek Proverb