Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Day of Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once poignantly stated, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” There were over 10,000 opportunities for Americans to answer this question and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy on January 18, 2010. Established as a national day of service by Congress 16 years ago, volunteers all over the country spent their holiday serving others in their communities, marking the day as a “day on” rather than a “day off.” In light of the nation’s economic situation and in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti last week, service opportunities were varied and plentiful for thousands of Americans to spend a day as King dreamed: working for and with each other.

In the weeks leading up to MLK Day, elected officials and organizations alike promoted this national day of service. On January 13th, the U.S. House of Representatives released a statement, calling on Americans to participate in the community service projects organized throughout the country. To make finding a volunteer opportunity simple, and service organizations such as the HandsOn Network set up search databases for volunteers to enter in a zip code and search for the service project that most interested them. There was a variety of different ways for people to get involved and serve, from activities such as painting murals on elementary school walls to working in a soup kitchen, serving lunch to the homeless. No matter what the project, Americans of all age, race, and creed worked together to improve their communities.

The National Day of Service, lead by The Corporation for National and Community Service, successfully brought out thousands of Americans to lend a hand, and a record number of elected officials and corporate companies contributed to the King Day effort. Nine members of Congress and 27 Mayors participated in the day’s events, working on events such as area school beautification, making toiletry kits and fleece blankets for those in need, and making and distributing food to senior citizens. Corporate companies used their money, supplies, and resources to give back to their communities by sponsoring community service projects or having employees offer their expertise and services pro-bono. All in all, all factions of society proved the validity of Dr. King’s statement that “everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

Here are some highlights of great National Day of Service projects around the country:

  • The President, Mrs. Obama, and their children visited So Others Might Eat, and served food to the homeless and hungry men, women and children.
  • Philadelphia – Over 70,000 volunteers participated in over 1,000 different service projects, making it the largest citywide service effort in the country.
  • Chicago – ChicagoCares brought together corporate, community and civic volunteers created better school environments for children by painting murals, designing mosaics, and rejuvenating libraries.
  • Shell Oil Company offered employees paid time off from the normal workday to volunteer in the corporate sponsored efforts, which include sorting and packing food at the Houston Food Bank and offering a day of activities for youth and seniors at a Houston neighborhood center.
  • Wisconsin – About 50 students at the Racine Unified School District persuaded their administrators to close school on Monday and organized a daylong event with 14 different service projects, a peace march, social justice workshops, and a banquet.
  • New Jersey – JerseyCares, along with 1,000 volunteers from ages as young as four years old to adult, participated in service projects in 10 counties. Projects included opportunities such as rejuvenating parks and schools, financial literacy workshops, and tutoring.
  • Accenture employees worked on web strategy at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and undertook simulation and testing activities for AidMatrix Online Food Bank and Warehouse Distribution System, to help the organization distribute goods and services more effectively.
  • Maryland – 2,500 volunteers of all ages came out in Rockville, MD to participate in service projects including designing bookmarks for children with terminal illnesses, packing snow-day baskets for Meals on Wheels, learning how to donate bone marrow, and attending sessions by the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County.
  • Seattle – Seattle Works set up classroom discussions about the importance of community and community service. Cameras were given to the students, who then photographed and interviewed their families about their roots and what community means to them. The students then made collages of they backgrounds and presented them to their class.

What did you do on MLK Day of Service? Please share your stories of service and why it was important to you in the comments section below.

Photo: CNCS photo by Cade Martin, Cade Martin Photography

© 2009 Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Public Affairs

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