Posted Jan 13, 2020
Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
We eagerly anticipate those federal holidays that pop up on our calendars, signaling an extra day off school or work. Many of us barely pause to think about the meaning behind the holiday, viewing it as simply a bonus day to sleep in and relax, or perhaps indulge in some retail therapy with the holiday sales. I am as guilty as anyone.
This year, we challenge you to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 20th with a Day ON instead of a Day OFF for your family by participating in the MLK Day of Service.
History Behind MLK Day of Service
While the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, it wasn’t until 1994 that Congress re-consecrated the third Monday in January as a national day of service – the only federal holiday observed as such. The bill was introduced by Representatives John Lewis and Harris Wofford, former friends and civil rights compatriots of Dr. King, as a way to “remember Martin the way he would have liked.”
The MLK Day of Service commemorates the great civil rights leader’s legacy of service by urging Americans of all different backgrounds to come together and do the same – volunteer, serve others, and help move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”.
Overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the same organization that oversees Americorps, participation in the MLK Day of Service has steadily increased over the years. There are now thousands of MLK Day of Service events with hundreds of thousands of participants each year.
Get Kids Involved in Volunteering
Volunteering not only betters the lives of others, it also creates stronger bonds within your family and breaks down barriers and builds connections with members of your community. Kids who volunteer regularly are more confident, empathetic, have stronger teamwork and leadership skills, and are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in destructive behavior.
How can your family get involved? Check out our list of ways to serve this January 20th and all throughout the year.
Find a Family-Friendly MLK Day of Service Event in Your Area
The following organizations allow you to easily search for MLK Day of Service volunteer events in your community.
- VolunteerMatch - A U.S.-based nonprofit, which aims to strengthen communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect, VolunteerMatch uses the power of the web to connect people with volunteer opportunities. Search for MLK Day of Service opportunities here.
- Points of Light - The world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, Points of Light mobilizes millions of volunteers across the globe to tackle society’s toughest issues. Search for MLK Day of Service volunteer opportunities here.
- Idealist - Idealist is all about closing the gap between intention and action by connecting people who want to do good with opportunities for service. While they do not provide the capability to search for MLK Day of Service events specifically, you can search for volunteer opportunities by keyword, skill or interest and location.
- Local and Regional Volunteer Organizations - Many local and regional volunteer organizations and nonprofits organize family-friendly service opportunities for the MLK Day of Service. Do a little Web surfing to find some options near you.
Design Your Own Family Service Project
The Corporation for National & Community Service has a great list of suggested age-appropriate volunteer activities for kids on their website that families can do together. Ideas include:
- Making cards for nursing home residents
- Hosting a book drive for a local hospital or shelter.
- Coloring lunch bags that can be used to package lunches and treats for needy children.
- Making fleece blankets for children in the hospital.
- Collecting and sorting school supplies to benefit a local shelter or library.
- Raking leaves or shoveling snow for elderly or disabled neighbors.
- Creating a game day at a local home for adults with disabilities.
- Walking or grooming animals at a local shelter.
- Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
- Make Hygiene Kits for the Homeless. Check out this list of recommended items from the Portland Rescue Mission. Keep them in your car so you’re prepared to offer one to a person in need.
- Prepare and send care packages to deployed troops. Check out Operation Gratitude to learn what to include and where to send them.
- Clean up trash at a community park or playground.
Teach Kids About Dr. King's Legacy
If you can't swing a family volunteer day this year, dedicate some time on January 20th to teaching your kids about Dr. King and his legacy of service.
generationOn, the youth division of Points of Light, provides programs, tools and resources to engage kids and teens in service and volunteering. Their MLK Day of Service page has a great list of resources to teach children about civil rights and discrimination, citizenship and civil engagement, as well as recommended DIY projects for celebrating and honoring the life of Dr. King.
Check out these 7 Kid-Friendly Service Projects for more ideas on getting your family involved in volunteering and community service.
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