In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday as a National Day of Service and made the Corporation for National and Community Service the lead agency responsible for directing a national effort to get citizens more involved in their communities.
And in 22 years, the movement has gained enormous momentum. Because of the overwhelming response, many community service organizations throughout the country have expanded the “day” of service into a “weekend” of service.
So what better time to begin a lifetime habit of service or rededicate a personal commitment to volunteerism beginning in high school—or even earlier?
Throughout the holiday weekend, millions of volunteers of all backgrounds, ages, and ethnicity are joining together to support a movement that has already had a profound impact on our nation.
But it doesn’t just have to be for a day or a weekend, even. You can help by looking around your community for projects or kick-up your commitment to service a notch by joining larger scale projects sponsored by area nonprofits.
Here are a few ideas:
- Join Rock Creek Conservancy and park volunteers for the Annual Meadowbrook MLK Day of Service Rock Creek Cleanup.
- Work with a group of Northern Virginia Master Naturalists to remove invasive species from Culpepper Gardens.
- Assemble a group of friends to write holiday cards and notes for seniors enrolled in local Meals on Wheels programs. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!
- Help elderly or disabled neighbors by raking leaves, shoveling snow, or weeding. Again a volunteer corps of high school students “on-call” to provide these services would be a welcome addition to your community.
- Collect gently-used children’s books and donate them to inner-city schools for distribution to families and children who otherwise can’t afford to have books in their homes. Or host a Books for America book drive.
- Round up a bank of sewing machines, collect fabric donations, and gather friends to sew pillowcases for children with life-threatening diseases.
- Support the Path To Greatness by attending a care package distribution event on MLK Day.
- Organize a drive to collect jeans for the homeless in your community. Hint: there may be opportunities to win scholarships here!
- Support your local animal shelter by organizing a pet food drive. Or bring donations to the Humane Society of Fairfax County’s “ani-meals” pet food pantry which offers pet food and related pet car items to low-income residents of the county.
- Make paper mache flower arrangements and read with senior citizens residing in a local assisted living facility under the supervision of a local nonprofit organization.
- Help Blanket Benefactors distribute blankets and care packages to the homeless across DC and Maryland. Volunteers are needed to pack materials as well as to drive to drop-off sites.
- Form a weekly knitting or crochet circle of high school friends and create tiny hats for premature infants in area hospitals or make scarves and shawls for patients at veterans hospitals.
- Sign-up for a shift at a local soup kitchen, like Our Daily Bread in Fairfax. Bring along canned food donations you’ve collected in your neighborhood.
- Volunteer at a donation center like the NVFS Clock Tower Thrift Shop in Centreville VA, and gather some gently-used clothes and jackets to donate when you go.
- If you speak a second language, offer translation assistance or volunteer tutoring services to limited English speaking residents of your community.
- Help make and teach origami to students as part of the Montgomery County Day of service. All completed projects will be donated to either The Children’s Inn or The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
- Collect donations and assemble care packages for members of the military assigned overseas. Or gather a group of friends and write letters to service personnel.
- Organize a kitchen supply drive and donate these materials to organizations serving children and families like the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health.
Be sure to check out the MLK Volunteer Fair from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at the Bethesda North Marriott Conference Center. The fair is a great opportunity for volunteers to connect with community organization to learn more about their services.
Volunteer Fairfax will be celebrating the MLK Day of Service with the presentation of Give Together, a family volunteer day designed to gather together families with elementary school children to work on service projects supporting neighborhood charitable efforts.
Volunteer Alexandria will be completing projects started on Family Volunteer day last November, including place mats for seniors, literacy games for an affordable preschool, and homemade dog toys for rescue dogs.
The Montgomery County Volunteer Center will be hosting its annual Day of Service on January 18, 2016. During this day, volunteers and organizations will collaborate to make care packages and appreciation cards for military troops as well as prepare dry food packages for families, create pet collars for animal shelters, sort donated coats and otherwise serve those in need residing within the county.
The opportunities to get involved in your community are endless.
For a more centralized listing of service projects check out the mlkday.org website maintained by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.