On Monday, January 19, the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legislation was passed in 1983 to commemorate King’s birthday and his legacy, turning the 3rd Monday of January into a federal holiday. This holiday is to be observed as a national day of service– “A day on, not a day off.” According to the government’s site on the MLK Day of Service:
“[The day] calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”
When I kicked off my teen advisory board meetings for this school year, one of the first items I brought to our group was my desire to have the TAB participate in at least one service project. We brainstormed through a few of our monthly meetings, and in November I introduced the MLK Day of Service as an option. Our local volunteer hub, Volunteer Connect, facilitates service opportunities on this day; everything from light building projects to park cleanup, creating floral arrangements for hospice patients to sewing up dog beds for the pets of the homeless. I presented the variety of options, with the biggest caveat: donating your time on a day off from school. Would the group be willing to do that?
Our conversations about service projects had been so positive up to this point that it shouldn’t have been surprising that each TAB member quickly affirmed they’d be more than willing to use their morning to help others. From there we explored the Volunteer Connect projects that would accept a group our size, and after a bit of surveying I signed us up to help a Campfire group create Valentine’s for veterans.
We met at a local church, the home of the Campfire group we’d be working with. The room was filled with all ages, and bounteous amounts of craft supplies. Campfire had invited a local veteran to come by and give a brief presentation and answer questions from the participants about life as both an active member of the military and as a veteran. His details included the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can often accompany military service, and the value of receiving even the smallest token or letter in the mail. I think this really connected with the audience, as we dove into our card creation with great intent. Within an hour and a half our group had created dozens of Valentine’s. “I love the idea of a veteran, who seems really tough, opening an envelope filled with glitter and hearts,” said one of my TAB members. “I haven’t had time to just sit and make something in a really long time,” said another.
At the end of the event we helped clean up and everyone smiled as they left for the rest of their day. This was such a great way to connect with local organizations and participate in a service project that had essentially been all set up for us—all we had to do was show up. I definitely recommend looking into MLK Day of Service options in your local community, they’d be happy to have you and your teens!