AmeriCorps – the nation’s only federal agency committed to volunteerism and national service – asks for volunteers to be of service where they can and how they can to help address some of the nation’s most pressing challenges and helping strengthen opportunities to help Americans improve their lives.
While this mission is year-round, in 1994 Congress designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day – this year Monday, January 17 – a national day of service and charged AmeriCorps with leading the effort. The agency encourages volunteers to help their neighbors and their community by signing up to work with a local nonprofit on the MLK Day of Service.
The volunteer work can come in many forms, whether it’s providing food assistance to the unhoused or people who can’t afford groceries, cleaning up a local park, checking smoke detectors for a neighbor, addressing systemic inequities in local education, or another cause that is helping address unmet needs.
“Go out and do something for someone,” says Rhonda Taylor, AmeriCorps’ director of partnerships and program engagement. “We’re trying to get people to think, ‘What am I doing for my community and others?’”
“We hope King Day kicks off a whole year of activities, service and volunteering. We hope that individuals will think not just about getting involved but how can I really make a difference? How can my actions make a difference?”
While many Americans will have the day off, many others will be working. AmeriCorps encourages employers to support their employees who want to spend the day in service of others. “Service and volunteering are not only good for the communities where you live and work but good for creating teamwork and unity,” adds Taylor.
What Can You Do to Help Your Community?
Whether immediate or long term needs, big efforts or small, geographically nearby or virtually, Taylor encourages volunteers to consider what’s needed and, in serving their community, help bring about unity to Americans of different backgrounds and experiences.
Here are some ideas.
Is there a hunger crisis exacerbated because of the pandemic? Perhaps volunteer at a food bank, school, or place of worship.
Is systemic change needed to address the quality of schools in some neighborhoods because of inherently discriminatory property taxes? Advocate for change. Organize a tutoring project.
Do senior neighbors on your block need some help to live safely in their homes? Clean off their steps so they don’t slip. Offer to pick up and deliver their groceries.
How Do You Connect to Opportunities to Help?
The theme of this year’s MLK Day of Service is the Fierce Urgency of Now. The name comes from Dr. King’s speech during the March on Washington in August of 1963 in which he described a “fierce urgency of now” during the civil rights movement. The organization says that “more than 50 years later, his words have renewed meaning” as the global pandemic has “opened our eyes wider to the inequity in the world. They remind us that we are stronger when we march forward, together.”
“It’s not just about getting out and getting involved, but the beginning of helping to realize Dr. King’s dream of a beloved community. And each year we recommit ourselves to that, and take action that builds to something bigger than the sum of its parts,” Taylor says.
While it’s impossible to track all of the opportunities to serve, Taylor calls out a new participant this year. The United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region in New York state is creating an opportunity that allows people to participate from anywhere. It’s using the month of January to promote diversity, equity and inclusion daily projects.
To make it easier for anyone looking for a way to give back, the organization encourages programs to register their projects in the the search portal so they’re discoverable.
What does the MLK Day of Service look like? Watch this AmeriCorps video from this year.