Work & Purpose

How to Sign Up for the National Day of Service

Here are ways to volunteer on Saturday (and beyond) to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

If you hadn’t heard, President Barack Obama has declared Saturday,  Jan. 19, as the National Day of Service, honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (The National Day of Service normally falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be Monday, but it was moved this year because MLK Day commemorations will coincide with the presidential inauguration.)

If you’re wondering how you can volunteer in your community on Saturday and beyond or pay a tribute to King — some National Day of Service initiatives will be on Sunday and Monday, incidentally — here are a few suggestions:

Find an opportunity that’s right for you. From preparing meals to planning charity golf events, such websites as Idealist.org (where I’m a blogger), MLKDay.gov, VolunteerMatch, Points of Light and HandsOn Network collectively list hundreds of opportunities you can choose from.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Try getting in touch with nonprofits in your area that interest you.

You might also check out local chapters of Kiwanis, Habitat for Humanity and the Junior League to see what they’ll have going on. For example, you could help sort donated children’s books with Kiwanis in Detroit or build a three-bedroom home in Lawrence, Kan., with Habitat for Humanity.

Many churches, synagogues and colleges will also play host to National Day of Service events open to the public.

Before searching for a way to volunteer on or around the National Day of Service, take a minute to assess your skills and the type of assistance you’d like to offer. You don’t want to end up cleaning a shelter when you’d rather be planting trees.

(MORE: Meet the Inspiring 2012 Purpose Prize Winners)

Also consider how much time you can give as well as whether you want this to be an ongoing or one-time commitment. Idealist’s Volunteer Resource Center can help with these questions and others.

Create your own service project. Always wanted to paint a mural in your neighborhood or clean up a local park? The National Day of Service is a great excuse to encourage your friends and family to help you get something started.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, the umbrella federal agency that includes Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, the Social Innovation Fund and United We Serve, has several tool kits on how to identify local needs and make an impact. You can also register a project on its website to recruit volunteers.

Volunteer with your grandchildren. Since kids are out of school on Monday, that’s a perfect opportunity to spend time with your grandchildren volunteering together (and acting as a role model for them).

Local online kids calendars on family sites, like PDX Kids Calendar in Portland, Ore., and Mommy Poppins in New York City, will likely have information on family-friendly volunteering opportunities. Youth-focused groups, like Do Something, are also good resources.

(MORE: Get Others Involved in Community Projects)

A tip: Kids’ attention spans can be short. So make sure the activity will be fun for them and capture their interest.

Become a part of history. If you have personal stories from the Civil Rights era, take the time to share them.

One way to do this is through StoryCorps, a nonprofit that records the oral histories of Americans, archives them at the Library of Congress and airs them on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. StoryCorps currently has booths in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Santa Fe where you can talk about your experiences. The StoryCorps site also shows you how to record your accounts at home.

Alternatively, you could write about your civil rights experiences on Cowbird, an online storytelling tool that boldly aims to build “a public library of human existence.”

Support civil rights institutions. From the King Center in Atlanta to the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tenn., near Knoxville, there are a plethora of locations throughout the country dedicated to the philosophy of nonviolence and the advancement of human rights. Make a visit or donation; they could use your help.

Get rejuvenated. Some of the good feelings that come with lending a hand on the National Day of Service will fade soon afterward. But they don’t have to.

Use the day as a chance to kickstart regular service in your life and commit to making 2013 a year where the inspiring efforts of everyday citizens show up on the front pages.

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Celeste Hamilton Dennis
By Celeste Hamilton Dennis
Celeste Hamilton Dennis works for Idealist, a global nonprofit that helps people move from intention to action. She writes about social innovation for their weekly Idea File column.

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