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A Day On, Not a Day Off: A Day of Service

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In the blur of the recent December holidays and in the shadow of greetings of Happy New Year, it may take a moment to recall why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day on which people should greet one another with profound gratitude and appreciation.

The youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for civil rights, equality and dignity for African Americans; he spoke out against injustice, oppression and poverty, inspiring countless others to stand with him or, in the decades since his assassination, to follow in his footsteps. 

Many of Dr. King’s quotes are dedicated to service.  This Jan. 20, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of MLK Day as a Day of Service, a call to action with the motto “Make it a day on, not a day off.” What better way to celebrate the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. than to serve others, making our neighbors and communities stronger for all.

As public servants, we work each day to make our communities stronger, answering Dr. King’s proposition, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others.” And while there are many, many ways that we in county government demonstrate our dedication to citizens and public service, let us be inspired by the dedication of Community Services, Health and Human Services, and Community Action Agency employees, as they work to eradicate poverty and strengthen communities through racial equity work.

According to communityactionpartnership.com, the vision of Community Action Partnership is “A nation that creates opportunities for all people to thrive, builds strong, resilient communities, and ensures a more equitable society.”

Dr. King said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

In our public service, we may be serving citizens directly or we may be indirectly serving citizens. Regardless of the nature of your public service profession, we are all able to find joy, purpose and reward through volunteering and service.

After the November and December seasons of thankfulness, take January to channel that energy into action for others. Grab a colleague or a family member and volunteer after work, during a lunch break or on a day off.  Make that a recurring commitment and it will become part of your routine. There are so many charities that may align with your passion to serve as well as your strengths and interests. The reward of volunteering is much greater than the commitment of time and you are certain to make new friends as you engage in volunteerism. As Dr. King stated, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Within your organization, at the beginning of a new learning academy or training cohort, ask each participant if they would like to use their lunch hour to complete a volunteer service project. Forming a new team or have a new member of a well-established team? Working together side by side, serving others, reduces stress, allows individuals to focus externally and reminds them of their blessings. It creates a bond or shared experience between those working together. Volunteering with colleagues levels the hierarchy of positions and allows openness to learning about each other on an individual level.

Don’t have the flexibility of a lunch service project and limited by afterwork availability? Hold a winter coat drive, a canned food drive, adopt a senior or send letters to our military troops. If you are coordinating a volunteering effort with work colleagues, remember it is best practice to make the volunteering opportunity 100 percent voluntary and not mandatory, and not connected to any partisan or religious group.  Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service.” 

Want some inspiration to create something bigger and ongoing? Be inspired by children who have heard the call to help and are making a huge difference in their communities. Alex’s Lemonade Foundation was started by Alex Scott when she was four years old to find a cure for childhood cancer. Alex passed at the age of eight, but her foundation continues to make a difference for children with cancer today and features childhood cancer heroes on their website, alexlemonade.org. Kids Saving the Rainforest was created by two nine-year old kids in 1999 and operates a wildlife sanctuary and rescue center in Costa Rica, kidssavingtherainforest.org.  Dr. King said, “Anybody can serve…you only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, please take a minute to plan or coordinate a service activity for yourself, your family, your friends or your team.  Then take another moment to watch Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream,” “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” or Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, all of which can easily be found online. Be inspired to dedicate your time to others, to make someone’s day brighter, and to improve your community for each person, one person at a time. 

Our work makes our communities stronger each day, but not all of us are in a job where we get to see the impacts of that work on each family. Volunteering gives us that opportunity. Dr. King said, “Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” With great joy we wish you a Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

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