Growing up, service to others was something I rarely thought about. With service learning built into my schooling in such a way that I didn’t even notice I was earning service hours, and a family life that involved two extremely busy working parents, I had no idea what it really meant to volunteer my time to serve my community. And frankly, it never really occurred to me to do so.
Now don’t get me wrong–my parents are wonderful people who always taught me to be compassionate to those around me. My father has one of those magnetic personalities that allows him to connect in this incredible way to people from all walks of life. And my mother is someone who always gives as much as she can to those in need of help, including the various insects that make their way into our house (she’s famous for her “bug box” which she uses to carry spiders, crickets, stink bugs, bees, and other creepy crawlies safely back outdoors).
But despite the example being set for me, I was never actually asked to serve–or even exposed to the types of service opportunities available to me. Now I don’t want to put the blame for my lapse on the shoulders of others, as it was always in my power take initiative. Many people venture out, define problems, and work towards solutions because something inside compels them to do so. I’ve always admired these people, and our communities need them. But there are those of us, like me, who need help breaking out of our individualistic focus to see that service does not take place far away and only in the most dire circumstances. It takes place every day, and all around us. We exist in a state of unawareness that there are so many simple, but meaningful ways we can make a positive change in our world. And it wasn’t until I was asked to consider serving as an AmeriCorps member that I began to see all of the ways I could contribute to a healthier and stronger community.
In the few years since, community service has become an everyday part of my life. As the volunteer coordinator, I spend 40+ hours a week asking people to unselfishly volunteer their time to the foundation’s mission. And to the amazement of many around me, community members respond–and they do so gladly. They continually rise to the occasion with an enthusiasm that sends me home inspired most evenings, and wishing that it hadn’t taken me so long to get involved in the culture of volunteerism.
So in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, I’m asking you the question that Dr. King says is “life’s most persistent and urgent question” and the question that I wish I had been asked from a young age, “What are you doing for others?” How can you serve your community through individual acts of kindness to honor Dr. King and his legacy today and throughout the year? I hope you will consider taking the time to find out.
Need help figuring out where to start? Here’s a Service Toolkit:
- Find a volunteer opportunity in your area on sites like www.allforgood.org, and VolunteerMatch.
- Take the MLK Day Pledge: Pledge to serve today and throughout the year.
- Host a #SundaySupper to discuss important issues facing your community. Find the toolkit here.
- Learn more about MLK Day of Service and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Corporation of National and Community Service, Points of Light, and the King Center.
- Follow Accokeek Foundation staff members on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@accokeek_foundation) as we take our own pledge to serve. We’ll be joining the Student Conservation Association this #MLKDay to volunteer at Anacostia Park. We’ll be using the tag #afserves.