Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Service

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first observed as a federal holiday in 1986. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the King Holiday and Service Act, challenging Americans to transform the day into one of citizen action and volunteer service in honor of Dr. King. The results are annual service activities across the nation.

If you’d like to find out what’s going on in your community or around the country, you can sign on to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service website which has over 11,400 projects registered. The slogan for the day is, “Make it a day on, not a day off.”

Even if you can’t sign up for a volunteer project in your neighborhood, there is one charitable thing that I know you can do: spend the day packing up your unnecessary clothes, dishes, toys and everything else you can get your hands on and take it all to your local charity shop a.s.a.p. There’s not much good economic news out there and, as I’ve discussed in the past, if you have any extra stuff around your home, this is definitely the time to let it go. Plenty of people who have never done so before are now turning to charities for help, so the demand for goods is high.

I’ve started my own weekend purge of extra stuff in order to donate as an act of service and to stay on track to complete my 365 Item Toss Challenge. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here.) I’ve gathered up everything from extra office supplies to a few old videotapes to a bunch of perfectly serviceable old clothing to more candle holders than anyone should own -- 43 items so far and there will be more to add tomorrow. I’ll post the entire list at the end of the year, but I already know that I am not going to miss a single thing that I’m giving away and this is from a household that has pared down quite efficiently over the last few years. If you take a look around your home, I’ll bet that you’ll find some opportunities to be charitable, too. And you’ll reap the rewards of a less cluttered home.

The holiday also prompted me to wonder what opportunities for service on a larger scale are available to us. Fortunately, some programs that started back in the sixties have expanded the work they do. If you’d like to accept the challenge that President-elect Obama has put forth to make service a part of our daily lives, check out the Corporation for National Community Service to learn more about AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, SeniorCorps, other programs and special initiatives. There are many other charities that could use your help, too. Scroll down the blog to take a look at the list I’ve posted on the right side of the page. You probably have favorite charities of your own that might appreciate some volunteer help.

I’m hopeful that soon we’ll see a significant change in the way we view ourselves in this society. We’re not just consumers, as advertisers would like us to believe; we are citizens, with all the benefits and responsibilities that entails.

So, if you’re struggling to make ends meet or feel like you’re on a treadmill without a moment to catch your breath, it’s okay to ask for and accept help. The whole point of a society is that we’re all in it together. Sometimes the most you can give is a smile to the grocery clerk or a hug to your kids.

But if you’re among the fortunate, and are honest with yourself, you'll agree that there’s enough to go around for everyone. Together, we can help re-write the lyrics to that famous old Billie Holiday song, “God Bless the Child.” Ms. Holiday and her partner, Arthur Hertzog, Jr., wrote, “Them that’s got shall get.” Let’s change that to, “Them that’s got shall give.”

© 2009 Cynthia Friedlob

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