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Dare to 'be great': 2014 'weekend of service' honors Martin Luther King Jr.

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In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday as a National Day of Service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading a national effort to get citizens more involved in their communities.

And the movement has been gaining momentum. Because of the overwhelming response they’ve received, community service organizations throughout the country have expanded the “day” of service into a “weekend” of service.

So what better time to begin a lifetime habit of service or rededicate a commitment to volunteerism beginning in the high school years?

Throughout the holiday weekend, millions of volunteers of all backgrounds, ages, and ethnicity will come together to support a movement that has already had a profound impact on our nation.

You can help by looking around your community for easy projects or kick-up your service a notch by joining larger scale projects sponsored by area nonprofits.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Volunteer to help paint, construct, clean and otherwise brighten a local homeless shelter.
  • Join with friends to clean up a park or common space like the Difficult Run watershed in Fairfax County. Or sign-up for one of many educational programs concerned with watershed stewardship.
  • Offer to help a new mom or dad with errands or simply volunteer of few hours of babysitting. Better yet, form a group of experienced babysitters and organize a volunteer service targeted to military families in your community.
  • Assemble a group of friends to write holiday cards and notes for seniors enrolled in local Meals on Wheels programs.Valentine's Day is just around the corner!
  • Collect gently-used children’s books and donate them to inner-city schools for distribution to families and children who otherwise can’t afford to have books in their homes. Or host a Books for America book drive.
  • Help elderly or disabled neighbors by raking leaves, shoveling snow, or weeding. Again a volunteer corps of high school students "on-call" to provide these services would be a welcome addition to your community.
  • Organize a drive to collect jeans for the homeless in your community.
  • Support your local animal shelter by organizing a pet food drive. Or bring donations to the Humane Society of Fairfax County’s “ani-meals” pet food pantry which offers pet food and related pet car items to low-income residents of the county.
  • Form a weekly knitting or crochet circle of high school friends and create tiny hats for pre-mature infants in area hospitals or make scarves and shawls for patients at veterans hospitals.
  • Sign-up for a shift at a local soup kitchen, like Our Daily Bread in Fairfax. Bring along canned food donations you’ve collected in your neighborhood.
  • Volunteer at a donation center like the NVFS Clock Tower Thrift Shop in Centreville VA, and gather some gently-used clothes and jackets to donate when you go.
  • If you speak a second language, offer translation assistance or volunteer tutoring services to limited English speaking residents of your community. Locally, there is a particular need for volunteers with knowledge of Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese.
  • Collect donations and assemble “care packages” for members of the military assigned overseas. Or gather a group of friends and write letters to service personnel.
  • Organize a school supply drive and donate these materials to organizations serving children and families like the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health.

Volunteer Fairfax plans to celebrate the weekend by inviting families to volunteer together at any one of three local sites. Volunteer Alexandria is looking for senior and youth volunteers to assist with canvassing a local neighborhood in the City of Alexandria to raise awareness about emergency preparedness.

And the Montgomery County Volunteer Center is organizing a Service Projects and Volunteer Fair, on Monday January 20, from 1:00 to 3:00, at the Marriott Conference Center in North Bethesda.

The opportunities to get involved in your community are endless.

For a more centralized listing of service projects check out the mlkday.org website maintained by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“Everybody can be great because anyone can serve.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

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