Every third Monday in the month of January, the federal government recognizes Martin Luther King Day celebrating the life and achievements of the late civil rights leader. After his assassination in 1968, supporters campaigned for his birthday to become a national holiday. It took another 15 years for the bill to pass in Congress in 1983, was first observed in 1986 and is now recognized as a holiday in all 50 states in 2000. As national holidays typically go, many federal, state and county workers do not have to report for work having a paid day off. Most non-essential government offices are closed as are some corporations, schools, colleges and banks all of which usually is posted in the newspaper to alert the public that they will not be able to utilize services on that day. What is unique about this federal holiday is that while there are a number of people who will not be required to report to their regular place of paid employment, many people will still be working just doing so unpaid as a volunteer.
In 1994, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service meaning that it is a "day on, not a day off." In other words, all Americans are called to serve and to give back of themselves and their time to their communities volunteering to work together to help others. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is remembered for his accomplishments in the fight for civil rights and equality for all. He is widely remembered for his "I Have a Dream" speech, for his protests against racism and segregation especially the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and was a spokesperson for the NAACP. There are many people who would use the word great to describe Dr. King and all the things he did to work for equal rights through peaceful protests; however, it was Martin Luther King who said that "Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." In other words, greatness is not defined by the size of your bank account, the clothes that you wear, the type of car that you drive, the type of job you hold or even the amount of money that you donate to charity. King believed that everyone has the potential to do great things that can be accomplished through service to others. The youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, King devoted his life to helping others wanting to make changes in society to promote fairness and equality and preached that this could be accomplished in a non-violent way through peace, togetherness and service.
America will celebrate MLK Day on Monday, January 21, 2013, which is also the day that President Obama is sworn into office for his second term. In Washington D.C., the elite will dance at formal balls, the public will celebrate at the inaugural parade and the President will give an address from the steps at the Capitol officially accepting the position to serve as the nation's executive leader and chief. To prepare for Monday's inauguration, the President encouraged all Americans to participate in a three-day celebratory weekend focusing on the call to serve. The MLK Day of Service is part of the President's United We Serve project which encourages Americans from all walks of life to take their day off from work as a opportunity to make an impact in their community by volunteering their time working towards solutions to community and neighborhood problems. The concept goes back to a phrase connected to Hilary Clinton that "it takes a village to raise a child" to the extent that it takes a neighborhood to fix their communities' social problems. Who knows the community as well as the people who live and work there? Who better to solve the problems in the community than the ones who are invested in the communities success? Hence, the community gives back to volunteer and to serve so to benefit everyone.
How can people give back? What are the opportunities to serve and to volunteer on MLK Day? There are many volunteer opportunities for Central Pennsylvanians to serve and give back to their communities. Various organizations have projects and need help to make these happen. There is a saying that Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, that rings true for many services in the community as well. People can volunteer to help out at places that normally are looking for volunteers such as the local animal shelter, Habitat for Humanity, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and many other service-based organizations that are able to exist because of the help of valued volunteers who give up their time to serve. If volunteering is a new thing and one is looking to only try it out for one day, there are places in Central PA that are hosting service projects just for MLK Day. The reality is that not everyone will have a day off from work on MLK Day, and if they do have off, it may not be one that is paid. With that in mind, the programs and services that benefit the community are often not able to run without funding. Many small service-oriented non-profits are able to operate only because of the help of dedicated volunteers who generously give their time to help others and also because of the financial generosity of community members who are able to donate money. Donating time and money are both ways to support programs and services in the community to serve the community.
One local lawmaker answered the call to serve and publicly announced that he and his family will be volunteering at John Harris High School on MLK Day helping to raise donations for victims from Superstorm Sandy. Newly elected into office, State Senator Rob Teplitz said that he wants to work to make his community a better place and that understanding the issues that face the Central PA communities allows him to moving forward to work towards solutions to make this a better place to live and work. One only has to open up the newspaper, read the news online or watch the reports on TV to know that Central PA faces challenges socially, economically and that there is only so much that our government can do to make the streets safe making sure our citizens are free to live and work. Some of the responsibility for that safety falls on the shoulders of the community. These are our streets, our neighborhoods and our communities. The people that we see each day on the streets are the same as us separated only by a different name. Working together as a community, we too can do great things. One of the ways to make that happen is to answer the call to volunteer and serve tomorrow.