Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” He lived his life by that statement, and so to honor his memory and his legacy, every year on his day Americans across the country use their day off to perform acts of service to better their community.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA, a full-time volunteer that serves for a year with an organization fighting poverty in exchange for a modest living stipend and an education stipend, I participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service (MLK Day). Together, with staff members from Waukegan Public Library who organized the event, I chaperoned 24 Waukegan High School students as they went on a field trip to a service activity and a celebration of Dr. King’s legacy. We went to Highland Park’s 7th Annual MLK Day of Service, where the students could participate in a number of small service projects.
To be honest, at first, the students did not seem very excited about their day of service. There were probably a number of reasons, including that they were spending their day off learning and working or the fact the temperature was zero degrees when they arrived. The bus ride down to the Highland Park Rec Center, where the event took place was cold, and there was not a lot of enthusiasm amongst the students.
However, once we got there, the students quickly got into the service projects. The library hosted a table where the students and visitors could write Valentine’s Day cards for seniors. In addition, 25 other organizations hosted stations at the event that included writing letters thanking veterans for their service, making quilt squares for children in the hospital, and helping make soup packets for a food bank.
After the service portion of the day was completed, the city of Highland Park sponsored a program for the volunteers that included songs, a reading of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech recited by Lynn Epps of Highland Park, and a short speech by Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, recalling when Dr. King was his minister. The day ended with the fantastic feats of the Jesse White Tumblers.
At the end of the day, almost every student said they would be interested in returning next year for another day of service. It was impressive to see young high school students take their very cold day off from school and spend it helping others. Listening to Dr. King’s speech likely reminded them of the importance of fighting against racism, intolerance, and injustice in our society. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It was a good reminder of the importance of service, not just on MLK Day, but every day.
If you missed your chance to serve on MLK Day, but are looking to get involved, there are always opportunities! You can look here for ongoing and one-time opportunities with United Way of Lake County or check out Find Help Lake County for volunteer opportunities throughout Lake County, IL. For more information on becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA, visit here.
By Nicole Delaney, AmeriCorps VISTA, Success By 6