Service in Observance
By Sarah Ann Noel
“The world needs people who are inspired to embrace tomorrow’s possibilities.”
For 25 years, citizens across the country have observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as more than a day away from the office or with the kids home from school. Instead, heeding the spirit of the man, many choose to participate in “a day on, not a day off,” according to the AmeriCorps national service website. This year, the 26th observance as a day of service, it is still the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.
“This day of service helps to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, address social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community,’” shares AmeriCorps.
Currently, 37 percent of businesses in the United States close their operations on Martin Luther King Day, according to Bloomberg BNA, a number that is on the rise. Also trending upward are the number of companies that, whether they close their offices or not, offer some sort of programming to honor the holiday, including acts of service. This year, the president-elect’s inaugural calendar will also incorporate service activities in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each year, Denver hosts one of the country’s largest service days on Martin Luther King Day. Beginning with a march and parade (marade) from City Park to Civic Center Park, this year’s marade and speeches will call attention to various social justice issues. There are also onsite volunteer opportunities for those looking for a place to serve.
And within our local mountain communities, there is a growing effort to make the switch from “day off” to “day on.” After all, we’ve just completed a long stretch of holiday celebrations, and many of us are still more or less confined to our couches and pajama bottoms. Why do we need another day to eat snacks on the couch when we could be doing something for someone else in need?
The Montessori School of Evergreen (MSE), through the efforts of their parent association, PACT (Parents Act and our Community Thrives), will observe a day of service this year, encouraging other organizations and individuals within the community to do the same.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that service brings people together. It is an act of hope, a collective stride toward a better, more equitable future,” says Jennifer Graf, an MSE parent and PACT member. “PACT sees this holiday as a way to both give back to our community and talk about the importance of service with our families.”
The Graf Family has been observing MLK Day of Service for several years, beginning when their children were both in preschool. Now Alex, 8, and Teddy, 6, take pride in personalizing their acts of service. “From selecting snacks for EChO that fellow kids would actually like to eat—‘Not that applesauce, Mom. THIS applesauce’—to picking the ‘best smelling’ flowers to deliver to Mt. Evans Hospice, Alex and Teddy revel in the responsibility that they have to make something brighter for someone else,” says Graf, an understandably proud mom. “For them, service has been a gateway toward imagining what it would be like if their life was different, a big and important step for little minds!”
Graf is leading the charge on MSE’s service day this year, centered around filling the shelves of the Evergreen Christian Outreach (EChO) Food Bank. In 2020, EChO served 936—a more than 50 percent increase from 2019.
“Together, we can help address this critical need in our mountain community,” Graf said, noting that service is a central tenet of the Montessori philosophy. But the service project is less about what the school itself can do, and more about what people can do when they come together around a greater cause. “Our goal is to have 100 percent of MSE students, staff and families participate in our MLK efforts,” Graf said. “But success is not measured in the number of coins and cans collected. This event seeks to build bridges of empathy and action within children’s hearts.”
Mark Gustavson, head of MSE, agrees that this project is more about the broader scope of community service than about the school community alone. “The world needs people who are inspired to embrace tomorrow’s possibilities. Though those moments have looked different in the COVID era, we teach our children that adaptability is not just a passive human trait.”
Graf and the MSE PACT team invite local residents to join them in service to EChO this coming Martin Luther King Day by purchasing non-perishable foods from the Food Bank’s grocery wish list; donating money directly to the organization (including spare change collections!); or donating time, anytime, but especially on Monday, January 18.
It doesn’t have to start with an organization’s official event, nor does it need to end at donations to the local food bank. AmeriCorps makes volunteer opportunities in your area searchable at nationalservice.gov/serve/search. You can also register events with the website to make them available to volunteers at large.
Graf encourages everyone to find the service fit for them. “You do not need to find a large crowd or a hosted event to make an impact. Just look around your neighborhood, your school or your favorite trail and envision how you could improve it—and then do something toward that vision! Shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway. Hang a bird feeder for our avian neighbors. Donate children’s books to the library. The spirit of Dr. King lives in small acts of love. The objective is simply to give something of yourself for the betterment of others. We all have something to give.”