Over the years, we’ve shared some of our favorite activities for Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Reading outstanding kids’ books about activism, getting messy with some inspirational family craft projects (we’re still loving this DIY mural), or seeking out other ways to remember Martin Luther King Jr. with the kids.
But we — like so many other people — think that one of the very best ways to pay tribute to Dr. King’s remarkable legacy is to dedicate yourself to service in some way, following in his footsteps.
Hearing this sentiment reinforced loudly this week by Dr. King’s family members drives home what a great opportunity this is, especially for families.
That’s why we’ve rounded up a few simple suggestions to help you find the right service opportunity for you and your family to participate in on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Big or small, long-term or just something for one day, it’s all good. You never know what will spark an interest in your kids, and help get them excited about the prospects for volunteering and making a difference in the lives of others.
Related: The Coretta Scott King book award winners: Great reads for MLK Day and beyond
Join in on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Event
There are thousands of events scheduled all over the country, many of which are awesomely family-friendly and — I can almost guarantee — all of which are hoping you’ll join in.
One place to find an event near you is by checking Volunteer Match. Key in your location, and the site offers a list of organized events in your area, from serving breakfasts and stocking food pantries to maintaining trails and manning coat drives.
The Corporation for National and Community Service will direct you to nearby service opportunities of all kinds.
The Human Rights Campaign lists opportunities to volunteer with the LGBTQ community (or help fill out organizations’ wish lists).
Points of Light will hook you up with local MLK Day-specific opportunities too.
I love that so many events are happening at the local level, put together by smaller community-based organizations to address your own neighborhood’s specific needs. They’re often listed in your city’s newspaper, but it’s a good call to check with local food banks, homeless shelters, community gardens, libraries, and other orgs to see what they have planned.
Related: 21 ways your family can volunteer for your own community. Small scale, big impact!
Or…plan your own Martin Luther King Jr. Day service activity
You don’t have to host a huge parade to make an impact. Though, on that note, check and see if your community is hosting a marade — that’s a march-parade — on January 15, because they’ll be going on everywhere for MLK Jr. Day!
It’s good to remember that service comes in all forms.
One thing you can do is set aside some time with your family and huddle around the DonorsChoose.org website. Together, browse the projects and make a pledge to fund a teacher who has a classroom need that speaks to you. It’s a concept that school-aged kids can relate to (they’ve surely seen their own teachers ask for funds to buy books and supplies) and will be excited to help. Even a few dollars really will go a long way.
Donating items to local organizations is always a good idea, provided you first check with the org to see what kinds of items they actually need — and can actually use. Whether it’s clean linens for animal shelters, unused hygiene and cosmetics for women’s shelters, or nonperishable goods for food pantries, gather up items with your family and get the kids involved.
You can also do an activity now that plants the seeds for an even more ambitious activity in the future. In fact, we’ve put together a whole list of ways you can make a difference in your own community together with your kids. So take a moment to make a commitment to something you want to do this year — raise money for a particular cause? Organize a fun run for charity? Commit more to your public school? Get a regular volunteer schedule going at the local library or pet shelter or eldercare facility?
Whatever appeals to you is the right thing!
You can also check out AARP’s Dream Builders Video Contest which launches on January 15, to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Make a video with your kids to highlight the dream project you’d like to see in your community — then have the chance to win up to $2,500 to help pull it off.
Photos from top: Volunteer Match; Jerónimo Bernot via Unsplash; Friends Central School via Flickr Creative Commons