Get Out and Give Back: Tips for MLK Day of Service

by WL Author

Between websites and nonprofits promoting MLK events on January 17, there’s something for everyone

By Jane Hess Collins

Chris Swenson and his daughters make crafts for needy children during last year's Give Together. Photo courtesy of Volunteer Fairfax.

Chris Swenson and his daughters make crafts for needy children during last year's Give Together. Photo courtesy of Volunteer Fairfax.

A couple of “ifs”:  If you’re in town, if you have a day off from work or school, or if you have nothing else to do on Monday, January 17, let me throw a couple hundred ideas at you for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

First, a few factoids about the MLK Day of Service (hey, these tidbits could mean the difference between winning and not winning a new car). The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. It’s always the third Monday in January. And it’s a part of United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative.

Now that you’re armed with the facts, here’s a roundup of what’s going on and how you can be part of it:

Greater DC Cares will put nearly 2,000 corporate and community volunteers to work throughout Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia, with most projects benefiting or educating kids. Artists (skills optional, passion mandatory) can paint collegiate logos, murals or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes in local schools. The more studious of us can organize libraries in shelters, recreation centers or schools. There are plenty kid mentoring program too, and the Greater DC Cares website has all of the deets. Still not sure? How about free food? Every MLK volunteer who participates that day will receive a coupon for a free burger from Z-burger, according to the Greater DC Cares’ special events and communications manager Alicia Lee.

If the Virginia ‘burbs are calling you, sign up for the Volunteer Fairfax Give Together project at George Mason University’s Dewberry Hall from 1:30 – 3:30 (act fast – registration is nearly full). Give Together offers six kid-friendly projects that involve the whole family. Kids (and moms and dads) can bead bracelets, make toys and do other neat things that benefit deployed military personnel and their families back home, kids, hospital patients, orphans and homeless animals.

If your crowd is definitely the over-21s, Single Volunteers of DC (SVDC) is looking for a team leader to help with cleaning up neighborhoods in Arlington that day. Their co-director tells me that if no one steps up they may have to pull out. Send them an email – after all, SVDCers are usually good for a happy hour afterwards, no matter what time it is.

Next I relied on my buddy Google to tell me what other Martin Luther King, Jr., events were within 20 miles of my Alexandria zip code. The best site I found, All for Good, listed events from Gaithersburg to Fredericksburg.

And I was quite impressed by Montgomery County’s MLK events at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

And, you may be wondering, what am I doing on the MLK Day of Service? With a fair amount of sheepishness, I admit that I’ll be on the road most of the day, returning from a ski weekend in Deep Creek, MD. So please take this story as a “do as I say, not as I do.” Even better, see how badly you can embarrass me by posting how you’ll be serving on January 17.

Jane Hess Collins is a former Air Force colonel who helps and encourages people to give back through her writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. She also established game nights for at-risk families throughout the country. You can contact her at

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