MLK Day of Service - A Starting Point to Serve Year Round

Posted by Dolly Duplantier on Wed, Jan 08, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

A New Year is upon us. Every January 1, I think about the resolutions I’ve made in the past and resolve to do again– eat better, exercise more, be more patient, get organized, etc., etc. While these are good resolutions, most of them really only affect my family and me. So, I decided, my resolutions should be about something more than just improving myself. It’s time for me to help others – not in some grand way, but in simple ways every month. Therefore, rather than working on my resolutions just one month a year (January) and forgetting them the other 11 months, I’ve decided January is my starting point. 

As we approach the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and reflect on his message of civic engagement, let us embrace the fact that one person can make a difference. Just imagine if we stay true to that and what can happen with millions of individual acts of kindness and service. If one of your resolutions is to volunteer more, then this January 19th, the MLK Day of Service, is the perfect day to begin your transformation.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), volunteers across the country pledged over 1.3 million hours of service in 2013 for the MLK Day of Service. Established in 1993, CNCS is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through programs like Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Volunteer Generation Fund.

The MLK Day of Service is part of United We Serve, the President’s national service initiative. In addition, it is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – “a day on, not a day off!”

MLK Day is a chance to start the year off right by making an impact in your community. CNCS works with the King Center, other federal agencies, schools, nonprofit and community groups, faith-based organizations, and corporations throughout the U.S. to encourage everyone to volunteer and be engaged in their community by participating in one of thousands of organized service-oriented projects. From collecting food and clothing, to cleaning and painting schools and youth centers, or supporting veterans and visiting with the elderly, everyone can use the day off to make some kind of difference.

You don’t have to be part of a group to participate. There are many opportunities for individuals to take advantage of the day. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips:

Start local and check with your student’s school’s service coordinator. Find out what they are doing and ask to help. Chicago Public Schools has different events planned for the month of January. In 2014, teachers signed up for specific events ranging from working with food pantries to educational seminars aimed at reducing handgun violence. Teachers received curriculum and follow-up materials to connect the activities to MLK Day. Hundreds of students participated in organized community service activities throughout the month.

“All of the events are about building the community through volunteering, the goal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Ryan Evans, who works for AmeriCorps Vista in the CPS Literacy department to coordinate community service learning opportunities for students.

If you prefer to do something outside of school, then consider calling your local faith based, community or non-profit organizations. Many have on-going service projects and are always looking for volunteers. The NobleHour website also lists thousands of community engagement opportunities throughout the U.S. Another option is to check your city or state’s website for information about volunteer programs.

The MGR Foundation, has locations in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, the Twin Cities and Las Vegas. The non-profit provides direct service to communities with a variety of programs.

Chicago Cares

Chicago Cares honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of unity through community service. Tens of thousands of volunteers participate in service projects each year through the non-profit service organization.

Last January alone, approximately 1,400 people served in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. specifically (either as individuals or through their corporations).

The MLK Day of Service website can also help direct you to local opportunities to perform community service. If you can’t find anything that moves you, create your own project with MLK Day Toolkits. Topics range from disaster services and education, to the environment, health and writing letters to the troops.  

If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t let that deter you. Remember, it’s about helping others. Check in on an elderly neighbor and pick up extra groceries for them. Go through your closets and donate your gently used clothing. Donate food to a local food pantry. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, but just a simple act of kindness. Start small and go from there.

My daughter and I decided to make sandwiches for the homeless the other day. We filled bags with PB&J sandwiches, fruit, granola bars and a few pieces of chocolate. We took the train downtown and then handed out the bags to homeless people we passed along the way. It was a cold day and there were not many people out, but we were able to help at least four individuals. It wasn’t much, but it was a start in our New Year’ resolution to help others. It didn’t require a lot of planning and we had everything on hand. It was a simple act that we will strive to do more often.

January is the start of something new. MLK Day is a reminder to be an active part of our community, not just for a day or month, but every day in some manner. Helping others empowers us and strengthens our communities. What are you going to do this January? Let us know your progress each month!

Topics: service learning, volunteering, community engagement, community service, engagement, service, community, civic engagement, CNCS, opportunities, MLK Day, nonprofit, active

Scholarships for Student Volunteers

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Tue, Oct 08, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

Volunteerism is not only great for the community, but it can also benefit young volunteers by creating opportunities for scholarships. Several programs exist to reward students for their service to the community and help them finance their higher education.  Here are a few examples of volunteer scholarships:
  • The Prudential Spirit of Community Award “is the United States' largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service.”  This award is available to students in grades 5-12 who have engaged in community service and leadership over the last year.  The deadline for applications this year is November 5th, and the winners will be announced on February 11th, 2014.  Winners are selected on the local, state, and national level.  A special awards ceremony for state winners is held in Washington, DC.  A $5,000 award is given to winners who progress to the national level.  The Spirit of Community program encourages service on an international platform, awarding students in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, and China.

  • The Best Buy Scholarship Program awards 1,100 scholarships each year to high schools students who show strength in both academics and volunteerism.  The scholarship money is given for higher education.  In addition to academic records and extracurricular activities, students are asked to provide a record of their service-learning hours when applying.

    Students receive a scholarship from NobleHour for their volunteer service.
  • The Gloria Baron Prize for Young Heros annually recognizes 25 outstanding young leaders. The founder of the Barron Prize, author T. A. Barron, named it after his late mother Gloria. Gloria Barron was a teacher, a mother, and an active member of her community.  She dedicated her life to young people, encouraging her students to write their stories down and urging them to do something to better the world.  She believed in the power of the individual, particularly a young individual's ability to better the greater community. Young people across America can be nominated for the award after completing a service project that makes "a significant positive difference to people and our planet."  Nominations are accepted until April 30, and winners are announced late September.  Of the 25 selected, the top ten receive $5,000 to be applied to their higher education or to their service project, a recognition plaque, a signed copy of "The Hero's Trail" by T.A. Barron, and other awards. The Barron Prize seeks to recognize the inspiring work of young people.
  • The retail store Kohl’s offers the Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program for students aged 6-18 who have not yet graduated from high school.  The program has recognized 17,500 students and granted over three million dollars in scholarships.  Students are nominated and selected based on the impact their volunteer hours had on the community.  Winners from each store receive a $50 Kohl's Gift Certificate.  The most meaningful projects are selected from each region and awarded $1000, and national winners receive a $10,000 scholarship plus a donation of $1000 to a nonprofit valued by the student.  The award monies for region and national winners are used toward the student's higher education.  Nominations for the 2014 Kohls Cares Scholarship Program will be open from January 31-March 14, 2014.

    These are just some examples of scholarships for volunteers provided by private institutions, but several publicly funded programs also exist to recognize volunteerism:

    Several Government scholarships exist to award students for their service and help them pay for higher education.  AmeriCorps, a branch of the Corporation for National and Community Service*, encourages young people to dedicate a year to service working with a nonprofit, school, public agency, or community.  Students earn valuable skills, become civically minded, and gain experience valued in the workforce—where they are heading after their year of service.  For their volunteer work, students receive a small stipend to cover living expenses, since in dedicating all their time to volunteering, they have no other source of income.  They also receive benefits such as healthcare and childcare during their time as a volunteer.  Upon finishing a term of volunteerism, students are eligible to apply for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award*, which awards volunteer scholarship money to be put towards paying for higher education or repaying student loans.  The scholarship award is valued at the maximum Pell Grant during the year of service.  Members of AmeriCorps can receive up to two Education Awards if they volunteer for more than one term.  This program not only encourages young people to serve and become active and dedicated to a cause, it also helps them pay for their higher education.

  • The President’s Volunteer Service Award*, previously discussed on NobleHour, also recognizes volunteers who, alongside their daily lives, track hundreds of hours helping in the community.  Applicants are asked to produce some type of log as proof of their volunteer hours.  Tracking volunteer hours on using NobleHour’s hour-tracking software is a way to accomplish this.

Volunteer scholarships are a great opportunity to help reward and recognize students for their work and help them pay off their tuition.  What are some other ways students can use their talents to overcome the challenges of today’s rising tuition fees?

*For the time being, volunteers are unable to apply for these programs and awards due to the federal government shutdown. More information about the effects of the government shut down can be read in the Corporation for National and Community Service’s contingency plan.

Topics: service learning, service, education, millenials, volunteering, graduates, volunteering nonprofit, community, civic engagement, community engagement, CNCS, outreach, opportunities, youth impact, volunteer management, scholarships

America's Civic Health: How Volunteering and Service Shape our Nation

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Wed, Jul 03, 2013 @ 10:57 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

Service is a key factor in a person’s individual health and well-being. Service can mean fulfillment in one’s life, which contributes to a more peaceful state of mind and overall happiness.  However, service is not just about the effects it has on an individual, but more importantly how the actions of several individuals can affect the greater community and the nation.  To analyze the health and well-being of the nation,“the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) hosts the most comprehensive annual collection of information on Volunteering and Civic Life in America and partners with the National Conference on Citizenship to produce an annual report of our nation’s civic health.”  The key findings of this report show that increased volunteering and service are the result of the work of millions of volunteers dedicated to their communities. Flag of the United States of America

For the purpose of the study the CNCS collects its data from the “Current Population Survey (CPS) Volunteer and Civic Supplements conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).”  The data collected attests to the volunteer work of people aged 16 and up.  The CNCS formally identifies volunteers as “individuals who performed unpaid volunteer activities through or for an organization at any point during the 12-month period, from September 1 of the prior year through the survey week in September of the survey year.”  The report sheds positive news on the state of volunteerism, indicating that everyday people are helping overcome greater challenges by volunteering.  

In recent years, volunteers have stepped up to the challenge of meeting the needs of disadvantaged community members.  According to the report, volunteers engaged in several popular areas of service to meet their community’s needs. These include: fundraising (26.2%), feeding each other (23.6%), giving labor or transportation (20.3%), and educating students (18.2%).  All this work totals to about 7.9 billion hours of volunteerism.  The numbers are clear. Volunteerism contributes to a greater sense of community.  It creates neighborhoods and cities where people care for one another, help one another, and support one another; this shows in the 41.1% of people who trust most of the people in their neighborhood and the 15.6% who say they trust everyone in their neighborhood. When people help each other and rely on each other, the build trust between each other and feel safer in their surroundings.

A young American volunteers in construction.

The report also found an increase in volunteers in response to the devastating affects of Hurricane Sandy.  Volunteering is the greatest contribution and individual can give to a community because it asks of a person to give of themselves what they find missing in the world around them.  With two out of three people reporting they served by doing favors for neighbors, this builds a correlation between volunteerism and better communities.  In a world where technology can make it easy to isolate oneself from the outside, people have not lost what it means to be human by continuing to volunteer.  

In addition to a greater sense of community, mass volunteerism is also conducive to family life. With almost 90% of volunteers reporting they eat dinner with their family a few or more times a week, close families are fitting with a civically engaged population.  High rates of volunteering are found among parents, with parents being more likely to volunteer than non-parents in the same age group.  Parents are most often volunteering at organizations to help their children such as schools or youth services.  The top five states where parents volunteer include Utah, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and “working mothers are a key part of volunteering parents, as nearly four in 10 (38%) volunteered.”  The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind when contemplating these stats.  Parents, in response to shortages in funding for schools and children’s programs, dedicate themselves and extending their parental commitments to the greater community.  Volunteerism is not only increasing, but it is also increasing for the betterment of children.  Additionally, parents who volunteer will likely influence their children to also volunteer as youth and later in their lives.  

A student volunteering in the community.

By presenting these statistics, CNCS encourages everyday people to take part in their communities so that the rate of volunteerism will continue to rise along with the civic health of the nation.  They encourage you to take part by following the example of the millions of parent volunteers to help youth.  This can be done by donating time, resources, and encouragement to improving the self-esteem and education of young people.  The CNCS also suggests taking part in disaster relief efforts or helping veterans and senior citizens. A list of local volunteer opportunities can be found on NobleHour.

The proof that volunteerism and civic engagement are rising is encouraging.  If volunteering rates are improving, the communities are improving, and individuals are working together toward a greater cause.  For once, one should be encouraged to “follow the crowd” and engage in civic service. By doing so, each individual can contribute to a “culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility” that successfully tackles everyday issues within a community.  Sometimes as a volunteer, it’s easy to wonder if one person can truly make an impact.  Cumulatively, the impact is clear.  People steadfastly working together is making for communities where people trust each other, depend on each other, and befriend each other.  The results are back and the nation’s civic health is doing well.  The numbers are good, and they can only get better.  Keep searching on NobleHour for ways to cultivate and raise volunteerism.  

“Imagine all the people sharing all the world . . . And the world will live as one.” –John Lennon, “Imagine”

Topics: service learning, service, volunteering, experience, community, America, civic engagement, community engagement, parents, CNCS

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