3 minute readVolunteers

#MLKDay: How You Can Serve with a Purpose

“Everyone can be great because everybody can serve.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Red Cross Youth Volunteer Maddie Adams walking 1,800 steps on MLK Day of Service.

Every year, communities across the country take time to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy through a day of service. “A day on, not off” to serve others in ways that will make a difference and bring communities and neighborhoods together.

Due to COVID-19, many organizations have had to cancel their large, public Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service events, which has left many people wondering how they can honor the day. If you are looking to go out and make an impact on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, consider serving with a purpose in a safe and engaged way through any of these ideas:

Walk 1,800 steps in your community.

Your first step toward serving is always the most important. In the case of Dr. King, his first 1,800 steps toward the Lincoln Memorial served as a catalyst toward the everlasting “I Have a Dream” speech. Walk 1,800 steps in your community to commemorate the day, and use the time to think of ways you can get involved with local programs and services for the entire year.

Red Cross volunteers, like Maddie Adams from our Eastern New York Region, are participating in a memorial walk to promote diversity, kindness and equity.

“I feel it is my responsibility to lead by example and hope to encourage others to join in,” Maddie said.

Donate blood.

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood and YOU can make that lifesaving difference. Since COVID-19, blood donation centers have put safety protocols in place such as requiring face masks, checking temperatures, spacing beds six feet apart, and routinely wiping down donor-touched areas.

Giving blood is an easy way to serve your community and impact the lives of countless families, like Red Crosser Melissa, whose mother was a two-time kidney transplant recipient and needed blood transfusions to treat her illness.

“My mom was diagnosed with kidney failure and relied on blood transfusions to help treat her illness,” Melissa said. “I remember seeing the Red Cross logo on the blood bag. I thought, ‘Wow. My mom is getting help from an organization I work for.’ When I saw that, a pride welled up inside of me. The transfusions helped save her life at that moment.”

Make an appointment to donate blood to help someone who desperately needs it.

Volunteer your time at a local organization.

Whether your passion is to advocate for the health and wellness of children, protect animals or provide aid to families impacted by disasters, dedicate your spare time to learning more about these organizations and how you can serve the community in that capacity.

There are many significant benefits to volunteering, like finding a sense of purpose, increasing self-confidence, lowering stress and connecting to others. Take it from Red Cross Volunteer Kallie Bunnell from the Utah/Nevada Region, who finds purpose in serving and believes it is the most powerful thing you can do.

“I would say that no matter who you are, you have the power to impact the lives around you through service,” Kallie said. “I have learned that service is using the gifts you already possess to improve others’ current circumstances. As a young woman in today’s society, it is so empowering to me to be involved with humanitarian efforts because it is the most influential and powerful thing you can do.”

Contribute to a cause you care about in your community by signing up to volunteer. To learn about our most-needed positions at the American Red Cross, click here.

Read a book to refresh your memory of history.

If you can’t find time to go out and volunteer, brush up on the history of King and his life work. There are countless published articles, novels and even children’s books to help readers understand what occurred in history and how Dr. King was a big part of it. Dr. King devoted his life to equality and justice for all, and reading about him is one way we can honor him.

A great way you can learn more about King is by reading about him from the perspective of others. Many of his family members wrote books about their experiences and what it was like to live during the Civil Rights Movement. Let their stories allow you to reflect on history and inspire you to serve your community in a way that makes an impact.

Get started here.

Host a virtual discussion.

Discussing the issues you care about with loved ones can be a great first step to serving with a purpose. Consider gathering your family and friends for a virtual discussion on community organizations you care about and ways you can lend your support. Think of ways you can engage with those organizations and support their services that will benefit others throughout the year or well into the future.

These discussions can also occur one-on-one with children. Red Crosser Kamalah Fletcher from the South Florida Region plans on ending Martin Luther King Jr. Day by talking about King with her niece.

“As an AmeriCorps Alumna, we have always made it a day ON, rather than a day OFF,” Kamalah said.  “This year, I will be doing the great work of connecting the American Red Cross more deeply to the communities we serve. When the day ON is over, my niece and I will be dedicating a portion of her bedtime story time to talking about Dr. King and his legacy.”

Today and every day we should honor Dr. King and his legacy by taking action in our community. He believed everyone, “can be great, because anybody can serve.” Whether you decide to give your time today or in the future, make sure to spread the word, inspire others, and keep the dialogue going in honor of King.