MLK Day: Engaging in Meaningful Service

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK Day), and while the day is one that is often closed for schools, it is also a day that many use for service. In fact, it’s become something of the norm to celebrate MLK Day with service projects and community-centered events.

In our old community, we didn’t hear much about MLK Day and service. While we got the day off school, we didn’t hear about a lot of community service initiatives on the day. They might have existed, but we weren’t “plugged in” enough to know about them. In our new community, though, there is a much bigger deal made of community service and MLK Day. In fact, the service club at my son’s middle school is holding a an event in which students can come together and assemble lunches for a homeless shelter.


My son is joining in the effort. Over the holiday, he came with me to the store and contributed his own money to help buy items for the homeless shelter, and he will be donating them. He will also help assemble the lunches for two hours in the morning, and I’ve volunteered to help drive the lunches and gathered donations to the shelter.

This sort of meaningful service project is the sort of thing that I am especially interested in encouraging my son to join in with.

More Than Money

While it’s true that most charities would be perfectly happy with a monetary donation, it doesn’t do much to help the giver learn much about compassion and empathy. Meaningful service offers that chance. When we engage in meaningful service, we can actually get to know the people we are helping, be taken out of ourselves, and develop charitable characteristics.

My son has long given 10 percent of his income in tithes to our church congregation. However, he doesn’t see that money at work, and he doesn’t see the practical impact it can have. Nor does simply giving money encourage reflection. Indeed, when you give money, you don’t have to think about others much at all. While I don’t pooh-pooh the generosity of financial donations (I make my own financial donations, of course), I also like the idea of actively being involved.

Taking the time actively serve others requires a different mindset. Getting out there can help you fill different emotional needs that you might not even know you had. Helping others provides you with good feelings, and also helps you feel as though you are doing something worthwhile. Engaging in meaningful service can allow you to make your community a better place, and help you develop sympathy for your fellow humans.

These are the types of experiences I want my son to have. I want him to see that there is worth in going out there and actively serving, and that giving of something more valuable than money — time — is a good way to connect with others and do good in the world. Plus, I want him to see that he really can make a difference for good in the community. You just don’t see that when you give money and forget all about it the next day. A meaningful service project can provide memories for a much longer period of time, and encourage more service down the road.

What do you think? Do you ever try to engage in meaningful service beyond just giving money?

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