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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is meant to be a day on, not off

Guest Post by Sarah Murphy, GSWNY Girl Experience Specialist and AmeriCorps VISTA

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sarah and a friend at an MLK Day of Service event in 2018 with the Flower City Habitat for Humanity

If you’re anything like me, you probably to look forward to the third Monday in January as a much-needed day off as you struggle to get back in the swing of things after the holidays. But you might not know that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is actually a federally recognized day of service—meant to be not a day off, as most of us treat it, but a day on.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first observed in 1986, but it didn’t become an official day of service until 1994, when Congressmen Harris Wofford and John Lewis challenged Americans to turn the holiday into a day of citizen action. In the 26 years since, coordinated acts of service on MLK Day have inched us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”: a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love for one’s fellow human beings of all backgrounds.

Since 1994, the MLK Day of Service has been coordinated by AmeriCorps, which also runs enormous volunteer programs meant to help others and meet critical needs in communities across the country. AmeriCorps members dedicate about a year of full-time volunteer service to organizations all over the United States, and this year I’m one of them—and I’m lucky to be volunteering right here at GSWNY!

Sarah’s VISTA cohort

I was a Girl Scout myself for 11 years, so I know how dedicated my Girl Scout sisters are to making the world a better place. I also know that Girl Scouts across our council have been instrumental in supporting our community during COVID-19. From donating cookies last spring to making masks for frontline workers to getting out the vote this past fall, you have made a HUGE difference, and I’m cheering you on to keep going!

Below are some ways that you, your troop, and your family can get involved and help your community on MLK Day, which will be observed on Monday, January 18, 2021. To keep yourself and your community safe during COVID-19, we encourage you to minimize your contact with others.

  • Send cards or pictures to people in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and/or hospitals to brighten people’s days and let them know that someone is thinking of them. (Note: Check to see if the organization will accept a physical copy by mail or if you should scan and email them copies of these instead.)
  • Send a thank-you note or an encouraging message to a front-line worker such as a healthcare provider, a teacher, a food bank volunteer, or a firefighter. (Note: Check to see if the organization will accept a physical copy by mail or if you should scan and email them copies of these instead.)
  • Donate food to a local food cupboard. Search for an organization near you, find out what kinds of food they need, and work with an adult to gather food and organize a contactless drop-off.
  • Call a friend, family member, or neighbor who might be isolated during this time and lift their spirits with a game or a virtual scavenger hunt.
  • Visit AmeriCorps’ MLK Day of Service website at mlkday.gov and search for additional service opportunities near you! The site lists both remote and in-person opportunities, so please serve safely. If you choose to serve in person, wear a mask and maintain social distancing!

I can’t wait to see what Girl Scouts across our council do to make the world a better place on January 18. Have fun, stay safe, and remember that MLK Day isn’t your only opportunity to help your community—you can serve any and every day of the year!

Are you doing community service in-person or at home on Martin Luther King Jr. Day? We’d love to share your photos on social media! Please submit your photos (or videos) to communications@gswny.org and include the names of anyone in the photos, troop number, where the community service is taking place or who it is for, and an explanation of what is happening in the photos.

PHOTO GUIDELINES: Please remember that for in-person activities we currently are only accepting photos following our COVID media guidelines. Due to the fact that it is often impossible to tell who is in the same household visually, we are only accepting photos that show all girls and adults properly wearing masks and social distancing, even if they are related. We understand this limits the number and types of photos that can be submitted and will be accepted for posting, but due to the number of questions we have received about what is being depicted in photos we can currently only use photos clearly following the above rules. Photos must also respect the COVID guidelines relevant to the local area of the council (if your area of council is not allowing in-person meetings, we are unable to use photos of in-person activities even if they were not done as a part of a Girl Scout activity). We apologize for any confusion and for the limitations this imposes, but we want to make sure we are clear about the safety of our members. We reserve the right not to post any photos for any reason.

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