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An MLK Day Experience to Not be Forgotten

by Sarah D.

I am currently serving my second AmeriCorps term with Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) in Washington, DC. YSOP coordinates opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful service in Washington, DC and New York City.

During my first term of service I helped execute a major event in honor of Martin Luther King Day of service. MLK Day 2009 in Washington, DC truly illustrated the importance of service and the impact thousands of volunteers can generate within their community. YSOP integrated our Workcamp program into the festivities by providing volunteer opportunities to over 80 youth and adult volunteers.

This extraordinary day of service will always resonate in my mind as one of the most meaningful experiences from my time as an AmeriCorps member. The laughter shared, food and toiletry bags prepared, and friendships formed throughout the day, are testament to the importance of giving back to your community, regardless of your resources.

The guests who came to our lunch because they were experiencing hunger and homelessness and the volunteers who came to YSOP from across the nation, shared mutual respect for one another and stories of excitement surrounding the inauguration and service.

To prepare for MLK Day, I worked alongside my coworker, collecting supplies for toiletry and snack bags, and preparing the menu for our community meal. Due to the incredible number of volunteers looking for projects in Washington, DC on MLK Day, we faced a variety of challenges to create the best possible service experience for our volunteers and guests.

Two weeks prior to the actual holiday, our phone rang constantly with groups calling to participate in the community meal. Since our organization is small and space is limited, initially we could only take up to 50 volunteers.

YSOP has a wonderful community meal program in which volunteers cook, serve, and share in a meal with the hungry and homeless. Our youth volunteers have an opportunity to sit down with guests and learn about the challenges facing the homeless community, while putting a human face to homelessness.

YSOP was asked to host a second large group, consisting of 40 women who were part of the organization Women for Obama. This additional group brought a new challenge to our already packed day; however we were able to integrate the women into our program through careful planning and community support.

When we were first approached to take the additional participants, I was unsure that we could accommodate such a large group and provide meaningful service for each volunteer. At the same time, this challenge was an exciting test for me to come up with a comprehensive plan to incorporate them in our service day.

Throughout the year, I have worked with a woman who frequently donates toiletry items to YSOP. Through her contributions, I was able to pioneer a second event for the 40 women to partake in. The women prepared bags of food and toiletry items to be given out at our lunch and to local organizations that empower women who are homeless. Additionally, the women created greeting cards for the bags to further support the individuals they served.

Between our service lunch and food and toiletry bags, we served over 150 individuals. Before we begin our meal programs, YSOP staff asks everyone to stand in a circle around the dining room to celebrate being together at our community meal. While standing in the circle comprised of men and women from every background imaginable on MLK Day, I could only smile and think about the hope I have for our nation.

I truly feel that everyone can make a difference and being part of MLK Day and the YSOP community that day, made me feel as though I had made a difference in the lives of the individuals in the circle. This service experience impacted everyone who participated; it was an incredible event that I feel proud to have been a part.

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