Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that acts of service were the great equalizer.  “Everybody can be great,” he noted, “because everybody can serve.”  That’s why Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, once said that “the greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the day by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.”

Since 1986, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law, every third Monday in January is designated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday that celebrates Dr. King’s life and work.  In 1994, Congress named MLK Jr. Day as a national day of service, and since then Americans have often celebrated the day through acts of service, dubbing the holiday “A Day On, Not a Day Off.”  This movement also aligns with President Obama’s national call for all Americans to incorporate volunteerism and public service into their daily lives as a responsibility of citizenship.

This year, on January 21, 2013, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, is encouraging organizations to honor MLK Jr. Day by volunteering for projects that support veterans and military families, educate communities on disaster preparedness, promote education and provide economic opportunities to the underprivileged.  More than 30 national organizations, including the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Habitat for Humanity, are strategic partners with the CNCS and will be holding local events through their chapters in various U.S. cities.

One of the goals of the MLK Jr. Day of Service is to put into action Dr. King’s teachings and philosophy of nonviolence to help solve social problems through service projects that empower people and build bridges in order to strengthen communities.  U.S. cities throughout the country will offer a variety of volunteer opportunities for its citizens to participate in community outreach and corporate philanthropy.

For example, The New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) represents more than 1,200 nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City that feed the over one million low-income, hungry New Yorkers.  This year, NYCCAH volunteers and their partner nonprofits will serve meals, distribute food bags, stock food pantries where the low-income can buy discounted groceries and even clean up homeless shelters to commemorate MLK Jr. Day.  Chicago Cares is sponsoring educational programs at several schools to teach children about Dr. King and his message, in addition to holding a volunteer-driven discussion group about Dr. King at St. Leonard’s House, a halfway house for men recently released from prison.  Boston’s Central Square will continue Dr. King’s message of unity through community service by hosting hundreds of local volunteers engaging in a variety of activities including making scarves and blankets for the homeless, bookmarks for people in literacy programs, Valentine’s Day cards for shut-ins, and sorting cans of food, winter clothing and children’s books for people in need.

On the West Coast, San Francisco based Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, will be holding a family-oriented Day of Service by organizing volunteers to participate in park conservancy in the Golden Gate National Parks.  In the Seattle area, the American Red Cross will bring together local volunteers for a day of disaster preparedness and education by canvassing throughout neighborhoods, talking with residents and leaving behind bilingual fire safety information.  And in the spirit of Dr. King’s vision of a Beloved Community, a place where people come together to make their community a better place to live, Los Angeles area citizens and corporate volunteers will participate in a schools beautification project by revitalizing the campuses of various local schools.

Some national businesses like Allstate Insurance will be holding their company-wide day of service on MLK Jr. Day, where employees on every level and in every position throughout the U.S. are encouraged to volunteer for any cause in their local community.  Target Corporation’s employee volunteer program will take part in the MLK Day Jr. Day festivities by participating in 30 unique project sites throughout Chicago, where employee volunteers will host multicultural fairs for students to educate them on diversity, sort donations at homeless shelters, spend time with senior citizens and create artwork to brighten learning environments.  Washington D.C. Target employees will join their fellow corporate volunteers in this day of service by helping the CNCS and Points of Light assemble and fill assorted items in toiletry kits for active U.S. military personnel, wounded warriors, veterans and first responders.

For nonprofits and community groups, MLK Jr. Day is an opportunity to introduce their causes to new volunteers and find potential funders and partners who can support their organizations throughout the year.  Meanwhile, businesses recognize that contributing on this Day of Service is the ultimate demonstration of corporate social responsibility.  Not only will participating in this day promote employee engagement, companies will also give their employees a rare benefit…an opportunity to feel great about themselves.

To participate in MLK Jr. Day activities, companies and their employees can find volunteer opportunities through Causecast’s Community Impact Platform.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”  On MLK Jr. Day, Dr. King’s dream of a nation of freedom and justice for all becomes every American’s dream as people throughout the country come together to answer his question.