Monday, January 16, 2006

Americans Celebrate King Holiday

WASHINGTON, D.C. – For hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country, January 16 is a day "on" for service -- not just a day off from work -- as they honor Martin Luther King Jr. by engaging in service activities for their communities and neighbors. Citizens in every state will join together to tutor children, build homes, clean parks, paint classrooms, deliver meals, and perform countless other acts of service.

Participation in the day of service has grown steadily since 1994 when Congress passed legislation encouraging Americans to celebrate the King Holiday as a day of service reflecting Dr. King’s life and teachings.

"We encourage all Americans to make the King Holiday a day on, not a day off," said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. "Dr. King once said, 'Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.' The King Holiday affords the ideal opportunity to remember the legacy of a great American by being one yourself."

Eisner will join HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and 500 volunteers at a Washington D.C. high school in a project that is providing services to more than 170 homeless families. These services, called "Bus Stops" in memory of Rosa Parks, include continuing education, professional development, financial independence, and health. Additionally, volunteers will assemble care packets, paint murals, sort donations, and plan activities for children and youth.

Other Corporation staff who will be serving on King Day include Chief Operating Officer Liz Seale, who will be in Philadelphia building a home that will be delivered to a hurricane-affected family in the Gulf; AmeriCorps*VISTA director Jean Whaley, who will be in Charleston, SC, with the Sea Island Habitat for Humanity, and Senior Corps director Tess Scannell, who will serve with an RSVP program in Washington, D.C., distributing clothing to local homeless shelters.

Last November, the Corporation awarded $500,000 in grants to support six national and state-wide organizations, which in turn are supporting King Day service projects across the country. A full list of these grants can be found at www.mlkday.org, along with an online listing of more than 560 projects taking place across the United States. The Corporation has also encouraged all of its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs to undertake service projects in their local area.

Among the hundreds of King Day service projects scheduled over the holiday weekend:

Philadelphia, which hosts the largest King Day of Service event in the country, expects a record 50,000 volunteers to participate this year. Martin Luther King High School in the Germantown section of Philadelphia will host the largest of more than 600 service projects organized throughout the tri-state region. Mayor Street, other elected and school district officials, Corporation COO Liz Seale, community leaders, students and others will build a "House in a Box" through Habitat for Humanity and a playground playhouse through the YouthBuild AmeriCorps program.

Hands on Atlanta and the King Center are sponsoring the 13th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Summit, with 3,500 volunteers expected to take part. The projects include refurbishing used and donated computers for use in schools and agencies, cleaning and painting the Adams Park Community Center, and visiting senior residents at AG Rhodes Wesley Woods. Hands on Atlanta’s subgrant is through the Hands on Network.

St. James A.M.E. Church in Memphis, TN, is sponsoring activities focusing on youth and crime prevention. One project is "Pen or Pencil: Freedom of Choice," an initiative of the National Alliance of Faith and Justice. "Pen" stands for penitentiary, while "Pencil" refers to education; the initiative is geared to helping young people make the choice for education over a life of crime. Representatives of Nile, a group focusing on mentoring parents of delinquent children, and the U.S. Dream Academy, which works with youth, will be there to recruit volunteer mentors for their programs.

The City of Casa Grande, AZ, is co-sponsoring an educational event focusing on King’s teachings. Other sponsors are the County Juvenile Probation Dept., the Interfaith Council, and the Casa Grande School District. The event will also include a service project at the city’s recreation center. The project is supported by the Arizona Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism, which received a grant from the Corporation.

The Youth Conservation Corps based in Waukegan, IL, is signing up volunteers to participate in three service projects: sorting food for distribution at the Northern Illinois Food Bank; painting and cleaning at PADS, a homeless shelter; and general maintenance and repairs at Staben House, a women’s shelter. Between 40 and 60 volunteers are expected to attend the event, which received a subgrant from the National Association of Service Conservation Corps.

The third year of King Day events sponsored by Louisville Service for Peace in Louisville, KY, is expected to draw 2,000 volunteers to more than 30 projects; two years ago, 100 volunteers participated. Employees of Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot, among others, will undertake painting and cleaning projects at the Shawnee and Sun Valley Community Centers and the Russell Senior Center. The Interfaith Youth Corps, a group of about 70 high school and college students, will participate in a dialogue examining King’s life from different faith perspectives. The Louisville group received a subgrant from the national Service for Peace organization.

The Urban League of Greater Madison, in Wisconsin, will host the 8th Annual Achieving Greatness Through Service Youth Service Day. The 400 middle and high school students expected to attend will be asked to pledge at least 100 service hours in 2006. The President's Volunteer Service Award will be presented by U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin to students who completed 100 or more hours of service in 2005. Afternoon service projects will include food drives, reading to children, and collecting and distributing books. The Points of Life Foundation awarded a subgrant to the Urban League of Great Madison to support these activities.

The Corporation for National and Community Service provides opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve their communities and country through three main programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. For more information, visit www.nationalservice.gov.

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