By Richard Eisenberg
In honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service on Monday, consider for a moment these two quotes from the esteemed civil rights leader:
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" and "Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve."
With those words in mind - and 2014 marking the 20th anniversary of the law creating this day of service - I hope you'll look for a way to do something for others on MLK Day and volunteer. Be great. (Some nonprofits have Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteering projects this weekend and on Tuesday, too.)
Volunteer to Commemorate Dr. King
"Volunteering as a way to commemorate the efforts of Dr. King is probably a better way to honor him than going to a sale at your neighborhood department store," says Delores Morton, president of programs at Points of Light, the world's largest organization dedicated to volunteer service.
It's easier than ever to find places that could use your help. And it's not too late. Simply go online to sites that let you find and sign up for volunteering opportunities by your Zip Code and particular interests.
For example, Points of Light has created a special Volunteer Opportunity Search tool just for Martin Luther King Day. "We're trying to open the door as wide as possible to help people volunteer," says Morton.
The VolunteerMatch site, which connects nonprofits with people who want to work for them, has a similar feature. (Next Avenue has a link to VolunteerMatch's general tool to find opportunities and lets you search specifically for ones well-suited to people 55 and older.)
A Day On, Not a Day Off
Or you could visit MLKDay.gov, the website of the U.S. government's Corporation for National & Community Service, and use its Find a Project tool. This agency urges people to support MLK Day of Service "as a day on, not a day off" - which I think is a pretty great description.
Any type of volunteering would be welcome, of course. But Morton says Points of Light encourages people to honor King by assisting the poor, the homeless and the hungry.
Her group and the Corporation for National & Community Service awarded $125,000 to support Martin Luther King, Jr. Day projects in eight U.S. locations, where 175,000 volunteers will join up to feed the hungry, clean up parks and schools and more.
Daily Point of Light Awards
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Points of Light will also give out its 5,135th Daily Point of Light Award - an honor given to everyday people creating change through volunteering. Christine Wright and her grown daughter, Melanie Stevenson, of the Birmingham, Ala., area, will receive the award jointly for bringing their family to volunteer every MLK Day for more than a decade.
This year, they'll be helping Habitat for Humanity build a house that'll provide a permanent home for a Birmingham family displaced by a tornado in 2011. And they'll work on a landscaping project at a Birmingham elementary school.
Which reminds me: If you have a friend, neighbor, relative or work colleague whose volunteering work is worth honoring, nominate him or her for a Daily Point of Light Award on the Points of Light site. "It's not about how many hours of service you conducted or how long you've served or how big the impact," says Morton. "It's about celebrating people doing great work. Points of Light is counting on people to raise up those stories."
Upon accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, George H.W. Bush famously said: "Any definition of a successful life must include serving others." Monday will be a good day to help make your life - and perhaps the lives of many others - a success.