IMPACT
03/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Martin Luther King Day: Volunteering And Giving Back

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has long been celebrated as one of the most influential voices in the American Civil Rights Movement. His unyielding commitment to racial equality ultimately cost him his life, which was cut short before he could witness the impact he would make for civil rights of all kinds. In 1986, the Federal government (with the help of some key supporters like Stevie Wonder) declared the third Monday of January a day of remembrance to honor Dr. King's accomplishments and sacrifices.

With the passage of the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act, Martin Luther King day was transformed from a day of remembrance into a day of service. In 2009, President-Elect Barack Obama reinvigorated the holiday by rallying Americans in unprecedented numbers to volunteer for King Day of Service, which fell the day before Obama's inauguration. Dr King often said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?" So, what are you doing? Instead of staying home and taking that day off, make it a day ON.

On January 18, join millions of Americans in honoring Dr. King's legacy by committing to a day of service. You can get a whole crew together or find a way to serve on your own. Here's a few ideas to get you started.

1. Give your community a landscaping makeover.

Grab a group of friends and some garden tools and go to work. Check with your local parks and recreation department for information on which community parks might need your assistance. Or contact your Keep America Beautiful affiliate to find a way to volunteer in your area.

Communities across the nation have beautification projects going on. Here are a few examples:

• If you live in the Los Angeles area, check out California Greenwork's volunteer project to help plant trees on Martin Luther King Blvd as part of the Martin Luther King Blvd Beautification Project.
• In Venice Beach, you can show up with nothing but your raw talent and join the Boys And Girls Club to paint a mural at the James A. Collins Youth Center.
• In Seattle, you can join the Nature Consortium's environmental restoration project. If you've got a green thumb, this one's for you.

If you have trouble finding a volunteer opportunity near you, create your own! Volunteer to clean up trash at a local school or community center. Help local seniors manage their yard or garage. It doesn't matter how big or small the project is, every little bit makes a difference.

2. Volunteer at your local food bank.

The effects of the economic recession - high unemployment rates, rampant home foreclosures - have forced one in five Americans to rely on food assistance programs for basic food needs. Use your Day ON to help support families in need by giving your time at a local food bank. For information on where to volunteer, check out Feeding America's food bank finder or contact your local United Way to see what food projects they are hosting for MLK Service Day. You can also search for food banks and soup kitchens through this national registry.

3. Spend the day with kids.

Investing your time with a child leaves can have a positive impact on their future. Take a few hours of your Day ON to volunteer with a local children's organization or use MLK Service Day as a starting point to become a mentor.

• Contact local schools to see if they need volunteers for after-school programs.
• Check with your local library about reading programs taking place on MLK Day.
• Get involved in a reading program like Reading Is Fundamental. Or check out a local effort in your community, like, Reading To Kids, in Los Angeles.
• Check out WriteGirl, an organization working to help girls develop creative writing skills through mentorship. The sixth month mentorship kicks off over Martin Luther King Day weekend in Los Angeles.
• Contact your local Boys and Girls Club for opportunities to serve with kids in your community.

Looking to make a regular commitment to read to kids in 2010? Check out Serve.org's Read With Children Toolbox to get started on your own effort to promote child literacy.

4. Use Your tech skills.

Serve.gov is calling on all web pros to be part of their 2010 MLK Day Technology Challenge. The plan is to connect schools with technology gurus who are willing to volunteer their time and talent to give back to schools that need it. If technology is your calling, this is the project for you. You can check out the full list of service ideas at Serve.gov: MLK Day Technology Challenge.

Here's a few examples:

• Create a Facebook Fan Page for your school or for your Parent-Teacher's Association, Student Government Association or Alumni Association.
• Create a Twitter account for school announcements (snow days, upcoming bake sales, sports games, special announcements) or other student-centered topics.
• Develop an online mentoring program that pairs high school students and elementary school students.
• Create an online forum for students to ask tech questions.

5. Join an existing project.

If the pressure of planning something on your own or making more than a one-day commitment is worrying you, no need to fret! There are thousands of existing projects already scheduled to take place across the country. You can easily hop on board with what someone else is already doing.

If you're in Boston, go help out at the Habitat For Humanity Re-Store. There is a similar opportunity in Salem, Connecticut. If you're in New York, join the NYC Coalition Against Hunger for the Martin Luther King Jr. Serv-a-thon. Idealist.org has a huge list of service options available all over the country. To find lists of local service events in your area check out:

• The Corporation For National and Community Services
Create The Good
Volunteer Match

6. Don't stop with MLK Day.

Make community service part of your routine. Whether you have a few minutes, a few hours, or an entire day, you can use your free time to make a difference around you. Plus, it's never too early to start planning big for next year's MLK Day of Service. Begin brainstorming now on ways you can build your own Service Project for 2011. Serve.gov has some great ideas on how to get started and what you will need to pull off a successful and impacting service event.

Get out there and enjoy your much deserved holiday ON!

This article was originally posted on Causecast.org