Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy Through Community Volunteerism

Feb 1, 2019

As the largest national day of service, MLK Day is valued as a day “on,” not a day off – an opportunity to reflect on the gains we have made, and re-commit ourselves to addressing contemporary issues facing our nation through meaningful civic dialogue and community volunteerism.

Each year on the third Monday in January, millions around the country unite in service to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. And in communities around the country, Points of Light Network affiliates start the year off in the spirit of volunteerism and service, creating hundreds of opportunities for individuals, families, nonprofits and business to work together to build stronger, more resilient communities. This year, we want to shine a light on five affiliate organizations that not only brought together thousands of volunteers on MLK Day of Service, but are also committed to carrying forward Dr. King’s legacy all year round. 

Volunteers craft encouraging messages for public school teachers with Hands On Atlanta.

Hands On Atlanta

Hands On Atlanta provides diverse and unique service opportunities for its community, including arts and culture, youth and family services and hunger and homelessness projects. For MLK Day weekend, Hands On Atlanta brought together nonprofits, individuals, families and schools to honor Dr. King’s legacy and his vision of the “Beloved Community.” The organization engaged more than 2,000 volunteers to serve at 32 projects across metro Atlanta, participating in a diverse and impactful series of events at local nonprofits and schools.

At Truly Living Well, volunteers helped winterize fruit trees, composted and helped clean a pond. With a pop-up letter writing station outside of the King Center, participants joined the Atlanta Legends football team to craft encouraging messages for Atlanta public school teachers. Volunteers helped create a large mural at Frederick Douglass High School; sorted diapers and bundled clothing at Helping Mamas; and helped organize supplies for classes at the Amani Women’s Center, which gives refugee women a place to work and learn.

Jersey Cares youth volunteer creates comfort kits for children in need.

Jersey Cares

As a leader in volunteerism in New Jersey, Jersey Cares envisions a community in which everyone is motivated and empowered to make a positive difference. Since its founding in 1993, the organization has been engaging volunteers in rewarding and effective efforts that address local community needs. Each year on MLK Day of Service, Jersey Cares brings together people of all ages across the state to build a stronger New Jersey and give life to the words spoken by Dr. King, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”

This year, more than 3,000 volunteers engaged in more than 7,000 hours of service. Volunteer projects included revitalizing schools with organization and beautification activities, creating bravery award kits for children of deployed military parents, building birthday-in-a-bag kits for children who spend their birthdays in a shelter, and giggle bags for children in hospitals. 

OneOC volunteers gather to pack thousands of boxes of food to be distributed.


Accelerating nonprofit success is the core mission of OneOc. For more than 60 years, the organization has provided volunteer opportunities, training and consulting for nonprofits across the Orange County, California, area to help them become as efficient and effective as they are passionate about their mission. OneOC celebrated its 20th year of honoring Dr. King on MLK Day of Service, and made it a “day on” through meaningful service opportunities for their community.

This year, OneOC partnered with the Orange County Food Bank in Garden Grove, California, to offer volunteer opportunities for individuals, groups, families and companies to address the critical issue of hunger in the community. More than 1,460 volunteers, including 64 family volunteer groups, participated and packed more than 12,000 boxes of food that will be distributed to low-income community members in need.

Volunteers create cards of encouragement with United Way of Central Carolinas.

United Way of Central Carolinas

When neighbors help neighbors, people from all walks of life can solve the most difficult local problems and build stronger communities. That is the mission of United Way of Central Carolinas, as they focus on education, health and financial stability for every member of their community. Each year, the organization turns this spirit of service into an opportunity to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with family-friendly projects for hundreds of volunteers.

The organization’s MLK Day projects not only deliver valuable assistance to nonprofits, schools and other service providers, but they also allow participants to start the new year by reflecting on the meaning of Dr. King’s life of service. This year, the United Way hosted four project sites around the Charlotte area, where more than 1,000 volunteers came together to answer Dr. King’s call to serve. Volunteers made more than 200 crib blankets for new families in need, created more than 1,000 alphabet and number sets for students, wrote hundreds of encouragement cards for seniors, and created materials geared towards early childhood literacy. Whether it’s the needs of an entire neighborhood or simply the needs one family has tomorrow, United Way of Central Carolinas is dedicated to bringing volunteers together to help their community reach its full potential.

Volunteer Memphis volunteers collect tires to recycle for their Tires to Trails project.

Volunteer Memphis

For more than 40 years, Volunteer Memphis has been connecting people with opportunities to serve their community. Volunteers are at work every day of the year tutoring and mentoring children, helping individuals and families make pathways out of poverty and create environmental conservation opportunities.

For its third annual MLK Day weekend, Volunteer Memphis partnered with more than 30 community groups to facilitate more than 100 projects that united residents in making a difference. Projects included outdoor clean-ups, tree planting, distributions of clothing to homeless populations, and mentorship activities with MENTOR. More than 2,000 volunteers collected more than 100 bags of trash, planted more than 40 trees, put hundreds of much-needed items into the hands of the homeless, and collected thousands of tires that will be recycled into one of the longest porous trails in the world. “We answered Dr. King’s call to serve and make a difference in the lives of all Mid-South residents,” said Andrea Hill, director of Volunteer Memphis. “Volunteer service is a powerful tool that unites us around a common purpose and builds strong communities.”

Madi Donham