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MLK Day can benefit your kids

Family volunteer projects develop citizenship in children.

Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service in 1994 and ever since, the Philadelphia area has participated in a big way. In 2012 more than 100,000 Delaware Valley volunteers participated in the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, making it the largest King Day event in the nation.

Many parents find great value in volunteering with their children. “There are always people that have less than we do, people who really appreciate any help we can give them,” says Elayne Treese, a local parent who for years participated with her children in service projects for the Saint Vincent De Paul Society.  

Their projects included volunteering at soup kitchens, donating old clothes or helping pick up trash. “It’s important for parents to introduce the concept of service to others so that children continue with service throughout their lifetime,” she says.

MLK Day of Service

The 18th Annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service will take place Jan. 21 with projects throughout the area. The event’s organizer, Todd Bernstein, explains, “I believe we should place emphasis on engaging young people and children, even as young as 5.” MLK Day’s main event, will take place at Girard College, 2101 S. College Ave., Phila., with 150 activities ranging from a health expo to a kids’ carnival where children will read stories with their families about Dr. King.

“We work to make MLK Day a springboard to year-round involvement and family engagement,” says Bernstein. “I think that for young people to make a difference, they need to have a sense of responsibility, to be given opportunities to do something meaningful that helps other people.”

Kids who learn to be responsible, active citizens gain “a sense of empowerment and confidence, as well as learning about MLK as someone who made a difference in society,” he adds

Perhaps the greatest benefit from participating in a parent child service project is the quality time you spend together, helping others.  “I always loved when my daughters and I would volunteer together, says Treese, “instead of watching TV or staying inside, we were out serving the community and spending quality time together.”

United Way

An umbrella fundraising organization for many nonprofits, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) also provides a central resource to find volunteer opportunities.  United Way spokesperson Sara Mahmood, describes the organization,

f“For 365 days a year, UWGPSNJ mobilizes community members to donate their time and talent to advance the common good and improve lives.” Moreover, United Way works to ensure children succeed in school, families are financially stable, and communities stay active and healthy. “To achieve all of this,” Mahmood continues, “we rely on the dedication of volunteers of all ages whose energy creates real, lasting impact in this community.”

The  area United Way's  Community Action Center  lists service opportunities year-round, including many family-friendly activities. Its volunteers can help match you and your kids with projects.

One of the greatest benefits of parent-child service projects is sharing the feeling of helping others. “I always loved when my daughters and I volunteered together,” says Treese. “Instead of watching TV or staying inside, we were out serving the community and spending quality time together.”

Megan Schmidt is a MetroKids intern and journalism student at Temple University.

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