Skip to content

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: A Day On, Not A Day Off

Most of us spend our days off by sleeping in and lounging around the house in our PJs. But on this day, Monday, January 21st, it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In his honor, this holiday is a day of service. There are lots of ways to volunteer your time for MLK Day. Many volunteer opportunities can grow into a year-round commitment with broad sweeping influence. “In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort.” Dr. King believed that service strengthened our relationship with neighbors and broke down prejudices, all of which got us closer to his ideal “Beloved Community.”


This winter I participated in a Ho Ho Ho Fun Run, a 5k run that has no monetary entry fee; all you need to join is donate non-perishable food at the start of the race for a local pantry. Have you looked around your hometown for ways to help others? You can use the Find a Project search online to discover a list of opportunities. Just by listing my zip code, I saw 288 groups needing volunteers, all within 20 miles of my home.

If you can’t decide how to spend your day off, you can keep your brain on with these inspiring stories. Meet young adults who found their way and worked through issues while donating their time to others.

  • My Beautiful Failure by Janet Ruth Young
    While dealing with the recovery of his mentally ill father, high school sophomore Billy volunteers at a suicide prevention line and falls for one of the incoming callers.
  • Tutored by Allison Whittenberg
    College-bound Wendy Anderson, 16, and GED-seeking Hakiam Powell, 17, both African-Americans, meet at an inner-city Philadelphia community center where Wendy volunteers as a tutor.
  • Last Chance by Norah McClintock
    Robyn is scared of dogs, but she agrees to spend her summer working at an animal shelter anyway. Robyn soon discovers that many juvenile offenders also volunteer at the shelter — including Nick Di’Angelo, a boy from Robyn’s past … a boy she hoped never to see again. Nick has a talent for getting into trouble, but after his latest arrest, Robyn suspects that he just might be innocent. And she sets out to prove it.
  • Miles From Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams (which appeared on the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list “Feel Good Reads: Books to write home about” (formerly “Clean Reads”))
    Lacey attempts to build a normal life for herself under the shadow of her mentally unstable mother. The 13-year-old desperately hopes that Angela’s new job as a cashier at Winn Dixie will offer her a fresh start. It will also free Lacey to volunteer at the local library, allowing her to escape her mother’s suffocating neediness.
  • Pinned by Sharon Flake
    Autumn and Adonis feel they have nothing in common, but they will be surprised to learn they have everything in common. For Autumn, who has a learning disability, reading is a painful struggle that makes it hard to focus in class. Adonis is confined to a wheelchair. He has no legs. He can’t walk or dance. But he’s a strong reader who loves books and volunteers at the school library.
  • Makeovers by Marcia by Claudia Mills
    At the beginning of eighth grade, all Marcia can think about is which nail polish to use, how to lose weight, and whether Alex will ask her to the dance. But after giving makeovers in a nursing home for a school project, she begins to appreciate the value of inner beauty.
  • Crush. Candy. Corpse. by Sylvia McNicoll
    Paradise Manor is depressing, but working with the Alzheimer’s patients has a surprising effect on Sunny. Along with Cole, the grandson of one of the residents, she begins to see that the residents don’t have much more choice about their lives than she does. So Sunny does what she can to make the residents happy — even if she has to sometimes break the rules to do it.
  • Sell-Out by Ebony Wilkins (from the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list “Gowns, Greasepaint, and Guitars: Not the same old song and dance.”)
    NaTasha loves her life of affluence in Park Adams, but her grandmother fears she has lost touch with her roots and whisks her off to Harlem. NaTasha meets rough, street-wise girls at a crisis center and finds the courage to hold her own against them.
  • The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
    Fifteen-year-old Georgia learns a great deal about herself and her troubled best friend Riley when they become part of a group of suburban Pennsylvania teenagers that go to Anapra, a squatters’ village in the border town of Juarez, Mexico, to undertake a community construction project.
  • Burn by Heath Gibson
    High school senior William Tucker may not be able to meet his father’s expectations, stop his mother’s drinking, or protect his gay brother, but his heroism as a volunteer firefighter has a big impact on his small Alabama town.
  • How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt (2009 Best Books for Young Adults)
    When her father divorces her beloved stepmother and leaves her without her stepsister, Tess, Harper decides to join a volunteer organization to build houses for tornado victims. Struggling to figure out her role in the mix upon her arrival, Harper is befriended by Teddy, who inspires her to love and trust once again.

This MLK Day I’ll be at work; my day of service will be helping my community as librarian. Resolve this year not to wait for things to get better on their own. Like the John Legend song “If You’re Out There” puts it,

We don’t have to wait for destiny
We should
be the change that we
want to see.

— Laura C. Perenic, currently reading The Goddess Inheritance by Aimee Carter