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Whatcha Doin’ Tomorrow? National Day of Service

mlk2005_nolineTomorrow, Saturday, January 19, is our National Day of Service. every year it coincides with Martin Luther King Weekend, when people have an extra day off, so they can perhaps put a little focus outside themselves. There are events in every state, and probably most cities, so it should be easy to find a volunteer possibility somewhere near you. Whether you serve at a soup kitchen, clean up a park, help organize an upcoming fundraiser, rehabilitate a playground, plant a tree, walk shelter dogs, shovel out the stalls at a therapeutic horse facility, work a phone tree, run a race for charity, or whatever kind of volunteering most floats your boat–tomorrow you will be in good company. It’s a nationwide thing. Thousands of events will host hordes of volunteers (but we still need you!)

If you need some inspiration, or direct information about organizations in need of good volunteers like yourself, search here:


United We Serve

National Day of Service

MLK Day of Service

9/11 Remember With Action


Photo: NASA–satellite image of smoke plume rising from Manhattan on September 11, 2001

We all have our 9/11 stories, especially those of us in NYC or DC or Pennsylvania at the time, or those with loved ones who were in the towers or were rescuers. New York was a place like no other in the days that followed–more compassion and care amid the shock than I’ve ever known before or since among a society of strangers bound by an experience. There was a willingness to do, just do, for others you saw everywhere. I don’t know if our nation’s journey toward selflessness would have jumped ahead so dramatically without the tragedy (yes, we still have so far to go)–I hope to never have that tested as a theory in the future–but it did open up a conversation about how to be there and support one another that showed us all at our best. It was not, of course, limited to the United States–I traveled internationally ten days later–on practically empty flights, and everywhere we went in Norway, we were told, again and again, some version of: “We are all American in our hearts, and we are all with you.”

That spirit of service is one of the bright patches from that darkness eleven years ago–and now, September 11 is known as the National Day of Service and Remembrance. If you visit the nation’s websites at, you can find volunteer projects near your home where you can make a commitment and make a difference in the future. Make something change because YOU were THERE (and visit the site throughout the year when it is time to do some giving work).

The website for also provides direct place-based information for how you can remember through positive action. Sign up for a project now.

If you are a New Yorker, or live in the area, and would like to actually volunteer at the 9/11 Memorial museum/Ground Zero site, find out how to apply here. It is revered and hallowed ground for so many, and just a stop on a double-decker tourist bus and photo opp for others, but it is a part of history, and being a steward for that would be incredibly powerful (and a big emotional responsibility). You would be doing things like supporting staff, escorting large groups or visitors with special needs, helping people find specific names on the monument, and more–handing out a lot of tissue, I expect.


Charitable Donations Drop

A new report released today, The Philanthropy 400, which is a ranking of the nation’s 400 biggest charities, shows that charitable giving in the United States dropped 11% last year—the biggest decline in twenty years.

Believe me, I understand, but here’s the wonderful way to bring balance to that downward trend.



Volunteer and make a commitment to your, or any, community. Here are just a couple links to get you started–you can find opportunities close to home and really make a difference with an afternoon (or morning, or evening, or weekend, or weekday, or…)

September 11-National Day of Service and Remembrance

Last year, on the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the White House declared that date as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. In honor of the heroism and selflessness of first responders, the passengers of Flight 93 who sacrificed their own lives trying to save others, and the men and women who subsequently joined the armed services because of that event, Americans unite in solidarity and compassion (and try to ignore the droning noise from willfully ignorant pretend clergy in Florida who want to burn holy texts).

The declaration of this day as one of service is intended for all of us to honor those who lost and risked their lives that bright sunny morning by being of service to others and our communities. Any thoughts as to what your service commitment will be tomorrow? First Lady Michelle Obama, for instance, is volunteering with Mission Serve, an initiative bringing together civilian and military communities through service and volunteerism. “Working alongside active duty members of the military, wounded warriors, veterans, military spouses, and students,” she said, “I’ll help renovate a community center at a retirement community for veterans in McLean, Virginia.”

To find a service volunteer project near you, plug your zip code or volunteer interests into the search engine at and a listing of organizations needing volunteers tomorrow, and onward, will make it an easy step to making a difference.

Americans With Disabilities Act and Volunteering

Today, July 26, is the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates access to places of business.

What a great day to make sure that your own actions and attitudes (and those of your family) embrace all equally. It is also a great day to look into volunteering opportunities that give you a chance to work with the disabled. Here are a few options to get you started on your search:

Here is the volunteer opportunities page for Disabled American Veterans.

Match-Up pairs volunteers with seniors with disabilities.

Work and Volunteer Abroad has a whole category of international volunteering with those with disabilities.

Of course, there’s a section in my Frommer’s book, 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference, dedicated to volunteering with people with disabilities.

The Adaptive Sports Center is one of many organizations around the country and world dedicated (with the help of hard working volunteers) to improving activity opportunities for the differently-abled.

Volunteer Match lets you type in your zip code to find volunteer opportunities near you—use the keyword “disabled” or similar to refine your search. Then cross-reference and compare those results with the ones you get from United We Serve (

Volunteer with Guide Dogs for the Blind or one of the many other organizations that trains service animals.

Don’t stop here–let this tiny scratching of the surface be a springboard. There is something near to your location (at home and/or while on vacation) and there is also something near to your heart. Go out and find it.

Summertime Service for Youth

I’ve seen a whole mess of caps and gowns around town today, so Memorial Day, Summer Solstice, all of that seems secondary to the real start of summer—School is Out!

First Lady Michelle Obama helps fill care packages during a Congressional Service event at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Washington, D.C. June 8, 2010. (by Lawrence Jackson)

Ahh the dreamy days of 3 months of unplanned time. When I was a kid it meant a ton of bike riding, skateboarding, playing tag under the streetlights, and certainly getting up to our fair share of no good…but it didn’t mean an inordinate amount of time in front of a TV (or more likely today, computer). We cherished being outside. Not so much today’s kids. The lure of video games, Wii, TV reruns, and facebook are all far too strong to get them out the front door. In a White House press brief, “Research shows that many of our young people suffer learning set-backs and develop unhealthy eating habits during the summer break. Children can lose more than two months’ progress in reading achievement over the summer, and inactivity during the summer months can cause children to gain weight three times faster than during the school year.”

To counteract the ennui and inaction, First Lady Michelle Obama is extending her First Lady Platform against childhood obesity (Let’s Move) and spearheading “United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move” Here are some ways for you to get involved, motivating your own family and others. You could

  • Build or rehab a playground
  • Clear a walking trail
  • Sponsor a sports tournament or camp for kids
  • Support a child to meet the President’s active lifestyle challenge
  • Conduct summer feeding program outreach
  • Create a community garden
  • Glean a local farm and donate the fresh produce
  • Read to kids
  • Organize a book drive
  • Organize a back to school supplies drive

This summertime energizing movement is a joint project of the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Departments of Education, Agriculture, Interior, and Health and Human Services, as well as the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences…and US.

A little Wii, a pinch of facebooking and keeping in touch, a daily dose of reading this blog…it needn’t add up to an entire summer day. Fill the rest of the time, and make sure there is ample food/nutrition and play opportunities for families that cannot supply enough on their own. When the school bell rings in September, you’ll look back at this summer with satisfaction, knowing you did something more than score a personal best on Super Mario Brothers.