By Meagan Mulligan, Jersey Cares Service Events Manager
Who would have thought that in 2019, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of love and acceptance for our fellow man would be as relevant as ever before? Even in our modern world, it can be easy to feel discouraged and question how far we have really come as a society. Looking around the room during this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, I paused to note that although we have far to go, Dr. King’s dreams were alive and well in the cafeteria of 13th Avenue School. Individuals of different ages and backgrounds, working together for a common goal – giving back to our neighbors in need.
Single-digit temperatures couldn’t stop our dedicated volunteers from venturing out of their warm beds to serve their communities. At 10 project locations across New Jersey, 1,380 volunteers came together at schools and senior care facilities to honor Dr. King’s legacy. Taking their time, and with strict attention to detail, volunteers exemplified what it means to be the good you wish to see. They added extra polka-dots to super hero capes in the hopes of brightening the day of a child in the hospital, mixed paint for school-spirited wall murals to be the perfect shade of blue, and went out of their way to say hello to a senior member of the community. Making over 1,600 kits, volunteers ages 4 and up created STEM kits to inspire the next generation of scientists, hygiene kits and pillows to welcome individuals spending their first night in a shelter, blankets to keep seniors warm during the blistering winter months, and backpacks filled with necessary supplies and well wishes for veteran’s struggling to get back on their feet after returning home. The true impact made throughout the day is immeasurable.
Witnessing volunteers as young as 4 and as old as “not a day over 20” work hand-in-hand is something we don’t often get to see. These individuals are in such different seasons of their lives and yet here they are, in the same room, with the same kindness in their hearts. I find children to provide so much perspective into the impact of our actions, with eager eyes and a growing spirit they are happy to help those they have never even met. It’s magic to see the pure compassion, that needs no nurturing to exist, seep onto paper as they decorate a card for someone less fortunate. I truly think volunteering brings out the best in people of all ages. Individuals who may often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday communication are able to put their phones away and think about those who may not have those luxuries. The atmosphere created is one unmatched in other areas of our lives.
I consider myself lucky to be a part of an organization that allows me to see how much good there still is in our community. Thank you to our volunteers who shine a warm light on society’s redeeming qualities and for reminding me in the words of Dr. King that “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”