“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Meagan Mulligan, Jersey Cares Service Events Manager

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.”

Flamingos and Service

By Michelle R. Dee, Senior Director of External Affairs

Monday morning I was talking with my husband about the fact that it was finally getting cooler in the house in the morning when we woke up.   I was mentioning that it was chilly but not “cold” yet, even though it was cold outside. That is when he told me, “I get up every morning before you and turn the heat on so that the bathroom is warm when you get out of the shower.” All day long, it stuck with me and the more I thought about it, I came to realize that was my very stoic husband’s way of telling me he loved me. The small, almost unnoticeable gestures that make my life better without me knowing it are his little “I love yous,” every day. Don’t get me wrong. He does grand gesturesIMG_3387 as well. Ask any of my friends and co-workers. He got me an “amazing” Kate Spade Flamingo Purse for my birthday. It was epic – and fortunately returnable – and was his giant, silly way of telling me he loved me. But, the just as meaningful “I love yous” are in the little things he does. Getting up before me and turning on the heat so the bathroom isn’t cold, unloading the dishwasher because I hate that part of doing the dishes, making me laugh even when I am absolutely sure I don’t want to.

As we gear up for MLK Day, a day on which federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of volunteer service in honor of Dr. King, I have been reflecting a lot on what service truly means. I was looking for a way to talk about service and the legacy of Dr. King and what service is about and what it means to me.

On my drive home Monday night, in a single moment of clarity, I realized that service for me is a lot like love.   (Stay with me here…)   Service is a combination of flamingo purses and getting up early to turn on the heater. It is the small and the large and the mundane IMG_1846and the grand. It is whatever speaks to you as a person. For some volunteers, it is the rush of the big days of service. They love to serve, surrounded by hundreds of other volunteers and enjoy the feeling of community and accomplishment that comes with that. Other volunteers prefer to serve by leading projects as Project Coordinators on a recurring basis. They work with us on a monthly basis on an issue that holds meaning for them. Other volunteers serve across different opportunities in different capacities. One month they may sort food, at a local food pantry, and the next they may work at a local animal shelter. Bottom line, they serve.

Heading into a week packed with service and reflection, I think the most important thing we can remember about service was said by the man whom we are honoring with service – “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Bottom line, no matter what your skill, your interests and your desires and no matter if you are a “flamingo purse” or a “getting up early to turn on the heat” kind of volunteer, we thank you . If you haven’t figured out what your passion is or what kind of volunteer you are, we can help with that too.

Jersey Cares