On July 18, Nelson Mandela International Day, the United Nations honor Mandela’s appeal to a younger generation to “make of this world a better place” as we donate our time and attention to our communities. Similarly in the United States, Martin Luther King (MLK) Day on January 15 is a call for American youth to serve their communities — and they do, by the tens of thousands.
Why is this national day of service so incredibly popular among young people in the United States? In part, it is because of King’s own words that “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
Like Mandela’s call to service, King’s message still resonates with American youth today.
We asked members of the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS), the U.S. federal agency responsible for leading MLK Day, how they recruit and inspire American youths to serve their communities on this day. Here’s what they replied:
- We know that people are more likely to volunteer when they’re asked.
- We tell people that that if you have a passion, volunteering can find you a purpose. This is especially true for young people.
- Volunteer activities provide an opportunity for young people to engage in issues that matter to them, something that can be a rare occurrence in those tumultuous years.
- The MLK Day of Service has been — and continues to be — a moment of service-learning throughout the country and this event introduces many to the concept of service. The students who first learned about the day of service, which is nearly 25 years old, now have children of their own and are passing on that lesson.
The CNCS youth recruitments efforts on MLK Day are an excellent model for Mandela Day and other community service organizations. American schoolchildren from the earliest grades are all encouraged to give back to their communities on MLK Day. To aid that effort, the CNCS provides free MLK lesson plans to U.S. elementary school teachers on their website.
The CNCS also makes it easy for American youth to download and share promotional materials about MLK Day in the way that resonates best with this age group — through social media.