Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Chelsea Clinton, left, speaks with people at a service summit Saturday on the National Mall in Washington. / Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images


ARLINGTON, Va. - Ophelia Scott, 83, didn't hesitate to get involved in this weekend's national service initiatives.

Scott slowly but steadily went door to door Saturday with dozens of others to talk about getting prepared for natural disasters and other emergencies, part of a local government service project.

"To get out and volunteer and to help the community is rewarding for me even at my age," said Scott, a retired teacher. "I was born during the Depression so this is really an exciting time for me to have a black president and also honor Dr. King."

As Americans prepare for the inauguration of President Obama, thousands of volunteers in all 50 states will take part in the administration's National Day of Service on Saturday and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday. Activities for both days take place this weekend and into next week as organizers say the combined efforts aim to get people involved with community needs.

Bundled in a long brown coat and black gloves, Scott made her way up and down stairs handing out emergency-preparedness pamphlets in Columbia Grove, a majority affordable-housing complex 7 miles from Washington, D.C.

Volunteer Arlington, an organization run by the county's department of human services, organized the day along with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, which owns the 208 apartments.

"We are there to help them plan for their needs," said Grelia Soliz, an emergency management specialist for Arlington's office of emergency management.

In each encounter, residents were asked whether they had emergency food supplies, flashlights and evacuation plans. Conversations also turned to the importance of getting a flu shot and, in some cases, downloading emergency-preparedness smartphone applications.

For Nancy Falk, volunteering at Columbia Grove was about answering a national call in a local, personal way.

"There are needs at the local level, and if individuals in communities don't step up to help address those needs the question is who going to do that?" said Falk, who lives in Falls Church, Va., and works at George Washington University's School of Nursing.

In the nation's capital, volunteers prepared more than 100,000 care packages for soldiers, veterans and first responders. In California, people gave food and winter coats to the homeless. In Oklahoma, 62 AmeriCorps members were to travel to a neighborhood once segregated by Jim Crow laws to repair homes for low-income families.

"It's part of core American values to get citizens engaged, and it's very unifying to have people serving for a common cause," said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency heading the King day of service. "This is sort of the kickoff for volunteer service for the year."

The corporation has been running MLK Day of Service since 1994, when the national holiday was designated a day of service. In doing so, the agency, which also leads programs like AmeriCorps, provides grants and training for service day leaders and hosts an online database of service projects.

Spencer sees this weekend's activities as gateway opportunities to raise awareness among people who may not regularly volunteer. She hopes some, after witnessing the needs of others, will make a commitment to consistently give time and resources to causes.

Service opportunities are as varied as the nation's needs. Volunteers in New York and New Jersey will work on repairing homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy. In Virginia, people will go door to door encouraging residents to prepare for natural disasters and other emergencies. In Florida, some plan to visit nursing homes with their pets.

Statistics show that people are increasingly choosing to donate their time. In 2011, the number of volunteers reached a five-year high with some 64.3 million Americans volunteering with formal organizations, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

"There's just a ton of national attention around the inauguration of the president," said Marlon Marshall, senior adviser with the Presidential Inaugural Committee that is organizing the National Day of Service. "Us being able to use that to help facilitate community service across the country is a really positive thing."

The committee will host a service summit on the National Mall featuring speakers and performers including Chelsea Clinton, the honorary chair of the day. Nearly 100 organizations will have tents where people can sign up to volunteer throughout the year. There will also be events tied to the National Day of Service in each state.

Obama's team has also turned to social media to get people involved. In a partnership with the inaugural committee, Foursquare, a location-based social networking site that awards points for "checking in," created the first-ever volunteer service badge. Users unlock the badge after checking into volunteer events around the country on Jan. 19.

Obama officials, using the Twitter handle @obamainaugural, encourage savvy volunteers to use the official National Day of Service hashtag, #iserve. The president and first lady also requested help serving in videos posted on Facebook.

In Oklahoma City, 62 AmeriCorps volunteers and others were to gather for a week to work on nine homes in the Carverdale-Edwards-South Creston Hills area, a neighborhood once strictly segregated by Jim Crow-era laws, said Marty Costello, director of national service programs for Rebuilding Together. His group is coordinating the week.

While in the historic neighborhood, volunteers will not only rip up carpet, remove mold and install appliances, they will have round-table discussions with people familiar with the area's history and the residential and educational segregation it experienced.

Meanwhile, with thousands of opportunities to choose from, Spencer offers this advice for selecting a place to volunteer: Do something you're passionate about.

"You're more likely to continue to serve if it's something that strikes a chord with you," she said.

Contributing: Martha T. Moore in New York; Eliza Collins in Washington.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Days of service aim to get volunteers involved

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

SAT
27
SUN
28
MON
29
TUE
30
WED
31
THU
1
FRI
2

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX