Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we celebrate a week from Monday, believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all. He encouraged all citizens to live up to the purpose and potential of America by applying the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place in which to live. How do we create the beloved community of which Dr. King dreamed? We engage in community action that helps solve social problems. We set aside our needs and personal ambitions, even if only for a short period of time, so that we may serve. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. But we hope that January 21st will not just be a day to sleep in, binge watch or tune out. Rather, we trust that families will commit to participating in projects that will strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.

As our partial government shutdown enters its third week, students in many of their classes have been discussing the stalemate in Washington and the direct impact this is having on their lives. Some of them have talked about an important lesson that they have learned from all of this: we need each other. And the more that we look out for each other, the better and stronger we are together. From cleaning up a street to reading to shut-in seniors to teaching kids at a soccer clinic, we can enhance our own lives by making things better where we work, live and play. A strong community with a high quality of life means safer, healthier lives for us and those around us.

There are practical payoffs to volunteering as well. Decreasing the risk of depression, instilling a sense of purpose, providing opportunities to learn valuable skills, allowing participants to be mentally and physically active, and reducing stress levels are all cited in the research as some of the benefits. Individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. Doing service with others is a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships. And those who engage in meaningful service activities enjoy a positive feeling sometimes referred to as “helper’s high.”

Whether you participate in one or more of the school-sponsored activities or you opt to do something else, we hope that each family will engage in meaningful community action during the upcoming Schoolwide Community Service Day. For ideas, please visit the National Service site. Also, see below for more information about what will be happening at Washington Latin on the 21st