Originally posted on The Hill by Dr. Joe Heck.
Today, Americans from all walks of life will step forward to strengthen their communities, on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. The only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – “a day on, not a day off.”
This uplifting day shows our nation’s potential for Americans to answer the call to serve not only once a year, but every day – even on a day off. The day of service allows us to reflect on what America can accomplish when people give their time and talents to their fellow citizens for the common good.
Dr. King inspires us to be better. There are many words of his that are so fitting today, but a few that resonate with me are, “everyone can be great because everybody can serve."
Dr. King knew the benefits of service and the impact they have on communities, those you serve, and yourself. Service strengthens our communities, bridges barriers, addresses social problems, and brings people together of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. It also teaches new skills, while providing a sense of accomplishment.
Take Mayra, who joined the Mile High Youth Corps, working in the Energy and Water Conservation program in Colorado. Working hard to make ends meet, the mother of three found herself connecting with her community. She helps low-income families save money on their water and energy bills by installing more efficient materials and appliances. The program also shows clients—whose family situations look a lot like her own—how changing their habits can help save energy and water. From this experience, she gains wisdom and a new perspective as she looks for future work and positions in the community.
Mayra thinks everyone should have an opportunity like hers – serving their community. And so do I.
Our nation is at its best when all Americans can work together toward a common vision. In a service movement like this, all Americans should be aware that there is a role for them regardless of their gender, race, education level, socioeconomic status or ability. By demonstrating that they can make a meaningful difference around the corner or around the globe, Americans will feel empowered to answer the call to serve, strengthening our communities, the nation, and ultimately American democracy.
So today, on your day off, say ‘yes’ to a service opportunity. And throughout the year, think about Dr. King’s words – “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' You can answer it by making a commitment to serve throughout 2020.
On behalf of the Commission, I would like to say thank you for making your day off, “a day on.” Take the spirit of service you capture today and join us in making our vision a reality that every American is inspired and eager to serve.
Let’s get to work!
Dr. Joe Heck is chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and represented Nevada’s 3rd District in the House of Representatives from 2011-2017.