Senior Corps MLK Day Project Examples

The Foster Grandparent, Senior Companion, and Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs (RSVP) have developed and implemented Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service projects that have made an impact in their communities, created new partnerships, and demonstrated the leadership of these senior service organizations to the greater community.

Intergenerational Service

RSVP volunteers, Senior Companions, and Youth with Disabilities Team Up on Emergency Preparedness

For the past two years during the MLK Holiday weekend, RSVP and Senior Companion volunteers at Community Senior Services in Claremont, CA, have partnered with young clients at AbilityFirst to assemble emergency preparedness kits for vulnerable seniors in the community. AbilityFirst provides young disabled individuals, ages 5 to 22, with social and recreational outlets as well as education and job training. Community Senior Services connects people, information, resources, and communities to enrich the lives of older adults.

The Change a Life Foundation provided grant money to support the project. The kits are designed to help during the first 72 hours of an emergency. They include first aid materials, a blanket, drinking water, three days worth of food packets, and a hand-cranked emergency radio.

Not only do the free kits provide a sense of security, but they are delivered personally by volunteers who share information about how to use the kits, as well as what is available through Community Senior Services.

In addition to RSVP volunteers and AbilityFirst clients, members of the community including school children and church congregations came out to help put the kits together.

As part of an ongoing effort to educate the community about emergency preparedness, RSVP volunteers make presentations on the topic to community groups throughout the year.

Foster Grandparents, AmeriCorps Members, and Elementary Youth Beautify Their Community

Volunteers from the Caddo Council on Aging Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) partnered with the Shreveport Green AmeriCorps Program, the City of Shreveport Mayor's office, and students at Pine Grove Elementary School in Caddo Parish, LA, to landscape and beautify of the school campus.

Shreveport Green is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the city's environment and enhancing its economy through public education and community beautification, litter abatement, and recycling projects. During the Pine Grove Elementary School beautification project, Foster Grandparent volunteers registered and oriented community volunteers; served breakfast, snacks, and prepared lunches; provided one-on-one attention to students involved in planting and landscaping; and read to special needs students.

Bridging the Ages

Senior Companions Share Memories

The Social Development Commission (SDC) of Milwaukee, WI, brought together volunteers from its Senior Companion Program with youth from its Youth Development Program as part of its Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service initiative. A group of four African-American Senior Companions related their personal histories to at-risk youth, who were visibly moved as they listened attentively to oral histories of sacrifice, discrimination, and overcoming obstacles.

The Companions spoke about how the discrimination and attitudes Dr. King fought against affected them personally. The teens listened to a first-hand account about a small town diner that would only serve Blacks if they stayed outside and shouted their order through a hole in a wall. They learned that the lack of health care for Blacks in the South was so severe that the mother of one Companion didn't know her seizures were caused by epilepsy until the family moved to Milwaukee. The youth heard how failure to respond to Southern whites with "Yes Sir" or "Yes Ma'am" could result in a beating and what it was like to walk for miles to get to the only school in the area open to Blacks.

Throughout the presentation, the Companions asked the youth not to let the sacrifices made by others go in vain. They urged the teens to take advantage of opportunities to learn and advance; opportunities they never had. "The idea is that it's one thing to read something or watch a film. It's quite another thing to actually meet the people who lived through that history," said Bill Beunier of SDC.

The teens showed their gratitude by awarding each of the Companions, "Medals of Appreciation." In an age when most youth idolize athletes and entertainers, these at-risk teens have a new set of heroes - four elderly, African-American women.

Foster Grandparents Recreate History

For three years, the City of Chattanooga's Foster Grandparent Program had a traveling project in which volunteers acted out the roles of well-known African Americans. The presentations, which were held at Head Start projects and day care centers where foster grandparents served, included Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Wilma Rudolph, Colin Powell, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Phyllis Wheatley, and others.

Foster Grandparent volunteers gained public speaking skills while helping children to appreciate the contributions of African Americans.

Creating Town-Gown Connections

RSVP Volunteers, Colleges Students and Community Residents Package Food for Kids in East Africa

For the past three years, RSVP of North Central Iowa has organized a Food Packaging Event on MLK Day at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. The MLK Day Food Packaging Project has become a signature event for the college and the community. The Food Packaging Event has become an important part of the college's 50 Days of Service and has exposed students to service, in some cases, for the first time.

MLK Day at Waldorf College, which sponsors the RSVP program, begins with a convocation speaker in the morning. The event is free and open to the community. The Food Packaging Event follows in the afternoon and evening. Working with the Kids Against Hunger organization, volunteers package meals that are distributed to orphans in Tanzania (East Africa). In the past three years, RSVP has mobilized 1,000 volunteers, packaged 152,781 meals, and raised $27,122 for Kids Against Hunger. Volunteers include college, middle school, and high school students; youth groups; RSVP volunteers; business professionals; college staff and faculty; community leaders; and families. This event brings together friends and strangers who work side-by-side making a difference in a community a world away, thus carrying out the very essence of Dr. King's message. "It was the best, most fun, and enjoyable community service project I've ever done." Another shared, "I think we really don't know how far just one of those meals can go!"

A Waldorf College student reflected on his experience by stating, "Helping package food was an experience that really made me think about my career choice. It made me want to do more... There is a lot that needs to be done, and I hope I can do more things like this in the future."

RSVP has received a lot of recognition from this event. In addition to media coverage, an RSVP employee, who has helped to organize this service activity for the past three years, received the 2009 Holmen Community Service Award - one of the college's most prestigious awards.

Working with two college interns, RSVP has taken the lead in organizing this project, which has brought the whole community together in service.

Responding To Tough Economic Times

Foster Grandparent Volunteers Collects Canned Goods for the Food Bank

For a one-week period, beginning on the MLK Day of Service, the Caddo Council on Aging's Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) collected canned food to donate to the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana. With the current state of the economy and the rise in unemployment, food banks across the country are reporting a shortage of food. In January, following the year-end holiday season, the shortage is even greater.

Foster Grandparent volunteers, FGP Community Advisory Committee members, Volunteer Stations, and the communities of Shreveport and Bossier collected more than 5,000 cans of food. Helping those in need represents the "Beloved Community" that Dr. King envisioned.

Foster Grandparents and RSVP Volunteers Collaborate with the Business Community

The City of Chattanooga's Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) partnered with the local RSVP to conduct a food drive for a community kitchen located in close proximity to both projects. Volunteers called on various businesses to help support the endeavor by setting up food collection barrels at their businesses. In addition to helping with the collection, some businesses made donations as well.

The FGP was able to build ongoing relationships with the businesses that participated and also formed relationships with RSVP's existing partners, including a local newspaper and a law firm.

Volunteers involved children by working with schools to get kids to donate canned goods and inspire them to continue community service. The project allowed the FGP to show the community another side of Senior Corps. FGP was able to step outside of its usual role and focus on another aspect of community service, showing the community that service can take different forms and can be embraced by everyone.

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