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Harness the Power of Service to Address Community Concerns

Rachel Turner, Outreach and Programs Manager at Global Citizen and AmeriCorps Alumni, explains how volunteer projects illustrate the value of service in its ability to address needs and speak to the value of programs whose missions are to carry out service

Rachel TurnerDr. King once wrote in his collection of speeches and sermons, The Strength to Love, that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” During what has been one of the most challenging economic times for our country since the Great Depression, I have been inspired by and honored to work with some 3,000-plus project organizers across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to coordinate what has become our nation’s largest Martin Luther King Day of Service event. Despite budget cuts and waning resources, these coordinators have been steadfast in their commitment to the principles of Dr. King and have shown, through the results of their King Day projects, that service is a vital tool which provides citizens with the power to address real-life community problems.

 This past September, the Corporation for National and Community Service released its Civic Life in America report, its research demonstrating that between 2008 and 2010, more and more Americans were turning to service to solve problems in their communities. As Outreach and Programs Manager at Global Citizen, I have enjoyed, in my own small way, being a facilitator of this trend. For the past four years, I have worked with nonprofit professionals, corporate volunteers, employees of city agencies and many others to conduct community needs assessments and develop King Day of Service projects to address community concerns. At Global Citizen, we use the King Day of Service to initiate or strengthen year-round partnerships with agencies that focus upon a wide variety of issues, including, but not limited to, hunger, education and the environment. Throughout the King Day planning process, I help project organizers determine how the service activities they coordinate on King Day could fit into larger, strategic goals, in this, allowing organizers to identify how their King Day projects could evolve into quarterly or even monthly efforts that address or alleviate ongoing needs.

 For the 2012 King Day of Service, we anticipate another record turnout, with over 85,000 participants to be engaged in 1,300 projects. In the weeks following King Day, I will work with coordinators to collect outcomes and chart the impact of their projects. As part of the 2011 King Day of Service, 70,822 individuals benefited from or were impacted by the 1,200 projects that took place. 26,786 meals were prepared and served to the homeless. 22,917 items of food were donated and distributed to families facing food insecurity. 12,175 coats were donated, sorted and distributed to those in need.

 These metrics, revolving around only a single day of service, not only illustrate the legitimate value of service in its ability to address needs, but also speak to the value of programs and organizations whose missions are to carry out service. AmeriCorps is one of our nation’s most valuable, yet perhaps least-known, resources. AmeriCorps programs have not only been instrumental in delivering services to some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens at a minimal cost, but have also played a crucial role in helping young professionals develop job skills and launch their careers. After completing AmeriCorps, many alumni, like me, move on to full-time careers in public service where they continue their work as civic leaders. As we work through this time of economic challenge, it is important that we stand together to make sure that programs like AmeriCorps continue to receive the support and funding they deserve.  I am deeply humbled to be honored as a Champion of Change for my work on the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service and look forward to continuing my career in service, helping others uncover and harness the great power that lies within civic engagement.

Rachel Turner is the Outreach & Programs Manager at Global Citizen, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that coordinates the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, the country’s largest King Day of Service event