- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) - Some community organizations, churches and schools hosting service projects throughout the nation this weekend in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day say they are experiencing an increase in participation.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans join together every third Monday in January to honor the Rev. Dr. King’s civil rights legacy by partaking in community service across the country.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, charged with leading service efforts for the holiday, said the amount of people observing the day and volunteering has been increasing.

“In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in interest,” said Samantha Jo Warfield, press secretary for the corporation.

The influx in community engagement maybe a result of President Barack Obama’s call for Americans to serve others during his 2009 and 2013 inaugural celebrations, Warfield said.

“President Obama has put service and citizen action at the cornerstone of his administration,” she said. “He and his family have participated in service activities every year and encouraged his administration to do so as well.”

Warfield said the main reason people volunteer to serve others is because someone asked them to, and there was no better person to make that appeal than Obama. She added the incoming Donald Trump administration won’t affect the steady increase of MLK Day participants because “we find support from all sectors.

Local organizations hosting service projects around the Washington area this weekend, such as the Washington based Thursday Network, said they are also seeing an increase in people wanting to help others, but for various reasons that aren’t always related to politics.

“Every individual has their own personal reasons for getting involved, for some people it may be political, for some it maybe personal or spiritual reasons,” said Petry Ubri, community service event chairman for Thursday Network.

Thursday Network is the young professionals auxiliary of the Greater Washington Urban League. The group provides a forum for young adults to engage in community service by awarding scholarships to local high schoolers, hosting professional development workshops and sponsoring a mentorship program.

The organization is hosting its 17th Annual MLK Blanket and Toiletries Drive on Jan. 16 in commemoration of King.

A group of about 400 volunteers, a number that was set as a maximum after over 500 volunteers turned out last year, are expected to assemble care packages for the homeless at New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest Washington at 9 a.m. Monday.

The packages will include inspirational quotes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, blankets, lotion, soap and other everyday essentials.

Student Conservation Association (SCA) in Arlington, Virginia, will host a massive cleanup of the Anacostia River on Monday at 9:30 a.m.

The nonprofit group will gather hundreds of volunteers of all ages to remove trash and debris from the shoreline of the river, said Michael Cronin, SCA’s marketing and events coordinator.

“The major idea here is to improve the health of the Anacostia River and watershed,” he said.

Cronin said low-income communities like Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood are often subject to poor environmental conditions.

“You can’t turn your backs on low-income communities when you’re talking environmental issues,” he said.

Cronin explained that making sure the river is clean for future generations to enjoy is a matter of environmental justice that supports King’s ideals.

“We aren’t living in a post-racial society - there are still (social) issues and environmental issues that need to be ironed out,” he said. “Connecting his goals and executing his legacy is definitely something we are in favor of.”

This will be SCA’s third annual river clean up and Cronin said more people come out every year. He said more than 600 people assisted in the service project last year in 8 degree weather.

“Volunteering in general is a great way to improve character and bring substance to your life,” he said, adding that people choose to serve because it “fills you with a sense of purpose.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1986. In 1994, it became Martin Luther King Day of Service after two civil rights leaders who were King colleagues, Georgia Rep. John Lewis and former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford, passed legislation to establish the holiday as a national day of service.

King strongly believed in building community and working together.

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love,” King said in his 1968 sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct.”

King’s commemorative day is the first and only federal holiday to also be a day of service, Warfield said.

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