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On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, do we give kids the wrong message about service? By Amy Neugebauer

On this Day of Service, many of us are looking for ways to engage kids in activities to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Our well-intentioned efforts to serve tend to focus on once and done projects. We can enhance meaning by connecting our strategies to what Dr. King called all of us (including kids) to do: always be concerned about the collective and to fight for equality.

GivingSquare Kids for Kids Inaugural

Dr. King challenged us to think beyond ourselves and contribute to society. In his 1956 Birth of a New Age address he asserts that “an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” He wanted kids and adults alike to take responsibility for the needs of others as a daily way of being, not as isolated actions. He also emphasized action with impact, not action for action’s sake.

Typical ways of engaging kids on this Day of Service involve volunteering at non-profits or attending events that facilitate many service projects in one venue. Kids can sort food, make art, clean up parks, pack hygiene bags, and make bracelets. According to University of Kent Researcher Alison Body, “most children positively engage in charitable giving through home, school and their community; however less than 20% are aware of the cause area they are being asked to support.” Without connecting activities to a bigger sense of meaning and impact, kids could become apathetic towards service, the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.


So let’s think differently about today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Rather than seeking one activity for the day, let’s use it as the starting point for a long-term practice of community service. Let’s do it in a way that builds on kids? natural curiosity, empathy, fluid thinking and concern about equality. Let’s ensure that our efforts generate both meaning and impact. Here are some ideas for how:

  • Spend time as a family reflecting on issues that matter the most to you – either individually or collectively. Trigger those conversations with prompts such as: What challenges has our family (including generations before us) struggled with? What needs do we see around us? What do all children deserve but not necessarily have? What are the issues that make us the most upset/angry/passionate? When brainstorming, always start with the youngest child so that they don’t get intimidated by the ideas of adults or older siblings. Really listen to their ideas and go with the flow rather seeding ideas for what they should care about.
  • Have every family member learn more about the issues and inequities they care about. Start by finding first person narratives that will help kids (and adults!) develop an emotional connection to the issue. Help kids find books, testimonials, videos, or movies that relate to the themes they care about. Next, dig into facts. Along the way, adults can role model your own explorations of issues you care about.
  • Identify local non-profits that address the issues of concern through resources like the Catalogue for Philanthropy, local community foundations, or word of mouth. Show interest in your children’s explorations and give support as needed.
  • Explore ways to support the non-profit’s important mission. Put kids in charge of exploring websites and social media content. Reach out to non-profits and find out what is most helpful to them. While some non-profits may be hesitant to engage children in formal service, there are many ways that kids can contribute: writing letters expressing support, creating videos promoting the organization, creating art for staff or clients, crowdsourcing supplies or money for the organization. The possibilities are endless but may require some creativity from both kids and parents.
  • Once you have identified issues of concern, built an emotional and intellectual connection to the issue, and identified non-profits that could use your support, your next step is to build long-term relationships with your chosen non-profits. Show up by spreading the word, donating, volunteering throughout the year, attending their public events, reading and contributing to their newsletters. Be their champion rather than a one time volunteer.

As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” In this spirit, let’s make today the day that sets us (adults and children) on a path towards regular and meaningful service.

Amy Neugebauer is the Founder and Executive Director of The Giving Square, an organization featured in the 2021-2022 Catalogue of Philanthropy. The organization amplifies the power of children as philanthropists by testing engagement strategies, developing curriculum, and distilling insights from children. In 2021, 8-10 year olds from over 20 schools successfully and joyfully allocated $30,000 to local, kid-serving nonprofits.

Main Street Connect: Building Inclusivity in our Communities

Main Street Connect is the first community-oriented, affordable, accessible housing solution to redefine the concept of inclusion in a large, vibrant community space within the apartment complex itself. Just steps away from the Metro and Rockville Town Center, our thoughtful and purposeful member-based programming breaks down barriers to improve quality of life and community-building for everyone, no matter their age, location, ability, or background. This inclusive mindset and culture of hope and opportunity seeks to flourish beyond Main Street’s walls and inspire a new generation – without barriers, without judgment, and with genuine inclusion for all.

Building this culture of inclusivity must begin somewhere. During the first week of November, Main Street hosted a landmark gathering of thought-leaders from across the country that kick-started a national discussion co-led by people with and without disabilities. Alongside The Kelsey, Main Street heard from Patuxent Commons, Our Stomping Ground, Our Home Inclusive Community Collaborative, The Faison Center, and other keynote speakers with this same goal of Building Inclusivity in communities across the country.

Our conference began on Tuesday, November 2nd with a big Main Street welcome to the 50 attendees from 10 different states and a discussion on Main Street’s vision, mission, and values as a nonprofit. After a good night’s rest, the bulk of the conference commenced on Wednesday, November 3rd where attendees learned about other organizations’ models and projects, as well as larger topics of financing inclusive housing and disability-forward advocacy, all led by experts from several different organizations.

Main Street Connect - Inclusivity Conference

The first session was led by Scott Copeland of RST Development and Main Street, who shared all Main Street had learned about financing and building inclusive, affordable housing for attendees to use in their own development processes. Micaela Connery from The Kelsey followed this discussion with a deep dive into their organization and how they have been successful in building inclusivity, ending the day with a virtual panel that covered the many ways to create opportunities for leaders with disabilities. Accessibility does not end with a sticker, as Consumer Rights Advocate, Liz Grisby, said during this panel, “Just being able to get through the door does not mean you’re accessible.”

The final day of the conference focused on advancing advocacy and disability-forward policy strategies, with discussions led by The Kelsey’s Fatimah Aure and Allie Cannington. Alison Barkoff, the Principal Deputy Administrator for the Administration for Community Living also spoke about the federal side of housing and disability rights and the impact the Administration makes, “Each year, over 10 million older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers through [a] nationwide disability and aging network.”

Over the course of these three days, this conference ultimately taught us that we need to…

  • be active in local communities with local legislators;
  • form coalitions that are co-led by people with and without disabilities;
  • remember that disability-forward advocacy takes curiosity, courage, and creativity; and
  • celebrate the small wins – inclusive, affordable housing projects take time!

We all deserve to belong in a community where we feel valued and included; affordable, accessible housing projects across the country are working hard to do just that! Together, we can move disability housing forward with goals of ensuring different versions of the Main Street model can exist in any community and that people of ALL abilities have a seat at the table. In doing so, we are setting the standard for redefining inclusion for all.

Main Street is offering a video link for presentations from this conference that includes specific details for HOW to build affordable, inclusive, and community-minded projects. If you’d like to learn more about Main Street, feel free to contact Sharon Cichy at