Lancaster continues to be among the leading Southland cities in supporting community outreach. This year its Eighth Annual Martin Luther King Day of Service will include 30 projects designed in still community pride while providing residents an opportunity to enhance not only their neighborhood, but also to begin the year with a renewed spirit of service.

Community volunteers, mostly from 16 years to adult, are being requested through March to participate in a variety of much-needed programs ranging from simple painting, to meal deliveries and even tree planting. Registration deadline is Jan. 14.

Among the more urgent needs for assistance are care and provisions for the homeless population. The city of Lancaster is coordinating with the Grace Resource Center, 45134 N. Sierra Highway, and with the Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter, 44611 Yucca Ave., as well as with the Los Angeles Homeless Shelter Authority to create projects designed to benefit the community. On Jan. 17 from 8 a.m. to noon, volunteers will pitch in to help repair the ceiling at Grace Resource Center. Also that day from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., workers will help paint the interior dining room at the Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter.

“This is an opportunity to improve our community, to help the homeless and our schools and to beautify our city. All people with an interest in service will have a place here,” said Candice Vander-Hyde, Lancaster Recreation and Parks program coordinator.

Assisting the homeless

The Lancaster Community Homeless Shelter needs volunteers through March to help supply food to the 60 or so men housed at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. The annual “Take Them A Meal” project allows adults in groups of six to 10 persons to select one or multiple days for the next three months to provide a hot meal to those without permanent lodging and regular access to food. To participate in this program, interested persons should visit www.TakeThemAMeal.com with the user name Grace Resources and the password Wintermen to schedule a day of assistance.

The fairgrounds are located at 2551 W. Avenue H.

The “Stuff-A-Bag” community fundraiser will take place on Jan. 17 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Comunity Self Determination Institute (C.S.D.I. Inc.) offices, 315 W. Pondera St., Suite D, in Palmdale. Volunteers will assist with the sorting and labeling of free community giveaway items (i.e. clothing and food for the homeless). During the event, volunteers will assist community residents with selecting and bagging their items, handing out pre-packaged food, and monitoring the location for safety and hazard prevention.

On Jan. 29, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count will offer three sites for volunteering: The Larry Chimbole Cultural Center, 38350 Sierra Highway, Palmdale; Living Springs Church, 17134 E. Avenue O, Palmdale, and at the Grace Resource Center. The event is a homeless census conducted by Los Angeles County in which volunteers will work in teams to make a visual count of homeless persons and families within assigned areas. Counters must have their own transportation and also attend a mandatory pre-deployment training session on the morning of the census. Service verification will be available for those participating as part of school or vocational programs. To volunteer or to obtain more information, visit www.theycountwillyou.org.

“These service programs help our young people learn about those who may not be as fortunate,” Vander-Hyde said. “They learn about prior generations and come to know what is important to the community. When they complete their work, they’ll also know that they’ve made a difference in someone’s life. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn to ‘give back’ at an early age.”

Children pitch in

The opportunity to instill a more altruistic attitude among the youth has led Palmdale officials to advocate child and teen participation in the season of service campaign. The AV BMX Track Clean Project needs youth 12 years and older on Jan. 17 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to collect trash, sweep and repair the track, paint the office trailer and to stain the wood deck at the BMX track located on the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. The track is at the end of the main road into the fairgrounds and is located on the right-hand side.

The Children’s Center of the Antelope Valley needs about eight to 10 adults on Jan. 17 from 8 a.m. to noon to help create a new family therapeutic conference room. Volunteers will help to build new office furniture, paint walls and organize art supplies. “The new family conference and art rooms will add a positive space for health interaction and create a more pleasant atmosphere in which families can heal,” Vander-Hyde said.

Also that day, at 9 and at 11 a.m., adults and children with an accompanying parent or guardian can enjoy a free nutrition and physical education presentation with correlating resources to promote healthy living at 6742 E. Avenue H. Free gifts and a health-conscious snack will be distributed. Volunteers will also plant seeds for the Eastside Elementary School Garden.

The Eldorado Park Preschool Playground Improvement Project will take place Jan. 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the park located at 44501 N. 5th St. East. The preschool building is at the southeast corner of the park. Volunteers will be building youth picnic tables and a sand box, as well as spruce up the playground by repainting the hopscotch and foursquare games. El Dorado Park’s early education programs assist toddlers aged 3 to 5 years develop social skills and prepare for kindergarten.

Variety of ways to serve

Across the nation, volunteers of all races, creeds and religions are doing everything from planting trees, participating in animal-rescue campaigns, cleaning up parks and trails, painting offices, providing food, doing various inventory projects and even helping sort hygiene products and household items donated to local charities. People have become so involved that some are pulling weeds and other invasive species at wetlands and nature preserves. And it’s not just in the United States; volunteers in Canada, in Hiroshima, Japan, and in Jerusalem have adopted the idea of a day of service to improve the quality of life for themselves and their neighbors.

“The day of service often jump starts something much bigger,” Vander-Hyde explained. “This is not just one day of service. We do this every day in Lancaster, whether it be caring for the elderly, housing and feeding the homeless, cleaning up parks, or planting trees. This year we can expect between 1,500 and 3,000 volunteers.” Vander-Hyde said a good start to the 2015 service program would be “… about 1,000 volunteers.”

There are many service opportunities available this year through organizations such as AmeriCorps, Citizen Corps, Peace Corps, Senior Corps, Veteran’s Affairs and at Volunteer.gov.

A humble beginning

The MLK Day of Service did not begin immediately with the national holiday honoring the late Nobel laureate. On King Day in 1988, Harris Wofford, then a Pennsylvania secretary of labor and industry, and Atlanta Rep. John Lewis—each close friends of King—lamented that the holiday that had been observance only two years at the time was simply another day off for Americans; they believed that there was much more that could be accomplished in honoring the legacy of the civil rights icon. Instead of a day off to watch television, shop or to simply sleep late, Wofford decided it would be an excellent opportunity for service. The next year, Wofford, by then a U.S.. senator, joined forces with Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rindell and a number of students to restore a Habitat for Humanity house in North Philadelphia. By 1997, the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service had expanded far beyond the City of Brotherly Love. The early efforts of Wofford and Lewis in co-authoring the King Holiday and Service Act resulted in legislation that was signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

In 1999, the Points of Light Foundation in Washington, D.C. honored the original day of service its annual Point of Light Award for “…the project’s work to further the awareness of the ideas of Dr. King and for contributions the project and its volunteers are making toward solving local and national social problems, especially as they relate to young people.” What began with a couple of dozen students and one or two politicians had blossomed by 2005 to more than 50,000 persons in Philadelphia, southern New Jersey and in Delaware using the day off to provide assistance to the less fortunate and to improve community resources.

Two years ago, more than 115,000 persons of all ages and backgrounds in the Philadelphia region volunteered in more than 1,600 service projects in the 18th Annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service. The Philadelphia idea has grown into a national movement in hundreds of cities and towns, with more and more projects turning into ongoing programs and partnerships.

The King Day of Service is part of United We Serve, President Barack Obama’s national call to service initiative. A 2014 study, “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, showed that one in four Americans volunteered through an organization and that two-thirds took the time to assist their neighbors in some capacity the previous year.

Among the most pressing needs for volunteerism is mentoring youth. “Mentors and caring adults serve as essential sources of inspiration, lifting up young people and positioning them to build the America of tomorrow,” President Obama said last month in proclaiming January 2015 as National Mentoring Month. “Every American shares in the obligation to widen the circle of opportunity for your young people.”