by Mitch Michalak

In the first few weeks of the new year, our cohort was able to be part of a day of service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Partnered with other AmeriCorps programs, as well as citizens of Richmond and beyond, we served at 2nd Presbyterian Church, providing lunch for those less fortunate in our city. Our project served both to rejuvenate my passion for the work I’m fortunate enough to do and to enlighten me. Dr. King understood the power of service and the strength of community, and through our service event on January 16th, we were presented the opportunity to gain a better understanding of both of those things.

As AmeriCorps members, service is something that comes naturally to us. It’s in our hearts and our heads. It’s a part of who each and every one of us is, and if asked the question, “Why do you serve?” none of us would struggle to explain our passion. For us, every day of the year is a day of service. That being said, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is something that is more special.

First, it’s an opportunity for all to serve. During our service event, I was lucky enough to connect with so many great people from various AmeriCorps programs. Some were old friends from VCU AmeriCorps, the program I served with in my previous year. We were able to chat about our kiddos and share memories from last year. Others were new friends from CARITAS, who decided to share with me my zodiac future (I go into banking). All were equally dedicated to hard work and service. And all of us created a diverse and compassionate group of people, serving our community for no other reason than to make it a better place. This kind of service, in the spirit of Dr. King’s vision of our world, inspires my AmeriCorps service daily.

What I also found inspiring, as well as encouraging, was getting to know the non-AmeriCorps volunteers we worked with. Regular citizens, some who traveled to Richmond from as far as Blacksburg, Virginia, spent their ‘day-on’ serving alongside us at 2nd Presbyterian.  Even more encouraging were the children who spent their day with us. Serving as the majority of the wait staff, their ability to weave in between tables and chairs, duck through the legs of the taller folk, and deliver plates of spaghetti with speed and precision was a large part of our success. Even more admirable, however, was the humanity and kindness shown by all of them.

It is through the citizens of our community serving alongside us that we, as AmeriCorps members, can hope to create an inspiration of our own. We can inspire them to serve not only on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but to take that sense of service into their everyday lives. Serve whenever they can. Help whoever they can. And inspire that service in others, as often as they can. Hopefully, if they do so we can start to build the world Dr. King would be proud of; a world of community.

‘Community’ is a word that often popped into my head while serving on January 16th, and it continued to do so during reflection afterward. 2nd Presbyterian Church on Martin Luther King Day was a beautiful example of what the word ‘community’ means to me. The place was full of diverse people, people from different backgrounds, different points in their life, and different, wonderful personalities. But there was one thing that every single person in that building has in common; nobody is better than anyone else. We spent our day connecting with people, laughing, sharing great conversations. Some of us helped set up for the day. Some of us prepared the lunch. Some of us brought the lunch out and served it. And some of us ate the lunch. All of us spent time together, even if only a few hours in a small church, as one community of people who help each other.

As I finish my service year and continue into my life and career ahead, I hope we can all stay inspired to do what we can to create a community like we all shared on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.