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Volunteers clean the grounds at the Brooklyn off Alps Road for the MLK Day of Service on Jan. 16, 2017 in Athens, Ga. Photo/ Landon Trust

During his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated himself to serving others. He once declared that “Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" He certainly embodied that sentiment in his lifetime. As a Civil Rights leader, King put himself in harm’s way to help others, such as when he was imprisoned for protesting the treatment of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. That and other self-less acts showed how putting others first can lead to radical change.

So, on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, make an effort to become involved in your community. Doing so will honor King and allow you to better connect with your environment.

King never stopped working to help other people, and, in that spirit, MLK Day offers a special emphasis on service. The Corporation for National & Community Service calls MLK Day as “a day on, not a day off.” According to the CNCS, MLK Day is “the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service.” Thus, by giving back, you can gain a greater appreciation for the holiday’s meaning.

There are plenty of opportunities in Athens like donating to a food bank or volunteering for a local organization.

Giving back could also be something simpler. You can help others in your everyday life, such as by listening to them or offering to help. Though not as formal as signing up to volunteer, this can make a difference in the lives of the people around you.

Beyond the benefits to the community, helping others provides tangible benefits for the volunteers too. Admittedly, the emotional and health benefits of service are often overstated in pop culture. According to the Social Science Research Network, there is only weak evidence that helping others increases happiness. That being said, giving back can help you to better understand your community. Volunteering lets you work with groups of people you might otherwise never meet and learn about their perspectives.

Neil Justice, a senior philosophy and classics double major, sees value in signing up to serve people in need.

“There’s a lot of poverty around [Athens],” Justice said. “We don’t necessarily interact with [homeless people] because we have our own schedules. But, I think serving them … would be a means of helping them out and also becoming more connected with the overall community.”

So take this chance to serve others. Giving back on MLK Day is a good start, but we must be careful not to become complacent from a single day’s work. We should take King’s lessons with us throughout life and always look to help people.

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