Change in Volunteerism That Organizers Want to Believe In

The way Youth Power Center Coordinator Darrel Holoman sees it; President-elect Barack Obama’s enthusiasm for community service is an unexpected blessing.

More than 75 volunteers signed up to participate in YPC’s annual feed the needs program, which is the greatest volunteer response the organization has ever received.

“Obama has definitely motivated people,” said Holoman. “People are taking his enthusiasm to serve and are going full fledged.”

Normally, the organization observes the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday with a feeding the poor program on January 19, the annual day the Federal Government sets aside to recognize the civil rights icon’s legacy.

But this year, YPC decided to extend its initiative to three days, January 16, 17 and 18. Its focus was simple – serve lunches to those in the neediest parts of the District, Ward 8 and 7, who are homeless and in need.

The goal was to make 1,000 bag lunches.

What started off as a small idea grew into something that wasn’t expected when the Inaugural Committee caught word of YPC’s project. The committee put the project on USAservice.org. Through the website, YPC received a tremendous number of people signing up to volunteer.

The high volume of volunteer request forced the YPC to turn down some volunteers. But because of the high energy towards this year’s National Day of Service, Holoman was certain that people would be able to find another organization to volunteer with. People from all over the country have been motivated by Obama and decided to join in the act of service.

“Everyone is in the spirit right now so there have been great turnouts, said Erikka Wesley,” Oakland California. “Ever since I’ve been in DC, I’ve noticed a lot of unity and love, so maybe community service will become more of a consistent thing that people do”

YPC is not the only city volunteer organization reaping the benefits of Obama’s influence on the national spirit of community service.

Emmaus Services for the Aging saw higher enthusiasm for people wanting to get closer to the community that Dr. King envisioned.

The organization’s mission is to reach out to seniors to provide support, advocacy and services that will assist them. Throughout the year, the organization delivers groceries to seniors, but this weekend, they have received an overwhelming number of volunteer requests for the MLK holiday service opportunities.

“I was very moved when Obama called this a National Day of Service,” said volunteer Kimberly Clincy. “It really coincided well with his mission that young people should give back to the country, so I decided to support him in that endeavor.”

Last year the organization had 35 volunteers; this year they got 68 volunteers for Saturday and received another 25 on Monday to deliver 254 bags of groceries.

“It was a lot bigger this year,” said volunteer coordinator Madeline Kaplan. “It’s also the first time we’ve had such enthusiastic phone calls from outside DC from people looking for volunteer work to help make a difference. We had an overflow of responses.”

The great energy of service that Obama has created has also inspired the organization to do more than its regular service activities. The organization asked the seniors they serve to speak about growing up during the civil rights movement.

“It is inspiring to see someone in such a powerful position promote service in volunteering,” said Holoman. “It’s something that we as a country need to do. I am excited and enthusiastic about what’s to come.”

Washingtonian Blaire Barlow summed up the feelings of many others President-elect Obama has inspired to observe Dr. King’s 80th birthday Day through community service.

“Obama has motivated me to think of the holiday as a day on instead of a day off,” said Barlow told Howard News Service.

Barlow volunteered with the National Council Negro Women (NCNW) at the MLK Library on January 19.

“I am excited to get out there to do something for the greater good of my community,” Barlow said.