Martin Luther King Day of Service

The first national King holiday was observed in 1986, eighteen years after Dr. King’s death. In 1988, appalled by the lack of commitment and understanding of Dr. Kings’ lifetime of service to others, Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Harris Wofford, and his executive assistant, Todd Bernstein realized the national observance was becoming for millions just another day off. These two men decided to organize a day of service—a day with the theme, “A Day On not A Day Off.”

In 1996, in conjunction with the Greater Philadelphia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service,  the University of Pennsylvania added this Annual Day of Service to the celebrations already being coordinated by the African-American Resource Center throughout campus. In 2001, the University’s then president, Dr Judith Rodin made the King holiday an official University day off to allow students and staff to participate in service activities.  

Students volunteering on Martin Luther King Day of Service

Students volunteering on Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Initially, the Day of Service activity, consisted of a group of volunteers cleaning and painting at a community site.  Typical sites were schools, social service agencies and recreational facilities in West Philadelphia.  After several years, plans were made by the Day of Service Planning Committee to expand the number and type of service projects to include indoor activities suitable to families with young children, seasoned citizens and the physically challenged. 

Through radio, television and print media knowledge about the breath and variety of service projects sponsored by the University became widespread.  Community members beyond the University and the West Philadelphia community began to join the projects.  Currently the Day of Service attracts over 400 student, staff, faculty, alumni and community volunteers. The list of projects include:

  • Day of Service Breakfast for Volunteers with Keynote Address

  • Community Beautifications Projects

  • Penn Reads Literacy Project

  • Helping Hands - socks with toiletry items inside

  • A Pocketful of Toiletries – constructing a bag and filling with toiletries

  • Children’s Banner Painting

  • "So You Want to Go to College": College Admission & Financial Aid Process – for high school students

  • Class of '80/Sayre Mentoring Program