It has been 39 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was signed into law as a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan. Celebrated on the third Monday of January each year, MLK Day falls on January 17 this year. While many businesses and schools take the day off, it is a "day on" for AmeriCorps members nationwide. As the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service, "AmeriCorps has been charged with leading this effort for the past quarter century" (AmeriCorps.gov).
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” When I graduated from college, I had no intention of serving with AmeriCorps. I did not even know that the correct verb for working with AmeriCorps was “serving.” Like most people, I did not know much about AmeriCorps at all. As I read through the AmeriCorps website, I learned that AmeriCorps truly is all about service, helping others, and improving the places that we live. I thought, “of course that’s something I want to do.” Everyone at my high school was required to complete community service hours. I went above and beyond that by also being involved in Key Club, National Honor Society, and National Art Honor Society. I was committed to making a small difference in my community, usually through education and working with youth.
When I graduated from high school, I was not sure what I wanted to study. All I knew was that I wanted to do something that would help others. I have always been a “save the world” type of person who wants to make a difference, no matter how small, whether it is impacting the life of just one person, a whole community, or even the whole world. Through my college journey, I decided to major in Environmental Sustainability with a focus in Environmental Culture and Justice. I chose the Environmental Culture and Justice track in the major because I felt that it was most related to my lifelong goal of saving the world through helping people.
AmeriCorps has six key impact areas, many of which interest me, but of course environmental stewardship is the area that interests me the most. Searching available positions with the environmental stewardship tag on the AmeriCorps website is what led me to Green Iowa AmeriCorps and ultimately the decision to move from Indiana to Cedar Rapids, Iowa all alone. I started my first term of service in February, 2021 at Matthew 25. In August, I decided to continue my service by starting a second term at UNI’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education in Cedar Falls. I am about a quarter of the way through my second AmeriCorps service term, and I have grown and learned so much. My commitment to service is stronger than ever, and I cannot wait to continue to serve my community and help others throughout my entire life.
As part of the MLK Day of Service this year, Green Iowa AmeriCorps and other AmeriCorps members in the Cedar Valley are participating in “Back Packin’ the Dome,” an event co-hosted by the University of Northern Iowa and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. During this event, members will be helping pack backpacks for the food bank’s backpack program, which provides shelf-stable, nutritious food to school-age children across the region.
The MLK Day of Service is intended to be a day where everyone can engage in service to help their community and build toward the vision of the Beloved Community, a term and idea that was popularized by King. While one day of action will not establish the Beloved Community, it will bring us one step closer to the vision, “in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth” (King Center).
About the Author
Alyssa Guritz serves as the land stewardship outreach coordinator at the Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa. Alyssa grew up in northwest Indiana, where she spent many childhood summers outside. She attended Earlham College where she graduated with a degree in Environmental Sustainability and minored in Public Policy and German. Her main areas of interest are public transportation, urban planning, environmental justice, environmental education, place-making, community building, and reduced meat consumption.