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MLK Day gives boost to volunteerism

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It’s early evening on a January weeknight in Washington D.C., and the Sasha Bruce House shelter for teens is buzzing with activity.

The teens are putting together collages of pictures and words symbolizing what they want to accomplish in life. 

President Obama chose this shelter for his first Martin Luther King Day project after the 2008 election.  

“He came, and proceeded to paint the boys’ bedroom that we have there,” said James Beck,  vice president of planning, development and evaluation  at Sasha Bruce Youthwork.

The boys’ bedroom is still a cheery blue. But President Obama left behind more than just a coat of paint. Beck said the shelter was deluged with volunteers after the visit.

“People called us, people emailed us,” he said. “The intensity, of course, is not the same as in the days following Obama’s visit, but I think today it still lasts.”

Beck said his organization kept in touch with its Martin Luther King Day volunteers, so they would come back.

There’s another reason to stay in contact after a volunteer’s first visit.

“Frequently that becomes the way in which organizations will recruit their donors,” said Tyrone Freeman, assistant professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Last year, more than 62 million Americans volunteered their time, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that coordinates volunteer projects on Martin Luther King Day.  The CEO, Wendy Spencer, said that volunteer time is money.

“We put a value on those hours and that time. And the value is $184 billion.”

Spencer said Martin Luther King Day is the biggest volunteer day of all, with projects in all 50 states, including food drives, mentoring and construction.



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