The US holiday honoring the life and civil rights work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.. (1929-1968) is observed on the third Monday in January each year, around the time of King’s birthday (January 15).

The concept of a Day of Service in honor of Dr. King’s work was created in 1994 to challenge Americans to transform the MLK Day holiday into a day of citizen action and service in keeping with the spirit of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s own life work. In recent years, events have taken place all over the country on the MLK Day weekend.

In our fair city, the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette organizes local MLK Day of Service events. Of course, it’s really four days of service, as the schedule is pretty full from Friday January 15 to Monday January 18.

Anyway… I was scrolling down the list of volunteer events for this weekend and noticed that quite a few volunteer projects revolve around gardening.

And so, in the spirit of service to others, why not spend a few hours digging, planting trees, or removing invasive ivy? (If you haven’t yet engaged in ivy removal, you simply must – it’s a required skill for anyone living in the Pacific Northwest!) You could meet up with the horticulture team at the Zoo for a planting project, help prepare a community garden at an elementary school, plant native trees, shrubs and grasses with Friends of Trees, or remove ivy and replant natives at Tryon Creek State Park. Of course these projects provide much-needed help to these groups and organizations. But there can be unforseen benefits to you: you can learn some good basic gardening skills and you can often glean interesting insights into these organizations from the inside. Furthermore – and I speak from personal experience – you inevitably meet interesting people while volunteering.

If you don’t want to get too dirty (c’mon, don’t tell me you don’t love dirt!) or wanted to branch out a little (sorry for the pun), you could help the Community Cycling Center spiff up some bikes, assist with unpacking and sorting food at the food bank, cook or serve a meal at a homeless shelter, clean and refurbish children’s books, frame houses for Habitat for Humanity, help Free Geek recycle computers, or engage in any number of other projects. Because – as a friend pointed out – while there’s overwhelming need in the world right now, it’s always good policy to lend a hand in your own community.