“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This past Monday was the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and here at Valley Forge we did plenty of service. I really enjoy the above quote, and feel that it really does a good job of describing the significance of these days of service. The wide variety of people that come out to participate truly shows how everybody can serve. It does not matter what your age, gender, race, or background is – if you spend your day off from work or school volunteering in your community, you are great. This message was shared with volunteers during the opening remarks, before we showed the “I Have A Dream” speech.

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Me with the 5 VAFO Volunteers who helped with set up and check-in.

We had 136 people come; including 31 walk-ons who hadn’t  even registered beforehand! At our event we had seven different groups participating, including a group of 64 Young Achievers from the Philadelphia Freedom YMCA. We have started cultivating a partnership with one of the two YMCAs closest to the park. After meeting with their Youth Development Team, we arranged for the Young Achievers from 10 different branches to come out into the park on MLK day. They seemed to have a lot of fun, and it was a great start to what will hopefully be a great representation of what the relationship between a National Park Service site and YMCA can be.

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Group of YMCA Young Achievers getting ready for some weeding and drain cleaning around the Visitor Center.

The other six groups included a Girl Scout troop, Valley Youth House youth, a FEMA Corps group, St. Matthews United Methodist Church, and members of the Valley Forge chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

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Members of Delta Sigma Theta help spruce up the park theater.

There were 12 projects that took place throughout the park, and since January is the slow season at our park we tend to take this day as an opportunity to deep clean and really spruce up everything. In addition to the usual invasive species removal and litter clean up, volunteers thoroughly cleaned Washington’s Headquarters and the Train Station, as well as the park theater.

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A couple braving the cold to help clean up litter.

This year we even got creative and asked our cultural resources division if they had any volunteer needs that day. The current seasonal, Matt, proposed we get a small group of volunteers to help with bagging and labeling of some of the hundreds (if not thousands) of artifacts that need to be reorganized. I was glad to hear that the volunteers worked quickly and efficiently – and enjoyed doing it, too!

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Volunteers helping to bag and label artifacts.

These large scale park events can be a lot of work, and can be very demanding of busy park staff’s time. It was great to hear from the park project leaders that the volunteers were hard working,  and that necessary projects got completed because they came in to help. One ranger even commented on how clean and bright Washington’s Headquarters now looks!

Providing different kinds of projects that are indoors, outdoors, and of varying skill levels allows anyone (even young kids!) to participate in these days of service. Providing these opportunities can be so valuable, and I’m glad to be a part of that at Valley Forge!

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