National Day of Service: MLK Day Project Ideas For College Students

Last Updated on January 16, 2014

Black greek fraternities and sororities participate in a MLK National Day of Service community project at the University of Southern Mississippi Campus.
Photo courtesy of The University of Southern Mississippi.

The birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. every January 15th has been celebrated as a federal holiday since 1983 and has been designated as a National Day of Service since 1994. This is celebrated every third Monday of January as a reminder to all Americans to participate in service projects that aim to provide solutions to various community problems.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. constantly preached about love, peace, and justice. However, in his final days, he focused mainly on fighting poverty. He encouraged people to volunteer their services in making their communities a better place to live in. He once said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Today, his life has inspired millions of Americans to devout their time and energy on this particular day to help others in need.

How To Serve On MLK National Day of Service

College students have various opportunities to serve during the National Day of Service. It is an opportunity to put into action the many lessons that one can learn from the life of Dr. King through projects that could provide solutions, change lives and empower human beings.

Host a Book Drive

Dr. King believed that change is possible through good education, service and non-violence. A high rate of literacy is essential for survival, yet there are still many communities who have little or no access to good books and other learning materials. College students could pool book donations and deliver these to a deserving organization or learning institution.

Form a committee of dedicated students and plan ahead to make this activity a success. Visit book publishing companies who may have extra reprints that they may be willing to donate. Identify recipients such as the local library, preschool, elementary and high schools who would benefit from the book drive.

Invite other students to bring their book donations and join you in this effort. Ask guidance from the school librarian who may have an age-specific listing of books that you could donate.

After the National Day of Service, meet with your team members and assess what you have accomplished and how the activity could be improved for next time. You could write about the activity on your school newsletter to inspire others to serve.

Be A STEM Mentor

President Obama has cited the need for students to excel in math and science as a top priority and college students could be instrumental in fulfilling this goal. Mentoring is recognized as an excellent opportunity for college students who are passionate about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

You could form a team of your friends and family who could share their passion with young people and ignite their interests in the STEM areas. Find other STEM professionals who are already volunteering or contact other organizations you could partner with. Work with teachers who can guide you in planning activities and connecting with young students. Organize your materials before you volunteer and decide how many hours per week could you dedicate to this activity.

Launch a Fitness Event

You can also organize a whole day of fitness for your college peers or encourage your friends to organize fitness activities for children around your community. You would need to find a venue inside or outside the campus that would be big enough for sports activities such as track and field, obstacle courses, sack races, etc. Be sure to get a permit to use the facilities, if necessary, several days before the activity.

Plant Neighborhood Trees

You can put together a motivated team of students who care about the community and the environment. Trees turn ordinary city streets into beautiful pathways for walking and jogging. They also provide seasonal shade and color. Trees also soak up carbon dioxide and stabilize the soil, which helps to clean the air we breathe. Before getting started, determine a location and decide what types of trees you want to plant. Certain kinds of trees do well in small spaces, and other types of trees have extensive root systems that grow rapidly and require a larger space to spread.

Assess and Learn

There are still many projects that you could plan for and execute, but whatever activity you choose, try to bring learning into the volunteer work that you do. Remember the principles that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for and how you could incorporate these into any service project. After each activity, take the time to assess and examine what areas could be improved.

For other National Day of Service Project Ideas for College Students, visit

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