This MLK Day, the Maroon Volunteer Center encourages Mississippi State University students, faculty and community members to use their day off work and school as an opportunity to give back to the Starkville community.

The MLK Day of Service is part of United We Serve, a national service initiative where communities all over the country join together to carry on King's legacy of service.

At 8 a.m. Jan. 21, the community-wide Unity Breakfast will be served at The Mill, followed by a keynote speaker at 9:00 a.m. Volunteers can check in between 8 and 10 a.m. to receive their wristband and service location. The first 500 volunteers to check in will also receive a free t-shirt.

This year marks the 24th year Starkville has hosted the MLK Unity Breakfast, and is the eighth year the event has been followed by this nationwide opportunity to serve.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service’s website, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday was deemed a national holiday by the government in 1983. Only 11 years later, the holiday was declared a national day of service. While King's birthday is Jan. 15, the holiday is observed on every third Monday of January, which usually falls around his birthday.

The vision behind MLK Day of Service, as stated by the Corporation for National and Community Service, is to "empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move us closer to Dr. King's vision of a 'Beloved Community.'"

Meggan Franks, the interim director of Student Leadership and Community Engagement at MSU, said by actively working as a community on these different service projects, MLK Day becomes "a day on, not a day off."

The Maroon Volunteer Center is partnering this year with the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center.

"We partnered with these organizations in 2015. That year, we had 300 volunteers participate. Now, we have between 500 to 600," Franks said. "We are so happy with that number, but we would also love to see it reach 1,000 one day."

Franks said this event brings together MSU students, faculty, staff and Starkville community members, describing it as an opportunity for "students to meet other students and also engage in community life."

Every year, there have between 20 and 25 service locations. Most of these are in Starkville, but this year, four locations are in Columbus.

Emily Bedwell, an MSU accounting graduate student overseeing the event, said she got involved with the Maroon Volunteer Center because she has always had a passion for volunteering. The Maroon Volunteer Center has been a perfect fit for her because it also acts as a job.

"Not only am I working and getting paid, but I am also making a difference in the community," Bedwell said.

Bedwell said she especially believes in the importance of students volunteering for the MLK Day of Service, despite many only being temporary residents.

"We forget that there’s a town here. We get caught so up in the university bubble," Bedwell said. "This gives students an opportunity to see Starkville, and see the needs that are here."

All service projects will last between 10:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Transportation will be provided if needed, and busses heading to service sites will leave between 10 and 10:15 a.m. To register as an individual or as a team, visit https://mlkdaystarkville.weebly.com/contact.html.

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