The Family Guide to Philly MLK Day of Service Celebrations
Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's legacy with volunteer work and more.
On January 15, we celebrate and reflect on the incredible legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While the kids may be home from school, this is not just any day off: Philly is the birthplace of the MLK Day of Service, and there are lots of ways to observe the holiday, from family festivals to volunteer opportunities all over the city.
If you’d like to seize the opportunity this year to help your kids understand King’s ideas — and the broader concept of helping others in his memory — here are some family-friendly options.
January 15, various locations throughout Philadelphia and suburbs
No matter your neighborhood, age, or physical abilities, there is a service project for you. This very helpful website created for the Philadelphia region’s MLK Day of Service has a comprehensive database of all the service projects in the area, and you can constrain your search to specifically include kid-friendly projects. These take places all over, including various places of worship, community centers, and schools. Projects include everything from neighborhood cleanup to panel discussions to cooking and organizing donations for neighbors in need. Bonus: they also created a free printable MLK Day coloring book for kids!
January 15, various locations throughout Philadelphia
As part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service, you can volunteer to help beautify one of Philadelphia’s many parks and recreation centers. See the map created by PPR in the link to choose a volunteer site. Maybe it’s your neighborhood playground, or maybe a beloved environmental center like Pennypack on the Delaware. Wherever you chose, you will be contributing to your community in a way that’s very visible and understandable even for small children.
This charity accepts donations year-round, but holds a special drive each January, with extra pickup spots on the MLK holiday. Families can volunteer at the organization’s Conshohocken Giving Factory, too.
January 12, 7 pm — January 15, 5 pm
African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St., Philadelphia
The celebration starts Friday night with “Passion, Progress & Pulchritude,” an evening of MLK-inspired poetry and music. Saturday through Monday will have plenty of interactive and enlightening arts activities, performances and workshops, including face painting and balloon animals. On Monday, participate in the Citizens Bank Scavenger Hunt and Book Giveaway. Admission will be free on Friday, then just $2 the rest of the weekend.
January 15, 1:30 pm
Girard College Chapel, 2101 S. College Ave., Philadelphia
This free 90-minute concert combines the traditions of African-American culture and Western classical music. The program includes Samuel Barber’s classic “Adagio for Strings” performed to excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by speaker Charlotte Blake Alston, as well as other uplifting pieces. Tickets go live on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s website on January 9, so don’t miss out! If you can’t make the show, you can listen to the live radio broadcast on WRTI (90.1 FM or wrti.org).
January 15, 10 am — 5 pm
Please Touch Museum, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia
Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision through a day of art and stories. Create art projects, learn about “superheroes among us,” and attend a very special storytime led by author and illustrator Rashad Davis including a book signing afterward. End your day with a Peace Parade, when everyone will march around the museum and sing of world peace and unity.
January 15, 10 am –3 pm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia
The art museum is usually closed on Mondays, but on MLK Day it’s not just open but is offering Pay What You Wish admission for the day. Kids can create art in the Great Stair Hall that will be delivered along with nourishing meals to those in need by MANNA. At 11:30, there will be a youth-focused conversation on how Dr. King’s legacy can help inspire today’s social movements.
January 15, 10 am— 5 pm
The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia
Relive Dr. King’s powerful delivery of “I Have a Dream” featured on screens throughout the day in the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. Local spoken word poet Ron Cook will deliver a poignant tribute to Dr. King, and visitors are encouraged to turn their passion for science into action through various citizen science activities throughout the day, including coloring and a scavenger hunt for younger kids.
January 15, noon — 4 pm
Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia
This free event offers activities for kids, including storytelling, an introduction to the Philly Children’s March’s letter-writing project, and the chance to see the museum’s latest exhibit, “Jerry Pinkney: Martin Luther King Jr. and Great American Heroes.”
January 13, 11:30 am — January 15, 5 pm
Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia
Eastern State Penitentiary commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail with special readings and opportunities to connect with the text. There will be readings three times a day performed by actors, youth readers, and community leaders all three days of the long weekend. On Monday, January 15, children (ages 7-12) and their families can create art in response to themes found in the letter, an activity created in partnership with Art Sanctuary.
January 15, 9:30 am
National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., Philadelphia
The National Constitution Center has a full day of community service projects, special performances, and fun for the whole family; along with special $5 admission courtesy of Macy’s. Special storytimes will take place in the Grand Hall Lobby, along with an all-day craft center where kids can create “I Have a Dream” mobiles. There will also be a number of live performances, including a passionate reading of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech performed by local actors and students. In the spirit of service, the museum is organizing the donation of books and school supplies for Philadelphia school students. Visitors will be invited to help museum staff and Alex Holley of FOX 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia” to sort the supplies to deliver to classrooms throughout the city.
January 15, 10 am–5 pm
National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut St., Philadelphia
Explore how everyone can “Live Like a Hero” and enjoy a variety of civil rights-inspired activities like an “I Have a Dream” craft corner, a Civil Rights scavenger hunt through the museum, and a film screening about Thurgood Marshall’s triumph in Brown v. Board of Education. In the afternoon, kids can participate in the museum’s first Cultural Express meeting which aims to explore different cultures to break down barriers and stop hate. Admission to the museum is “pay what you wish” all day.
January 15, 10 am — 5 pm
101 South Independence Mall East, Philadelphia
Honor Dr. King’s legacy with a day filled with family-friendly performances, arts and crafts activities, spotlight talks about social justice, and more.
January 15, 9:30 am — 12:30 pm
University of Pennsylvania, Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce St., Philadelphia
Kids can help students, alumni, and other community members in service projects like putting together and personalizing kindness bags of toiletries for women’s shelters, painting commemorative banners, listening to stories and songs about Dr. King’s life, and creating gifts that will be donated to those in need in the West Philadelphia area.
January 15, 10 — 11:30 am
Radnor High School, 130 King of Prussia Road, Wayne
RTSD students and their parents are welcome to participate in the district’s second annual day of service.
January 15, 10 am — 1 pm, 2 — 5 pm
HomeCooked, 1 Paoli Plaza, Paoli
HomeCooked is adding a service component to its regular school break camp. They will supply extra ingredients for everyone to use to make extra pans of shepherd’s pie which will be donated to local families in need. Kids will also make a snack and a fun dessert to bring home!
January 15, 10 am — 4 pm
1661 Harding Blvd., Norristown
Get free admission all day at Elmwood Park Zoo and attend a special animal education program called “I Have a Dream.”
January 14, 1 — 3 pm
James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown
Join storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston as she shares traditional and contemporary stories and songs from African and African-American oral and cultural traditions with engaging narration and instruments. Then create an All Together Now hexagon using a variety of art materials in the Education Center, which will be displayed in the Michener Education Gallery in the All Together Now: The Hexagon Project exhibition.
January 13, 1 1 am — 1 pm
Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia
Celebrate the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day by writing your hopes and dreams for the future, then display your message on the museum’s wall for everyone to see.
January 12, 1 — 3 pm
Lower Merion High School Cafeteria, 315 E. Montgomery Ave., Ardmore
LMSD is working with several charities for this event, including Cradles to Crayons and the Ronald McDonald House.
Lead photograph by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia.