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Service and Celebration: Where to Spend MLK Day

Looking to join a day of service project? These events are kid-friendly and educational.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the celebration of the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, has been a national holiday since 1986. More recently, the holiday has been the occasion for the Martin Luther King Day of Service, which got its start in 1994 in Philadelphia and has become a strong local tradition.


This year’s MLK Day is Monday, January 16. There are plenty of observances of the holiday and opportunities to serve to choose from, and most of them welcome volunteers of all ages. It’s a great way to introduce your kids to the concept of community service, and discuss the history of the civil rights movement.

Across the Region

Cradles to Crayons is running a huge donation drive for the holiday, taking items at its Conshohocken headquarters as well as donation spots in the city and Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties. The charity accepts a variety of new and gently used items, including children’s clothing. No stuff to give? You can donate money, too: $33 buys a KidPack with essentially to keep a child warm all winter.

In Philly

Ahead of the holiday, some local organizations are hosting events this weekend.


The African-American Museum in Philadelphia’s theme this year is “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.” It begins with a screening on January 13 of 13th, a documentary about slavery and the 13th Amendment directed by Ava DuVernay (who directed Selma). A wide variety of activities will happen Monday, including appearances by the Phillie Phanatic and Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn.


Admission is $2 all weekend. The museum is also asking visitors to give back by bringing canned goods for Philabundance and school supplies for the Day of Service drive.

The Please Touch Museum will honor King over the weekend as well, with activities including a Peace Parade and interactive storytime based on King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

On the holiday, the central hub for the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service is Girard College, which will serve as the staging area for hundreds of service projects. Last year, according to the event’s official website, the Philadelphia day of service drew 140,000 volunteers who participated in around 1,800 projects, the biggest in the nation.


This year, hundreds of projects are listed. Want to get involved? Sign up here.


The Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual free concert will close out the day.

For those looking to do something more overtly political, a group of local activists plans to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day by taking to the streets in the spirit of activism and resistance in which this great American tirelessly worked.” The event, known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment March (DARE): A March for a Better America, starts at 11 am at 6th and Market streets. Find out more here. 

The National Constitution Center is commemorating King with day of service activities that include a book drive, a performance by the musical duo Two of a Kind and a reading of the “I Have a Dream” speech by local actors. The center is also offering a special $5 admission rate. You can drop off school supplies for Philly students, too.

Photograph courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum.

The Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill is hosting a festival from noon to 4 pm Monday, featuring the music of the civil rights movement, a Philly Children’s March, and stories from Denise Valentine.

The Eastern State Penitentiary may seem like an odd place for a Martin Luther King tribute, but the landmark will host readings of King’s 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail throughout the day Monday, each time followed by Q&As from civil rights scholars.

The National Museum of American Jewish History will have free admission all day Monday. The program will include performances by the Sister Cities Girl Choir and Drummers With Attitude, as well as multiple showings of the documentary From Swastika to Jim Crow, about Jewish scholars who escaped Nazi Germany and ended up at historically black colleges in the South. 

The Franklin Institute will show the “I Have a Dream” speech at the top of the hour in Franklin Hall from 10 am — 5 pm. From 11 am — 2 pm, the museum will hold a scavenger hunt in the Key Hallway featuring famous African-American scientists.

Mt. Airy USA is hosting a community day at Pleasant Playground (6720 Chew Ave.) from 10 am — 12:30 pm, with storytimes and a book swap, crafts, and a chance to clean up the playground and Chew Avenue.

If you want to be outside, Friends of the Wissahickon is organizing a cleanup of the historic Thomas Mansion property (6245 Wissahickon Ave.) from 9 am — 1 pm.

The artistically-minded can head to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for family-friendly activities for from 10 am — 3 pm. The charity MANNA will be collecting art made by visitors and distributing it along with the meals they deliver to needy people.

The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department is running cleanups and other projects at playgrounds, parks, and recreation centers all over the city. Click here for the full list of locations.


NLArts in Northern Liberties is running a drop-off camp for kids that includes a service opportunity. Children will hear from local leaders, make gifts for the needy, and collect donations from the surrounding neighborhood. It’s $45 per child, and $5 off if you bring a canned food item to donate.

On the Main Line

On the Friday and Sunday before the holiday, Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood and Zion Baptist Church in Ardmore will continue their tradition of holding interfaith services.

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El  is looking for volunteers for a variety of tasks, including loading and delivering boxes for the Jewish Relief Agency in Northeast Philadelphia on January 15. On January 16, the synagogue and its members will gather from 10 am — noon to do other tasks, such as making get well cards for sick local residents and making personal care bags for the needy. Want to get involved? Go here. 

Havertown Community Action Network, or H-CAN, is holding an event January 16 at the Havertown Free Library from 10:30 am — 12:30 pm. It’s billed as child-centered, with craft projects, a storytime, and birthday cupcakes. The day also includes a service projects, including making welcome cards for immigrants, folding origami cranes (a symbol of healing), and stuffing breakfast bags for Aid for Friends.

The Upper Main Line YMCA branch in Berwyn will have service projects for middle and high schoolers from 10 am — noon January 16.


If your children are in the Radnor Township School District, they can participate in the first-ever district-wide day of service, at Radnor High school from 9:30 am — noon. The event is open to students, parents, and staff.


The Lower Merion School District is holding an “afternoon of service” that includes crafts and games as well as service projects. It’s from 1 — 3 pm at Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr.
Photograph of the African-American Museum in Philadelphia by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.