Sitting together at large round tables, children and their parents cut out pink and red paper hearts, pasting them on cards for nursing home patients, or stuffed socks and blankets into kits for the homeless. Emily Davis of Volunteer Fairfax circulated among the tables, chatting with the children and their parents about their volunteer projects.
"So what was your favorite activity?" Davis asked Dana Schofield, a second-grader at Greenbrier East Elementary School in Fairfax.
"I liked making the Valentine’s Day cards," Schofield said, "Probably because they don’t get many in their own mailbox."
Davis said her favorite part of Family Volunteer Day was "Reflection Time." "We want people to have these conversations, and reflect on what they accomplished by volunteering, how they are helping others," Davis said. "This was our best year so far."
"I think more people would be fighting all the time if Dr. King hadn’t taught people how to be friends and help each other."
--Cameron Williamson, 10, Fairfax
MORE THAN 1100 PEOPLE participated in Volunteer Fairfax’s third annual Family Volunteer Day on Monday, Jan. 16, a federal holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a "day on, not a day off."
Volunteer Fairfax, an organization that matches the interests of volunteers with the needs of local nonprofits, expanded its event this year to include Herndon and Alexandria, as well as George Mason University’s Dewberry Hall, where about 500 parents and their children completed service projects for area nonprofits.
"We wanted to create an event that allows children to experience first-hand how fun and easy volunteering can be, while providing quality family time," said Jeanne Sanders, executive director of Volunteer Fairfax. Sanders said the Martin Luther King Day event is specifically designed to give parents with young children an opportunity to volunteer together.
"The first year we were overwhelmed with responses, and this room was really crowded," said Sanders. "Last year, we received grants from Youth Services America and UnitedHealthcare that allowed us to purchase more supplies and expand to three locations."
At GMU, children and parents decorated and packed hypothermia prevention kits for Fairfax County’s homeless, made Valentine’s Day cards for nursing home patients, wrote notes to accompany books for child care centers and made compost bins using clean, hospital wash basins. All of the projects will go to area nonprofits, such as FACETS, the Fairfax Library Foundation, The Holiday Project and Inova Health System.
"We might be the only people who come in and give nursing home patients Valentine’s Day cards, so these children are doing something very special and they should feel good about it," said Bobby Anderson, a board member of The Holiday Project. "They’ve already made about 100 cards, and these will go to patients throughout the county."
"My favorite part was helping people stay warm," said five-year-old James Prevett of Vienna, after putting together one of the hypothermia prevention kids. He attended the event with his three-year-old sister, Josie, and his father, Tyler.
"We want to make giving a way of life, not just a one-time event," said Tyler Prevett.
"You do have to start that message when they are young," said Angela Williamson of Fairfax, who brought her twin boys, Christian and Cameron, 10, to the event. "You feel good at the end of the day after doing this."
Cameron and Christian, who attend Willow Springs Elementary School, said they thought Dr. King would like seeing people of all races working together to help those less fortunate. "I think more people would be fighting all the time if Dr. King hadn’t taught people how to be friends and help each other," Cameron Williamson said.
Robert Saul of Clifton said he and his family attended the event "to foster the spirit of giving back when they are young, so it becomes a way of life." His wife, Kristen, said their family has made it a priority to volunteer more. "Martin Luther King said to judge people on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Volunteering gives us a way to build character, to show that a person’s character does count."
FOR MORE INFORMATION on Volunteer Fairfax, go to www.volunteerfairfax.org.