As part of the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, many were taking part in various projects at Girard College in north Philadelphia and 110,000 people had registered to take part in events around the region, director Todd Bernstein said.
"In a nation too often divided, we can embrace Dr. King's legacy by joining together, promoting tolerance and understanding, and serving others," he said in a statement.
Volunteers were participating in service projects, workshops and training, as well as a community health and wellness fair and events for children, said Bernstein, an aide to former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., when he teamed up with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to sponsor the 1994 congressional measure designating the holiday as a day of service.
Noting that it was the 50th anniversary of King's March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Bernstein said the organization was also sponsoring its second annual job fair trying to match up 17 employers with job-seekers and also providing workshops on such things as resume writing, interviewing, restoring credit and help for veterans transitioning to civilian life.
In the Girard College armory, which now serves as the school's gymnasium, hundreds of people were sitting at tables working on service projects or providing information about community resources to residents. On a couple of large screens along one wall, clips of King played continuously.
At one table, a few dozen people sat writing letters of support and appreciation to members of the armed forces and their families as part of a project sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha. Mary Houston, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the sorority, said members were also collecting books to be distributed to children living on military bases.
"We wrote about a thousand letters last year, and we hope to match that this year," she said.
Jennie Burkholder, an English teacher at Abington Friends School, a private Quaker institution, was at the Mitzvah project where participants were making scarves and hats for people in need.
"One of our philosophies is community service, so here we are," she said as 4-year-old daughter Harper played peek-a-boo. "She's ready for a nap."
Featured prominently by organizers was a program called Keyspots intended to extend Internet access and training to all communities in the city, including teaching basic computer skills to public housing residents.
Several women sat at a table sponsored by the city chapter of the Peaches and Cream motorcycle club transforming air fresheners into dolls wearing African-style clothing to give to senior citizens. Elsewhere, the Germantown Deaf Ministries Fellowship held sign language classes. Next to piles of donated clothing, there were four bins of sporting equipment such as lacrosse sticks, hula hoops and golf clubs to be donated to local YMCAs and recreation centers.
In an effort to encourage the volunteer spirit to last longer than one day, two dozen community groups were on hand trying to sign up people to work on projects over the rest of the year. Bernstein said officials hoped the events would as a "springboard" for year-round community involvement.
"Just as Dr. King was a champion of action 365 days of the year in order to solve the community's pressing problems, we have to harness those resources of government and the private sector and individual volunteers and communities of faith to be able to solve these continuing issues that could never be solved in a day," he said.