Day to Serve (DTS) started small in 2011 with the simple, common idea that getting a lot of people together for one day to serve others could make a difference.
The idea picked up steam quickly.
A few small events in Virginia quickly ignited a spirit of service that spread to Maryland, Washington, D.C. and then West Virginia.
One day of service turned into two weeks of service and then to a month-long massive service spree.
What fuels its growth?
Very simply, it’s our often-overlooked basic human desire to do good.
DTS is proof that of two truths: 1) people love to serve and; 2) service unites people.
It brings diverse groups of people together and helps break down the barriers that often separate us.
It helps people begin to see each other as friends and fellow human beings instead of strangers with insurmountable differences.
Last spring, a DTS planning meeting was held that brought together leaders of about 30-40 different faith groups to discuss how they could put aside their religious differences and join forces to help people in need in their communities.
The energy in the room was palpable.
We divided the group up by geographic zones so that faith groups in the same general neighborhoods could work together and focus on service needed in their specific localities.
Everyone began chatting and sharing some of the services they routinely offer, many of them probably taken for granted or even unknown to most people in their communities.
The amount of good done by each one of these individual faith groups is incalculable.
Independently, they feed the hungry, house the homeless, help their aging neighbors, strengthen homes and families; cleanup highways and parks, and a myriad of other good deeds.
All of this is done in addition to providing spiritual nourishment, leadership, hope and faith to their members.
The more people shared what they already do to serve in their communities, the more people became aware of each other and their shared commitment to serve.
Serving is a sacred part of most religious and spiritual ministries.
Gradually, over the course of the last several months, each group seemed to catch a new vision of what could happen if they stopped seeing each other as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Amish, etc.
When they started to see each other as friends and neighbors with common values and priorities, the invisible walls we often build started to come down.
These meetings prompted discussions about what would happen if people of faith didn’t focus so passionately on their philosophical or doctrinal differences and instead focused on their shared love of spirituality, service and faith-driven lives.
One faith leader said it was miraculous to see how once they stopped focusing on the differences that divided them; they discovered that service could unite them.
Another leader said, “If we can succeed at this, we can change the world! I mean, we might not believe the same things, but we are all living under the same big sky.”
This is the spirit that fuels Day to Serve.
It’s not about the number of pins on the service map or even the number of volunteers.
It’s the stories behind each pin and the people and acts of kindness they represent.
Saturday, I participated in an event that brought Muslims, Jews and Catholics together to help senior citizens.
When I arrived at one elderly couple’s home, I thought I was on the set of a home or yard makeover show.
Muslim women in their traditional veils and dresses along side Christian women in their jeans and t-shirts hauled heavy bags of yard debris to the curb while others purged and organized a garage and a backyard shed. Men worked shoulder to shoulder mowing grass, hauling trash and planting fall flowers.
Together, people from different faiths and backgrounds worked as friends – mowing, weeding, reorganizing, planting and refurbishing.
And guess what?
Everybody was smiling and having a great time together.
The most moving scene was seeing the overwhelmed homeowner sitting in her wheelchair with tears in her eyes, shaking her head, saying, “I don’t even have the words to express how thankful we are for this help.”
Imagine that same experience at over a thousand events with tens of thousands of volunteers.
That’s a lot of good going around.
More good makes us happy.
The most commonly asked questions after all of these service events have been, “What are we going to do next? How can we get more people involved?”
It’s the spirit of sharing “our happy” that makes Day to Serve a unique and special event. I guess that’s why I keep doing it year after year.
I also agree with the faith leader who said these small acts of service could literally change the world.
In fact, on some scale, it already has.