Volunteers spruce up the garden and grounds at Gilbert Park Elementary (photo: Megan Zabel Holmes)

“At a time when people are feeling fractured and divided, volunteerism is the great connector,” said United Way President and CEO Keith Thomajan. 

That connection was strong over MLK weekend when over 1,500 volunteers donated their time to 64 nonprofit projects in the Portland metro area to honor Dr. King's legacy. They spruced up libraries and school gardens, weatherized homes for low-income seniors, packaged donated food  and so much more. By the end of the holiday weekend, 4,229 volunteer hours added a value of $102,130 to the community.

To Thomajan, Dr. King’s vision of the ‘beloved community’ frames United Way’s commitment to an equitable community where all children and families benefit from the opportunities that make our region strong. Over half of the volunteer projects were directly related to helping low-income kids and families, supporting United Way’s overall strategy to invest in our region’s kids. 

David and Xuan Sibell both led volunteer events over the course of the weekend. Between the two of them they sorted clothing at Dress for Success, organized books at the Tigard Library and pulled ivy at Brookhaven Woods.

“For me, living is about taking and giving,” Xuan said. “Volunteering is part of giving. It’s part of keeping life in balance and I’ve been working at it for a long time. Of course, it’s wonderful to see all the benefits that come out of doing something for others and the communities, but honestly, it’s more for me. It’s how I can stay peaceful and happy.”

The couple has been volunteering with Hands On Greater Portland for close to 20 years, but events during MLK Weekend of Service are especially meaningful.

“We believe in Dr. King’s message and mission, and in keeping the memory of that stage of the Civil Rights movement alive,” David said. 

"At a time when people are feeling fractured and divided, volunteerism is the great connector." - Keith Thomajan

Local businesses played a big role in the weekend’s success, sponsoring events and sending employees out in force to volunteer. 

“Regence employees were thrilled that the sun was shining on this year’s MLK Weekend of Service,” said Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon President Angela Dowling. Regence was the presenting sponsor of MLK Weekend of Service for the third year in a row.
“It is the impact of community events like these – of neighbors out helping neighbors – that inspires our mission to make health care more person-centered and economically sustainable,” Dowling said. “As a homegrown nonprofit, Regence is proud to partner with community leaders like United Way to make Oregon a healthier place for everyone to live, work and play.”

Sponsor JPMorgan Chase partnered with nonprofit Financial Beginnings to train over 20 employees to be financial counselors, so they can help young people and adults gain the tools they need to understand their finances, make informed decisions and ultimately create a stable financial future for themselves.

"Volunteering is part of giving. It’s part of keeping life in balance and I’ve been working at it for a long time." - Volunteer Xuan Sibell
Employees from Intel sort donated goods for the free store for teachers at nonprofit Schoolhouse Supplies.

“Having United Way coordinate the activities is such a big help,” said Brian Stewart, Community Relations Officer at JPMorgan Chase. “They made the whole weekend so easy for our employees to participate.”
Each year, MLK Weekend of Service is a tangible way for thousands of people to make real Dr. King’s vision.

“The impact for dozens of nonprofits and tens of thousands of kids and families is real,” said Keith Thomajan. “The bond it creates lasts well beyond the weekend itself.”