If you want to be great, then serve others
● By Steven Hoffman
In a sermon that he delivered in February of 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that whoever wants to become great must be willing to serve. The sermon that day, titled “The Drum Major Instinct,” was inspired by Mark 10:43. During the sermon, King said that, one day in the future, after his death, he would want someone to mention that he tried to give his life to serving others. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee less than two months later, but his words and actions and legacy live on, and—just as he had hoped that February day in his home church in Atlanta—people do remember that he gave his life to the service of others.
The Spirit of Giving Luncheon in Oxford was just one of the events in the area that celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. King on Monday. The luncheon, now in its 28th year, is an important fundraiser for the Oxford Area Neighborhood Services Center, the Oxford non-profit organization that helps less fortunate families in southern Chester County.
“It's only fitting that on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we would recognize an organization like the Neighborhood Services Center,” said Jim McLeod, who serves on the committee that plans the event each year. McLeod explained that the Neighborhood Services Center helps many people in need, and the organization's resources are stretched thin this time of the year.
All the proceeds from the luncheon will be used by the Oxford Area Neighborhood Services Center to provide nutritious food, financial assistance for housing, heating, and utility services, and health care assistance for individuals and families in need.
The Spirit of Giving Luncheon was started in 1990 by a group of community leaders and business people who wanted to raise funds for the Neighborhood Services Center. Initially, the luncheon took place right before Christmas, but in 2008, when the Oxford Area School District joined as a partner, the luncheon was moved to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, combining the original purpose of the event with the spirit of King's life and legacy.
McLeod noted that Oxford Area School District superintendent David Woods and his team at the school district are very supportive of the event. Numerous food service employees volunteer their time to prepare the food for the luncheon, and student groups like Interact and Earlyact volunteer for the event.
“They have made it truly a community event,” McLeod said of the school district's participation, adding that it's never too early to teach young people the importance of getting involved in the community.
McLeod thanked everyone in attendance for supporting the Neighborhood Services Center, which has been serving the area since 1971.
“Every dollar goes right back into the community,” he explained.
The luncheon always attracts some community-minded people in the area, including local officials. State Rep. John Lawrence, County Commissioner Terence Farrell, Oxford Mayor Lorraine Bell, and local business and community leaders were in attendance at the event. Connie Winchester, the longtime executive director of the Neighborhood Services Center who is now retired, was also recognized, as was Cheryl McConnell, the current executive director.
There were several speakers at the luncheon, and each one referenced Dr. King and the importance of serving others.
Rudy Allen, the chair of the Oxford Area Neighborhood Service Center's Board of Directors, noted that Dr. King would often encourage people to think about how they are helping others, and to ask themselves whether they are serving their own community.
Referencing Dr. King's famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Allen said that he has a dream that no child in the Oxford area will have to go to bed hungry or go to school on an empty stomach. He volunteers as a board member with the Neighborhood Services Center to help others. Allen said that it takes everyone working together to help make a difference.
In his speech, Farrell said that Chester County benefits from having a large number of people who are service-minded and who are willing to help others.
“So many people in Chester County have a heart and a spirit for giving,” he explained. “There are so many people who are willing to help their neighbors.”
The guest speaker this year was Chuck Holt, the president and CEO of The Factory Ministries in Paradise, Pa.
Like the Neighborhood Services Center, The Factory Ministries has proven to be a valuable resource to those in need. The Factory Ministries, which is named after the old sewing factory that serves as its home, offers a youth center, a food pantry, and social services for adults, and has become a hub for connecting needs and resources in eastern Lancaster County. He lauded the work of the Neighborhood Services Center, and the valuable contribution that it makes to the southern Chester County community.
“What you have here with the Neighborhood Services Center is an incredible thing,” Holt said.
Holt said that the biggest issues in the rural area served by The Factory Ministries are housing concerns, food insecurity, and social isolation, and The Factory Ministries works as a collaborator on many strategic partnerships between non-profits, churches, school districts, municipalities, and businesses throughout Lancaster County to help people overcome these challenges. These strategic partnerships are aimed at providing a variety of social services that will allow people to overcome their poverty for good, not just meet their immediate needs.
“We want to create a culture of empowerment,” he explained.
Holt, who has a master's degree in organizational leadership, has spent the last 30 years working to empower people who need to overcome poverty. He emphasized three points during his speech, explaining that these are things that he learned to be very important during the time doing this kind of work. He said that it's important for people to understand that everyone's journey matters, that we are all on the same journey, and no matter what we do, everything must be placed in the context of having significant relationships.
Holt concluded his remarks by referencing that Dr. King had said that if you want to be great, you have to be willing to serve.
“Go be great,” Holt told those in attendance. “Go serve.”