First-ever MLK, Jr. Community Day of Service to be held at Appleton East High School

While students in the Appleton Area School District will have the day off on Jan. 21 to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program is supporting the efforts of the City of Appleton and the school district in making it a day “on.”

Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator Karen Nelson has spent the year building cultural awareness.

The first annual MLK, Jr. Community Day of Service will be held at Appleton East High School on Jan. 21. This daytime event will provide students and the community with information on MLK Jr.’s work, a celebration with a service component in the afternoon.

There will be a march, followed by presentations in the auditorium, food sampling and informational booths from a variety of organizations, services and nonprofit agencies.  

The evening event, which is in its 29th year, will be held at Lawrence Chapel with an essay contest and awards ceremony.

RSVP Director Carol Bloemer wanted RSVP to be a part of a communitywide day of service for several years.

“I had a dream, too!,” she said. “MLK, Jr.’s work stands out by itself, but to me this day also celebrates the work of many more people who worked hard for equality. As far as we have come, there is more work to do. Helping to promote the idea that it is “A Day On,” Not a Day Off” is a task I take seriously. It is a day to serve others, to show our pride in our community and to do it all together.”

The planning team for this event includes Volunteer Fox Cities, the Appleton Area School District, Family First Ministries and the City of Appleton.

Jan. 16 will mark the one-year anniversary of the City of Appleton’s Dignity & Respect Campaign. This initiative, led by Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator Karen Nelson and Lawrence University Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Kimberly Barrett, empowers individuals to create environments for everyone to live, work and play.   The goal of the initiative is to support the community, organizations, youth programs, schools and sports programs in making Appleton a better place for all to live with all of our differences.

Nelson chose Jan. 16 – the day after Dr. King’s birthday – as a call to action for the community to come together and rally around the issues of racism, bias, inequity and injustice in our society.

“What a great way to live out the values of Dr. King beyond just his birthday holiday,” she said. “During his life, Dr. King was all about serving others.”

That is why the City of Appleton is taking the campaign to the next level by promoting Jan. 21 as a day of service with the Appleton Area School District, which is allowing students to be off of school in order to serve.

 “Meaning, make it a day on, not a day off,” she said, “so that people can proactively get out of their comfort zones and find something to do as service to others, which is what Dr. King’s life was all about.”

The Dignity & Respect Campaign really boils down to simple things – fundamental manners that we all learned in kindergarten, Nelson explains.

“It starts with you,” she said. “Keep yourself in a good place – smile and say ‘hello,’ ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”

Nelson has spent the entire year building cultural awareness. She conducts free workshops that help people learn about other cultures. Nelson also is a guest on WHBY’s Fresh Take on the third Friday of every month. She updates listeners on what is happening with the campaign, along with diversity and inclusion in general.

In 1996, the City of Appleton was 97 percent white. Today, that figure ranges between 83 to 85 percent white, which Nelson says comes from creating an environment of welcoming and inclusion.

“I’m very pleased with the intentionality, with the engagement,” she said. “Every single one of my workshops and community conversations has been wildly successful. Rooms have been filled to capacity. People already are inquiring about 2019 workshops and how they can support the effort.”

Every day, Mayor Hanna and Nelson wear a pin with the words, “I will do my part.”

“If everyone just does their part,” she said, “then the City of Appleton will be a better place of accepting all of our differences.”


People can take a pledge in conjunction with the Dignity & Respect Campaign, promising to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Initially, 113 people signed the pledge. Today, that figure is approaching 2,200. To take the pledge, visit and scroll down to “Take the Pledge.” 

What: MLK, Jr. Day of Service
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Appleton East High School
             2121 E. Emmers Dr., Appleton 54915


If you would like to volunteer at the MLK, Jr. Day of Service, there are four ways you can help: setup, ambassadors, bus/service attendants and service activity attendants. Sign up at For more information, contact Carol Bloemer at or 920-832-9360.


For more information on the Dignity & Respect Campaign, contact Karen Nelson at or 920-832-1564 or visit