Just to be clear at the start: We shouldn’t help other people just to get something out of it for ourselves. That’s more manipulation than altruism. Then again, why not remember that helping others positively affects our physical and mental health—and reap the benefits as we go through life?

What Are Acts of Service?

Acts of service can be many different things, depending on the situation and the people involved. At its most basic, “service” or “to serve” is to voluntarily do something kind to help someone else. What we do could be literal actions, encouraging words, or simply be a willingness to keep someone company and listen.

Here are some examples:

  • Hanging holiday lights on an elderly neighbor’s house
  • Babysitting for a friend so they can go to a doctor’s appointment
  • Working in a soup kitchen or meal center, serving food to the homeless or hungry
  • Leaving an anonymous note on a co-worker’s desk, encouraging them when they are having a hard time
  • Walking a neighbor’s dog because you heard they broke their ankle and can’t leave the house
  • Delivering a meal for someone who suffered the loss of a loved one or who is too ill to cook for themselves
  • Paying the extra $5 at the store when the person in line in front of you is short of cash.
  • Cleaning the house of someone who is ill
  • Sitting with someone who is lonely and listening to their stories
  • Volunteering at the local library to teach seniors how to use technology

Serving others doesn’t mean deciding for them what they need or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. Service is coupled with kindness and seeks to do something meaningful—something the person has asked for, or you’ve asked permission to do—for no reward at all.

Ten People Famous for Their Service

There are millions of people who will never be known for their acts of service, because they prefer to serve in secret, eschewing fame or recognition for their humble acts.

However, there are some people who made such a mark on society that they are famous whether they wanted to be or not. Here’s a quick look at ten people who are famous for their service to humanity, service that changed the world.

  1. Harriet Tubman
  2. Frederick Douglass
  3. Mohandas Gandhi
  4. Francis of Assisi
  5. Abbé Pierre
  6. Florence Nightingale
  7. Mother Teresa
  8. Desmond Tutu
  9. Clara Barton
  10. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why Is There a Holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.?

One person famous for their life of service is Martin Luther King Jr. His life made such a difference in the lives of others that there’s an annual federal holiday in his honor.

Since the first national observance in 1986, the third Monday of each January has been designated a federal holiday honoring the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. This year, the observance is on January 15. During the day, many people participate in events that promote equality and civil rights; others choose to use the day to volunteer and serve the community. For more information on how this day of remembrance came to be, read this article from the Smithsonian Institution.


Also called Dr. King for earning a PhD from Boston University, and Reverend King because he was an ordained Baptist minister, MLK is remembered for his anti-violence stance in the cause to end racial segregation and discrimination. Among his many influential and lasting contributions, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 and led the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The most influential of Black civil rights leaders during the 1960s, King was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and employment) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964.

Martin Luther King on the Subject of Service

Dr. King believed that life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? He had much to say on the subject, and here are a few of his more famous quotes about service.

MLK Service Quotes

Everybody can be great…because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

[In the Bible parable Jesus told,] The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But…the good Samaritan reversed the question, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. Every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.

The Health Benefits of Helping Others

Research has shown that volunteering offers significant health benefits, especially for older adults, including reducing stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Reducing stress further decreases the risk of some physical and mental health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and general illness. In addition, people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health.”

Other benefits include providing a sense of purpose, teaching valuable skills, and nurturing new and existing relationships.

The good news is that you don’t need to be rich or famous or a powerful politician to make a positive difference in your community. Volunteering has a ripple effect—on others, you, the world. Your actions, big or small, can help others and benefit your health.

Contact MCHD for volunteer opportunities by emailing info@mchdt.org.