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The good news is that good things do happen every day. And that's especially true as we honor events that take place on the fourth Saturday of each October.
On Oct. 28, 2006, for the 16th time, millions of Americans reached out to help others on USA WEEKEND Magazine's Make A Difference Day, the national day of community service.
Although individual methods varied, from a blogger's plea on the social network site MySpace to a newly adopted Oklahoma boy's drumbeats for African orphans, the motivation was universal: to capture the power of this day to change lives.
Ten selected efforts are profiled on the following pages; each is a recipient of the prestigious National Make A Difference Day Award. Also, we salute hundreds of local honorees in USA WEEKEND Magazine's newspaper markets.
The giving that began last October continues in the coming days as Paul Newman -- a Make A Difference Day judge and longtime supporter -- donates $100,000 for grant awards to charities chosen by the national award recipients.
This year's National Make A Difference Day Award recipients were selected by our judging panel: Paul Newman, founder and president of Newman's Own Inc.; Kate Snow, co-anchor of Good Morning America, Weekend Edition; Robert Goodwin, president and CEO, retired, Points of Light Foundation; and Marcia Bullard, the president and CEO of USA WEEKEND Magazine.
We hope you will be inspired by the caring people you'll meet here. Will you join them in helping others on the next Make A Difference Day?
Even in war-torn Iraq, volunteers make a difference - Baghdad, Iraq
U.S. soldiers in Baghdad have a rule: Don't pick up garbage you haven't dropped, because it could hide an explosive. That leaves many neighborhoods strewn with trash.
Enter Capt. Candace Hurley, 36, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Make A Difference Day, she commandeered bomb-sniffing dogs to organize a street cleanup where 50 volunteers and an Iraqi family toiled in nearly 100-degree heat to remove five truckloads of trash, weeds and crumbled concrete. "It was good for morale," says Gulf Region Division Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, 50, who spent his 27th wedding anniversary working on the project.
"Every year, I participate in Make A Difference Day," Hurley says, "so I figured just because I am deployed, that shouldn't stop me." By the next Make A Difference Day, she expects to be at a new post in South Carolina with husband Neil and their kids, ages 13, 11, 9 and 3. "Once we've settled in, we will start looking for ways to contribute."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits the American Red Cross and National Military Family Association via Global Impact, Alexandria, Va.
Soldiers studying languages say "we care" - Monterey, Calif.
For years, 78-year-old Eddie Jones, a retired Army mess steward, had a mess in his front yard. Yet the carpet remnants, lumber, paint cans and buckets of nails that the disabled vet planned to use -- one day -- always took a back seat to caring for his ailing wife.
But on Make A Difference Day, today's military men and women came to the rescue. A team of 192 volunteers from the nearby Presidio of Monterey -- where active-duty soldiers come for intensive foreign language study -- cleared Jones' yard and painted and landscaped at four other properties, using $3,500 worth of donated supplies.
Sgt. Charles Buman, 27, rallied Presidio volunteers by emphasizing the military ties of the homeowners, who are based in the neighboring town of Seaside. In addition to Jones, two of the four remaining homeowners were military widows. "We weren't looking for recognition," Buman says. "It's soldiers helping soldiers. It's us helping one of our own. He's done more than his fair share for us."
After 13 military men and women and six civilians finished working at Jones' pink-and-white bungalow, he could finally marvel at his newly spotless yard. "You do like to say 'thank you,' and that's all they would let me do," Jones says. "They made a friend with me, and I'm hoping I can be a friend to them."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Grant donated by Paul Newman, benefits Rebuilding Together, Monterey, Calif.
MySpace pals spread their good-hearted web worldwide - Torrance, Calif.
MySpace -- the wildly popular social networking website -- brings people closer both in good times and bad.
It started with a connection between two friends who had never met. Redondo Beach, Calif., medical aesthetician Karri Hayes, 38, still was grieving the loss of her mother to a rare bone marrow cancer, so she decided that her seventh Make A Difference Day project would be a parental tribute. She joined in with her new online friend, Carol Abraham, 38, a single mom in Smyrna, Tenn., with the technical savvy to create a blog -- myspace.com/independentunity -- where they recruited friends to make a positive change in the world.
Around the globe, in such far-reaching locales as Australia, Korea, Guam and India, 629 bloggers volunteered and helped 4,000 people in a variety of ways. Many of the bloggers have "blind profiles," meaning we'll never know exactly whom to thank for the good deeds. Thanks -- you know who you are. :)
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits cancer research and treatment at City of Hope, Duarte, Calif.
She lives every day to its fullest - Thornton, Colo.
When she was diagnosed with brain and spinal cancer two years ago, Sara P. Widener, 20, wasn't thinking about dying -- she was determined to live as she never had before. Ever listen to the Tim McGraw song Live Like You Were Dying? That's Widener these days: She has gone skydiving and has taken to climbing in the Rocky Mountains near her home. "Cancer changed my perspective on life," she says. "I thought I was so happy before, but I didn't really realize how precious and beautiful my life really is."
In turn, her suburban Denver community is getting a keen sense of just how precious a person Widener is. For Make A Difference Day, she partnered with her mother, Barbara Widener, 59, to raise money to provide cancer treatments for the poor and for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. Their efforts, which raised $15,000, concluded on Oct. 28 with a Locks of Love benefit held at Sara's alma mater, Thornton High. Three hairdressers lopped the tresses of 27 individuals for the charity, while others shaved their heads in support of Widener's cancer fight.
Her mom vows that the drive will be an annual event, no matter what the future holds for Sara: "Let's put it this way -- we're going to do it whether it's two of us or one of us. If Sara passes away, she'll be there in spirit."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits Brent Eley Foundation in Denver and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
7,000 Florida residents really clean up - Daytona Beach, Fla.
The United Way definitely lives up to its name in Florida. The Volunteer Center for Volusia and Flagler counties has been helping the central coast area and its residents for years, but never quite as much as in 2006, when 7,000 volunteers helped 50,000-plus people with about 80 projects on Make A Difference Day.
In one volunteer effort, Stetson University sophomore Dave Glerum, 19, signed on 25 of his Delta Sigma Phi frat brothers to perform maintenance jobs at a park he frequented as a child.
Miles away, it was Guy C. Strutz's first time as a helper, and he didn't disappoint: Strutz and five employees at GCS Construction Inc. fixed up the hurricane-damaged home of a 92-year-old widow, repairing the roof and replacing plaster and painting.
"I wouldn't call myself a big religious man," he says, "but I think maybe God is about everyone trying to take care of each other."
After all, it's the Golden Rule.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits future projects on the day via the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Teens show a talent for helping sick children - Kennebec-Waterville, Maine
The 12 Winslow High School juniors and seniors in Kendra Littlefield's service-learning class have seen the effects of cancer up close and personal: In one year, the disease took the lives of four teachers they knew in earlier school years.
"Four out of six teachers battling cancer we know have died," says Jen Bizier, 17. She and her classmates decided to spend their second Make A Difference Day helping young cancer patients. "All of us have younger siblings, and we just couldn't imagine losing a sibling to this terrible disease."
Their plan: to aid an art-therapy program at Portland's Maine Medical Center that gives pediatric patients, from infants to teens, an emotional outlet during difficult, frequent chemo treatments.
The class raised $1,000 and received donations of art supplies during a talent show in the school gym, which was decorated with children's drawings of a bright future.
Their teachers would be proud.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman, benefits the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center, Portland.
A corporate meeting turns into an opportunity to help - Minneapolis
Best Buy employees made a strong connection on Make A Difference Day. And it had nothing to do with hooking up a flat-screen TV.
During a three-day "Top Achievers" business meeting in Orlando, about 1,000 retail and Geek Squad employees, including 150 staffers from the Minneapolis corporate headquarters, spent a day refurbishing a park that still showed the year-old damage of Hurricane Rita. The group cleared a quarter-mile of debris, installed new guide poles for campers, planted three gardens, built an amphitheater in a section used for educational activities and donated -- in true Best Buy fashion -- audio-visual equipment, including a laptop, projector, speakers and an inflatable big screen.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
All aboard! A 10-year-old spreads love of trains to 84 kids - Olean, N.Y.
The only thing that Jon Thomas "J.T." Robertson, 10, loves more than trains is talking about trains. For Make A Difference Day, he shared that love with 84 disadvantaged children who otherwise couldn't afford to ride one. "There are thousands -- billions! -- of kids who love trains as much as me," he says. "But with the cost of everything going up, they can't get that great experience."
So he and his 6-year-old pal, Josh Tsujimoto, collected 14,000 cans -- including more than 1,000 by canvassing with Josh's red wagon -- and recycled them to raise nearly $1,000. That was enough to treat 84 kids and their adult chaperones to a two-hour trip on the nearby historical Arcade and Attica Railroad.
"Next year," says Linda Kempf, railroad general manager, "he wants to sell out the whole train!"
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman creates volunteer opportunities for young people via the United Way of Cattaraugus County, Olean, N.Y.
Little drummer boy remembers African orphans - Norman, Okla.
Adam Selmon, 12, was lucky enough to be adopted by U.S. parents, but he never forgets the orphaned friends he left behind in his native, war-ravaged Liberia.
Only two months after arriving in America's heartland, Adam was having breakfast with his new mom, Kathryn, 51, while she read aloud a USA WEEKEND article about Make A Difference Day. Adam was immediately inspired. He would carry his African drum to a nearby park so he could play and sing for donations.
The result: In just three hours, Adam collected $207 for orphans he left behind, specifically those at his old orphanage's school, the Benjamin Britt Academy.
What will the $207 bring to them? Two desks, four benches, a gallon of glue -- and an invaluable spark of hope. "We have to help the people there," Adam says. "I think when I play my drum, I call attention to them."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits African orphans via Food and Shelter for Friends, Norman, Okla.
Great-grandmother, at the head of her class - Clarksville, Tenn.
Bonnie Wade, 22, quit high school in her junior year and has been looking for a second chance ever since. Thanks to Geneva Bell, she got one.
You see, Bell, a 65-year-old great-grandmother of 25, received her own high school equivalency degree only six years ago. "I remember how good it felt to get the degree," Bell says, "and how so many doors opened up for me."
This year, Bell -- an organizer of Clarksville's Make A Difference Day since 1998 -- raised money to pay the exam fees so Wade and 27 others could take the GED test and get their degrees.
Bell and other townspeople sent letters to churches and businesses, met with local bank officials, and sold baked goods, hot dogs and T-shirts. In the end, they rounded up $2,144 for GED scholarship money and other projects.
On Oct. 28, 2006, 28 individuals took the eight-hour test; all but one passed.
"I'd been wanting to do it for a long time," says Wade, who hopes to make the most of her new degree. "I finally realized I needed that GED if I want to get where I want to be."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day grant donated by Paul Newman benefits the young people of Clarksville via Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society.