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National Award to Adam Chesnut, of the steelmaking town of Toronto, Ohio, who persuaded his paper route customers to join Make A Difference Day. / Photo by Richard Kelly for USA WEEKEND.
National Award to 1,000 volunteers around Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville, N.C., where Marine and civilian families pulled together through the schools. Angela Hawkins, whose father, 1st Sgt. Billy Hawkins, helped sort donated goods all day, thought she'd be bored, but discovered "I want to help people." / Photo by Greg Foster for USA WEEKEND
National Award to students in Laredo, Texas, who cared enough to help children in a poor neighborhood get a necessity: warm clothes. / Photo by James McGoon for USA WEEKEND
National Award to 300 residents of New York City public housing, who saw beyond their own needs and reached out to help others on Make A Difference Day. These young residents of the Polo Grounds public housing took their hip-hop performance to sick children at Harlem Hospital. / Photo by Nick Cardiluchio for USA WEEKEND
National Award to leukemia patient Mindy Elvey, 15, of Altoona, Pa., who for Make A Difference Day arranged to get 10 TVs donated to children's sickrooms. / Photo by Richard Kelly for USA WEEKEND.
National Award to 6,000 people in Albany, Ga., who did 175 projects. Here, teacher Catherine Whitfield helps Banisha and Malicah Carter plant flowers at school. / Photo by Walt Petruska, Albany Herald
National Award to 3,500 co-workers at the Money Store headquarters in Sacramento. Led by Susan Giles, they helped children in trouble have a better temporary home. / Photo by William Mercer Macleod for USA WEEKEND
National Award to Bakersfield, Calif., police, who rallied 300 residents to paint, clean and repair. Here: Janet Riley, Marquitha K. Swinton and Debbie Taylor of Christmas in April. / Photo by Bryan Davis for USA WEEKEND
A paperboy sets out on a 6-hour, porch-to-porch trek for the needy. - Toronto, OH
Usually, paper carrier Adam Chesnut can loft the Steubenville Herald-Star onto his customers' porches in 45 minutes. But his route took six hours Oct. 25, 1997, national Make A Difference Day, because after he left the papers he lugged away bags and boxes of donations for the disadvantaged.
When the 14-year-old first read about the day, "the title of it really got to me: Make A Difference Day." He hand-wrote a note, his dad made 50 photocopies and, a week before the event, Adam left a "Dear Customer" note on each porch. The note asked for used clothes and household items Goodwill Industries could resell to help the needy.
Oct. 25, with Mom driving the family truck, Adam collected 50 large bagfuls, dropped them at Goodwill and had "one of the greatest feelings I have ever felt. When you help somebody out, that's helping you out, too," says the honor student. "It lifts your spirits to see people's faces. You can see the happiness."
$2,000 award will benefit Goodwill Industries Rehabilitation Center, Wintersville, Ohio.
Marines and civilians line up to begin a drive for area charities. - Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"Green beans and corn don't make very good soup," says Elaine Toth. But that's all the soup kitchen director had to feed the poor and elderly before Make A Difference Day. Other area charities had dire needs, too: everything from wigs for cancer patients to toiletries for a homeless shelter.
Send in the Marines. Two elementary schools -- one on the Camp Lejeune Marine base, and one in nearby Jacksonville, N.C. -- teamed up to fulfill all the needs. Among the bounty donated and sorted by 1,000 family volunteers: three vans of items for a women's shelter, 87 stuffed toys for a child crime victim program, 51 pints of blood, and one stove.
Teachers Debra Bryant and Kerri Helsel hatched the project after reading about Make A Difference Day in the Jacksonville Daily News. Through fliers and the media, they rallied the two communities, military and civilian, to unite to help everyone.
$2,000 award will benefit Onslow Community Ministries and Onslow Women's Center, Jacksonville, N.C.
Poor children dig into a free breakfast; they'll go home with warm clothes and new shoes. - Laredo, Texas
Her response was simple, the reward great. "I was happy," recalls Abigail Martinez, 9, after her family of six received warm clothes from Make A Difference Day participants. "They gave me shirts, pants and socks."
"We wanted to help," explains Gerardo Hernandez, a fifth-grader at Finley Elementary, in a middle-income neighborhood of Laredo. Gerardo and his classmates knew that Abigail's classmates at Kennedy-Zapata Elementary in El Cenizo (a neighborhood with average household income of $5,000) had no sweaters and only worn-out shoes.
With an assist from the Laredo Rotary, the Finley students collected 2,000 items of clothing and sorted it by size (even learning a little math along the way, teachers said). On Oct. 25, 59 volunteers hosted a free breakfast and clothing giveaway for 35 needy families. Finley teacher Emma Leza watched the families open their bags of clothes. "There were tears," she says.
$2,000 award will benefit Kennedy-Zapata Elementary School, El Cenizo, Texas.
The public housing van pulls up to Harlem Hospital and hip-hop dancers jump off, eager to cheer up the pediatric ward. - New York
Public housing residents often find themselves on the receiving end of community service. But 300 residents of the New York City Housing Authority -- the nation's largest, with 600,000 residents -- decided to spend Make A Difference Day on the other end: giving back.
There were many projects, in many locations. At one community center, volunteers treated elderly ladies to new hairdos. Cheery murals were painted on the walls of another, flood-damaged, community center. Senior citizen singers entertained at nursing homes and passed out lap robes they had lovingly sewn. And, at Harlem Hospital, teens amused pediatric patients with hip-hop routines and games. "I like to see the kids have fun," says project resident and volunteer Keyjuana Covington. "They were down and depressed. We tried to make them feel better."
How successful was this Make A Difference Day project? So successful that the housing authority and Harlem Hospital will team up for an ongoing volunteer program.
$2,000 award will benefit Housing Symphony, New York City Housing Authority.
Teen with leukemia tunes into what other sick kids want: TVs. - Altoona, Pa.
Mindy Elvey of Altoona learned in 1996 that she has leukemia. After that, the teen and her family often stayed for days at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh while Mindy underwent energy-sapping radiation and chemotherapy at a nearby hospital.
Because she couldn't risk infection, Mindy had to stay closed up in her room instead of joining others around the TV in the house's common room.
Grateful for the care she received, eager to help other sick kids, and motivated by reading about Make A Difference Day in her local paper, the Altoona Mirror, Mindy set out to buy one TV for one guest room.
She made crafts -- twining ribbons and bows around miniature brooms, arranging swags of dried and silk flowers to perch on a table or hang above a door -- and sold them to family and friends. That reaped enough money to buy a 13-inch color TV.
Then her ambitions grew. With her mother's help, Mindy persuaded local groups and businesses to match her purchase. Result? The 15-bedroom Ronald McDonald house has 10 new TVs, and Mindy -- who still gets chemo once a month -- is a hero. Just ask Colin Lang, 14, who stayed there for a month after a liver transplant: "The TV is great!"
$2,000 award will benefit Ronald McDonald House, Pittsburgh.
"What else can I do?" 6,000 volunteers plant, repair, test, collect and more. - Albany, Ga.
Question: How much can how many accomplish on one Make A Difference Day?
Answer: In Albany and 12 nearby communities, at least 6,000 people volunteered 26,734 hours to tackle no fewer than 175 activities, say local Make A Difference Day organizers.
First, golf's Nancy Lopez and baseball's Ray Knight kicked off the day. Then, businesses gave 20 welfare recipients specific job information. Nearly 50 volunteers from St. Paul's Episcopal Church washed windows and scrubbed stoves to brighten an HIV/AIDS shelter. And chainsaws roared in a flood-damaged park.
The Albany Herald newspaper promoted the event months in advance, mobilizing readers. Says Editor Kay Read: "We wanted to use our resources for the good of the community."
$2,000 award will benefit Martin Luther King Jr. Outreach Center, Albany, Ga., and Swamp Gravy, Colquitt Miller Arts Council, Colquitt, Ga.
Abused kids squeal in delight as they receive new toys and beds. - Sacramento, Calif.
The best moment came as children raced to their new beds and toys. One boy stared in amazement at a freshly painted sports mural, then pointed to a basketball player: "Hey, they painted a picture of me!"
Each year, 1,200 abused and neglected children live at Sacramento's sprawling old Children's Receiving Home until social workers find them foster homes or return them to their families.
Hearing that the home needed upgrades, 3,500 Money Store employees raised $27,000, and on Oct. 25, 150 of them treated the home to what its director calls "a complete transformation."
They painted dorms, day rooms and rec halls. They donated and installed 12 new computers, with promises of tech support. They delivered and assembled 11 new toddler beds and mattresses, put snuggly new linens on all 70 beds -- and nestled a stuffed toy against each pillow.
Administrative Assistant Susan Giles proposed the event after reading about Make A Difference Day in USA WEEKEND in The Sacramento Bee. "I carried the magazine around for a month, thinking, 'This is great. What can I do?' " She never imagined the effort would be "the most wonderful experience of my life."
$2,000 award will benefit The Children's Receiving Home of Sacramento.
Cops and kids try to plant seeds of hope and unity. - Bakersfield, Calif.
What southeast Bakersfield has none of: supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores.
What it has plenty of: crime, substance abuse and gangs. Says police officer Tony Martinez: "Fear and helplessness are endemic."
To sow some hope and unity, the Bakersfield Police Department rallied 300 officers and residents to spend Oct. 25 painting over graffiti and clearing tons of street debris.
The result: As AmeriCorps and Police Activities League (PAL) youth worked, motorists honked horns in approval -- and once-wary neighbors left their homes to help.
The good effects are lasting, says Neighborhood Watch coordinator Alfonso Sierra: "Make A Difference Day has brought people out of their shells and explained that they have power to control their neighborhoods."
$2,000 award will benefit Bakersfield PAL and Christmas in April Bakersfield.
Serving 200 for dinner to pay for sick boy's treatment. - Chicago
Brian DeGrenier is a little guy with a big medical bill: It costs $9,000 a month to treat the Lombard, Ill., 9-year-old for Gaucher's disease, a rare genetic disorder. So when two women's clubs in Lombard spearheaded an Oct. 25 fund-raising dinner for more than 200 that netted $15,500 for Brian's treatment, dad Ed was deeply moved: "People you don't even know, care."
This was just one of the Make A Difference Day efforts launched by 58 chapters of the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs. Across the state, nearly 1,100 members pitched in, restocking homeless shelters, organizing community cleanups, visiting nursing homes. "All of the clubs are active in their communities," says president Phyllis Cossarek. "But Make A Difference Day is a wonderful way for the clubs to do even more."
$2,000 award will benefit CFM Lamb's Fold Women's Center, Joliet, Ill., and Children's Advocacy Center of Northwest Cook County, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Young friends finish giving warmth to a homeless shelter. - Blissfield, Mich.
Christi Stoker, 13, lives in a cozy home in Blissfield with "a lot I take for granted." On a church outing, she saw the spare conditions of a homeless shelter in nearby Toledo, Ohio, and felt sad for the kids who lived there.
She told her best friends; they told others in their farming community. Soon, they rounded up money, supplies and 475 volunteers to help realize Christi's dream: making shelter children feel "more like they had a home."
On Make A Difference Day, the entire 45-room Family House shelter got a face lift, complete with loving touches like wallpaper borders and pastel paint jobs. One teen living at the shelter, 13-year-old Mahalganie Wilson, quickly proved better at hanging wallpaper than Christi and friends. The girls found they had much in common, including a fondness for bell-bottoms and Bon Bon nail polish. Across the line between giver and recipient, a fast friendship formed.
At day's end, $300 in donations was left. The girls used it to help Mahalganie and mom Tracy Wilson, 30, settle into an apartment of their own.
"It was a hard time for us," Wilson says of the months she and Mahalganie lived at the shelter. But one Saturday in October, "when other kids were at the stores or the movies, this great bunch of girls were there helping."
$2,000 award will benefit The Family House, Toledo, Ohio.