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BISMARCK, N.D.: Helping on the homefront
It was difficult for Marcy Kopp to get her 9-year-old grandson, Elias Gipp, out of the house some days. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, Elias is bound to a 40-pound wheelchair, and Kopp struggled to lift him and the chair out the front door. "It's been hard," Kopp says. "He watched the children play, running and jumping -- all the things he can't do anymore -- but he still wanted to be outside."
On Make A Difference Day, Elias received the gift of freedom -- a wheelchair ramp -- from volunteers of the God's Child Project North Central in Bismarck, N.D. The organization reached out to several residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Solen, N.D.
On Oct. 25, the group, which usually helps the destitute in Central America, built Gipp's ramp, winterized five homes, distributed winter clothing and refurbished the Solen Community Center. Volunteers also threw a Halloween party for reservation youngsters. "On the reservation, things seem hopeless," says Rose Decouteau, community center director. "If even one child can see something other than hopelessness, maybe they'll better their lives."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the God's Child Project North Central.
OROVILLE, CALIF.: Kindness comes full circle
In 2004, single mom Patrice Poppleton of Paradise, Calif., found herself out of work and so drained from illness that she had trouble leaving her couch. Unable to make ends meet, she turned to the Paradise Ridge Family Resource Center to help get her children some little "extras" at Christmas. "It was a scary and exhausting time," she recalls.
Four years later, Poppleton, now on her feet and a student at Butte College in Oroville, Calif., was able to help the community that had helped her: On Make A Difference Day, she and 300 fellow students and staff from the college performed home repairs for 23 area organizations and residents in Butte and Glenn counties.
The volunteers painted, mended fences, repaired kitchens and provided home makeovers for the needy. Poppleton, who showed up to paint the Paradise home of Linda Day with her now-teenage kids in tow, realized that kindness had come full circle that day: "I recognized her name but didn't know from where," Poppleton says. "She's the woman who organizes the Christmas help for needy families. She was my kids' Santa four years ago."
A grateful Day says the volunteers saved her home. "I would never have asked for help," she says.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the Butte Community College Foundation.
TAUNTON, MASS.: Teens lobby, labor for their own space
Taunton, Mass., seemed like a peaceful city until two incidents in spring 2008, when a brawl broke out at the mall, and a 16-year-old was killed in a gang-related fight. Alarmed, the town's young citizens decided to act, wanting to create a teen center to keep kids off the street.
But without a budget or a building, the idea seemed unlikely. Still, the teens, aided by Annemarie Matulis, chairwoman of Southeastern Massachusetts Voices Against Violence, lobbied officials to let them set up shop in an old school.
On Oct. 25, that's what they did; 227 volunteers transformed the Elizabeth Pole School into a safe after-school hangout. They moved furniture, landscaped and installed computer monitors. "It's a place they now call their own," Matulis says.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Community Care Services, Taunton, Mass.
Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 600 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day is held in partnership with HandsOn Network and is supported by Newman's Own, which provides $10,000 donations to charities selected by of each of 10 national honorees. The 19th Make A Difference Day is Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009.