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Tough times, tender actions

Millions of busy Americans put their lives on hold to help others last Make A Difference Day. Help us celebrate all the great deeds as we present the inspiring $10,000 National Award recipients.

Oct. 10, 2009   |  
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Steve Jones for USA WEEKENDA
WE tv is the official cable partner for USA WEEKEND's Make A Difference Day 2009.

The judges

Michael Havard, vice president of marketing, Newman's Own Inc.
Kasey Kahne, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and founder of the Kasey Kahne Foundation
Michelle Nunn, CEO, Points of Light Institute and co-founder of the HandsOn Network
Marcia Bullard, president and CEO, USA WEEKEND Magazine

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One of our 10 honorees: Leola Dillard, 97, organized a "free flea market" that gave Victoria Stewart, 7, a bike.
They brought "movie night" to lonely seniors in Huntersville, N.C. They held bone marrow drives to save cancer patients in Monroe, Conn. They planted trees in Bellingham, Wash.

For more information, visit makeadifferenceday.com
In all, Samaritans touched the lives of an estimated 30 million people last Oct. 25, on USA WEEKEND's 18th annual Make A Difference Day. More than 3 million people in the USA and about 3 million worldwide united behind one idea: Dedicate a day to helping others, from Key Biscayne, Fla., to Kodiak, Alaska, and from Matsushige, Japan, to Manchester, England.

"They come to rebuild, but it's also a good shot in the arm to see their positive spirit," says Steve Howard of the volunteers who continue to help restore Hancock County, Miss., a place destroyed nearly four years ago by Hurricane Katrina. "You can't put a price on it."

Of the thousands of projects undertaken, 10 were selected as National Make A Difference Day Award honorees. Each receives a $10,000 award from Newman's Own -- a legacy from actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, who died just four weeks before this past Make A Difference Day. USA WEEKEND, in partnership with HandsOn Network and Newman's Own, celebrates the kindness of 6 million people, the generosity of Paul Newman and the energy of 10 inspiring groups.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.: Shelter for storm hero
The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, Brice Phillips, manager of Waveland, Miss., radio station WQRZ, climbed a 130-foot tower in gale-force winds to retrieve his station's transmitter. He then transferred all of his equipment to Hancock County's emergency management center and went back on the air just before Katrina barreled into the Gulf Coast.

Phillips' home and the station were destroyed in the storm, yet he continued to broadcast, providing a lifeline for those trying to rebuild. In 2006, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., volunteer Mark Bertrand learned of Phillips' heroics and rallied his non-profit relief organization, the Giving Circle, to help. The group hauled away the remnants of Phillips' tattered property that year.

For Make A Difference Day 2008, Bertrand and the Giving Circle returned to Waveland to help Phillips build a new station that also provides the radio jock a temporary home. The assistance, Phillips says, keeps him going: "I provide a forum for sharing laughter. And you have to laugh about all of this. Because if you don't, it will suck you under."

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the Giving Circle, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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.

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Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored annually by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 800 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day takes place on the 4th Saturday in October each year.