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Join us as a volunteer on USA WEEKEND's Make A Difference Day, Saturday, Oct. 24. Mayors, entertainers and millions of people like you will help on this national day of service. For more information, go to www.makeadifferenceday.com. / On the cover: Shirley Franklin by Ben Rose, WireIm

Put words into action

The mayors behind Cities of Service -- including Los Angeles' Antonio Villaraigosa, Atlanta's Shirley Franklin, and New York's Michael Bloomberg, -- share a passion for volunteering, and they plan to do projects on Saturday, Oct. 24 -- USA WEEKEND's Make A Difference Day. Cities of Service is a coordinated effort to make giving back a priority in cities across the country.

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A boom in volunteerism is sweeping the country.

Don't believe it? Consider this: Many Americans have turned Sept. 11 -- a day of national tragedy -- into a day of national service.

Recognizing the nation's desire to give back, a group of America's mayors on Sept. 10 launched Cities of Service, a multiyear effort to promote service and create volunteering opportunities in cities nationwide.

At the same time, Hollywood's leading charity -- the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) -- kicked off its "I Participate" campaign, which will, among other things, weave volunteerism into story lines on many of your favorite TV programs this fall. But it's not just about TV, either: The effort spans the entire entertainment industry and has the support of megawatt celebrities such as musician Jon Bon Jovi and film star Matthew McConaughey.

Together, these mayors and Hollywood are highlighting USA WEEKEND Magazine's Make A Difference Day. Sponsored in partnership with HandsOn Network, it's the nation's largest annual day of volunteering, mobilizing millions of people nationwide. For example, in New York City, some 1,000 volunteers are expected to plant 20,000 trees on Saturday, Oct. 24, this year's Make A Difference Day.

"We're not slowing down at all when it comes to volunteering -- we're growing," says New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York has good company. In Atlanta, volunteers are retrofitting shower heads and other plumbing fixtures in struggling communities to save on water usage. In Los Angeles, more than 120,000 volunteers have stepped up to help those in need in a multiyear effort led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Nationally, nearly 62 million people volunteered in 2008, up about 1 million from the year before, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees service programs, including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

"We're seeing a compassion boom," says Nicola Goren, acting CEO of the corporation. "Because there are so many people struggling now, and so many are neighbors, people are more willing than ever to reach out to others."

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Volunteerism's new cachet has many roots, say those who see it up close. The bad economy and increasing human need certainly contribute; many who have lost jobs look to hone new skills or fill their time by doing good. And it doesn't hurt that the president and first lady take every opportunity to emphasize service.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty says his city's residents definitely are more energized. "President Obama keeps providing great inspiration, living here right in our city," he says. "This is a very smart guy who could have done anything in his life that he wanted to, and he chose to devote his career to public service."

Volunteering long has been a hallmark of America. Years before the country's serious economic woes and the new president's call to service, the city of Atlanta saw its first jump in interest during the 1996 Olympics. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 also galvanized residents, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin says: "We had huge numbers of volunteers from our city who headed down to the Gulf Coast to help."

Individual celebrities often step up to help out those in need, but now the entire entertainment industry is uniting in a cause: rallying Americans to volunteer. The new "I Participate" campaign (iparticipateusa.org) is a multiyear effort. The centerpiece is an unprecedented week-long, on-air push by the four major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. At press time, more than 60 prime-time and daytime shows had signed on to include messages about volunteering from Oct. 19 to 25.

In the coming weeks, USA WEEKEND and EIF will join forces to publish inspirational essays by actors, including Gary Sinise, and singer Alicia Keys. USA WEEKEND's Oct. 16-18 cover story will kick off the week's special TV programming. Then on Oct. 24, this year's Make A Difference Day, people can turn that inspiration into real-life action in their communities. Last year, an estimated 3 million people were Make A Difference Day volunteers.

With USA WEEKEND's 48 million readers in 700 newspapers and hundreds of millions of people watching the four major networks, the message to get out and volunteer will be hard to miss. "Volunteering can be rewarding and fun, and having America's favorite stars convey that to millions of viewers will drive the message home," says Sherry Lansing, chair of EIF's board of directors.

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In Phoenix, Mayor Phil Gordon anticipates that he'll cover about 230 miles on area roads to attend Make A Difference Day projects. "The message we like to send is that every individual can make a difference," he says. "I'll ask my staffers all the time, 'Have you helped anyone today?' Whether they have or they haven't, I always tell them, 'Today is a new day.' "

Tribute: One year later, Paul Newman's goodness lives on

When Paul Newman died last September, he left us with a bounty of memorable movies and an even greater legacy of giving.

In just the year since his death, Newman's Own Foundation, a longtime supporter of USA WEEKEND's Make A Difference Day, has bestowed $28 million in grants and pledges to charities worldwide. That's more than any year to date, CEO Robert Forrester says.

"Paul never set out to change the world," Forrester says. "He simply sought out where help was needed."

The largest beneficiary is Newman's own creation, the Hole in the Wall Camps for seriously ill children. The first camp was launched in Ashford, Conn., in 1988. Today there are 11 worldwide, including Dynamo in Italy, where 20 Iraqi children recently spent a week as part of the foundation's commitment to children in the Middle East.

Matthew Burke, 29, a former camper and counselor, is now a physician in Washington, D.C., practicing the same compassion he learned at camp -- thanks to the handsome man with piercing blue eyes who occasionally strolled the grounds in blue jeans and T-shirts, often offering a friendly wink and a smile to campers. "Mr. Newman didn't say a lot," Burke says. "I think he just liked being there, to soak in the scene and enjoy the fruits of his labors."

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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.