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5 reasons to visit makeadifferenceday.com

Tell us your plans
Get tips about planning a volunteer project, then register your plans in the Make A Difference DAYtaBANK. This searchable database will help you recruit volunteers and get recognition for your efforts.

Free cereal for volunteers
Once your project is registered in the DAYtaBANK, you're eligible to be one of 50 projects (one per state) chosen to receive free cereal from Newman's Own.

$2,500 for families who volunteer
Disney FamilyFun magazine funds a new $2,500 award to encourage and recognize family volunteering. The money goes to the family's charity of choice.

$10,000 to help older people
AARP Create the Good funds two new $5,000 charitable awards to recognize projects that help older people stay in their homes.

Find us on Facebook
Get Make A Difference Day updates and find inspiration from others at facebook.com/makeadifferenceday.

Join us on Oct. 24 for Make A Difference Day

USA WEEKEND Magazine and the Entertainment Industry Foundation -- Hollywood's leading charity -- are joining forces for Make A Difference Day 2009. Through next month, read inspirational essays here from some of entertainment's biggest names -- each giving their support to I Participate (iparticipateusa.org), a multiyear campaign led by EIF to increase service. The campaign reaches full throttle Oct. 19 to 25, when the four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- devote that week to airing messages about volunteering. Turn that TV inspiration into real-life action on Make A Difference Day, Oct. 24, when millions will volunteer.

"You can really make an impact in one day -- or in just a few minutes."

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Serving the nation is a great tradition in my family. My grandfather served in World War I. My dad served in the Navy, and two uncles served in World War II. And two of my wife's brothers served in Vietnam. Although I never was in the military, I have always had the highest respect for members of the U.S. armed forces.

This perspective, however, grew greater when I filmed "Forrest Gump" in 1994; I played Lt. Dan Taylor, a Vietnam vet who loses both of his legs in combat. After the movie came out, I was invited to a national convention held by the Disabled American Veterans. I received a National Commander's Award there. When I went onstage, I was incredibly moved by the reaction, to see men in wheelchairs attempting to stand up and applaud, and men with one leg, leaning on crutches, doing the same. I already was involved with veterans' groups at the time, but that experience made me motivated to do even more.

Today, I take great pride in working with the USO to entertain troops overseas with my musical group, the Lt. Dan Band. I've been to Iraq four times, and to Afghanistan once. I'm going back to Afghanistan during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I'm very touched when I visit these folks in hospitals as they recover from a battle injury. These injuries can be quite severe. But they often tell me: "I want to go back. My company is still fighting, and I've got to be there for them."

I also have been moved by the struggles of the people of Iraq, especially the children. I visited some schools there in 2003 and saw how grateful the kids were to our troops for rebuilding school buildings. I wanted to find a way to send school supplies for them to give to the children. I learned that Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote Seabiscuit: An American Legend, was trying to get her book translated into Arabic because she found out that kids in Iraq wanted to read it. We combined our efforts, and in 2004, we launched what we now call Operation International Children. To date, our organization has delivered hundreds of thousands of school supply kits -- as well as stuffed animals, shoes and other items -- to Iraq and Afghanistan for our troops to distribute.

If you want to do a project on Make A Difference Day, or as part of the I Participate program, consider doing something for people over there. You really can make an impact in just one day. Actually, you can make a world of difference in just a few minutes, by putting together a care package. Whether you're "in the sandbox" in Iraq or on some remote mountaintop in Afghanistan, there's nothing better than when a helicopter lands with a box of sanitary wipes, playing cards and candy, just for you. Believe it or not, that's all it takes.

For more information on how to help soldiers serving overseas, go to www.ourmilitary.mil.

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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.