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Rehema Ellis
Rehema Ellis / NBC News

As an education reporter, the stories I tell about the state of American schools can sometimes be grim. But at NBC, we don’t just tell people we’ve got problems. We always tell people that there are solutions. We have a tremendous responsibility to provide stories of hope. They can inspire people sitting at home to say, “I can do that, too.”

One story I’ll never forget is that of a beautiful little boy named Elijah, who had gone from being a failing student to an astounding student at Harlem Village Academy. I asked him what the difference was. He said, “This is where people care about me.” He started to cry, and so did everybody else in the room.

This 11-year-old was like a flower that hadn’t been watered. When that care poured on him, Elijah blossomed. That made a difference in his life. That was powerful to me because it showed that if we take the time to care about people, we can transform whole communities. You never know how you can change someone’s life by showing him or her that you care.

It doesn’t take huge gestures, either. You don’t have to be a billionaire, a trillionaire or even a thousandaire. You become extraordinary when you step outside yourself and offer yourself, to those around you, whether it’s volunteering a few hours in an elementary school classroom or mentoring a high school student. Each of us has something to give. Just showing up and offering the slightest amount of time or attention lets people know they’re not alone in whatever struggle they may be facing.

To the millions of you who will head out on Make A Difference Day to help in your communities, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Selfishly, it’s going to make a better world for my little boy. But it will make a better world for every child. And isn’t that what we all want?

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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.