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Volunteers K.C Wassman (left) and Allison Punch fill holes in a fence before staining in as part of Make a Difference Day at the ACCA Child Development Center in Annandale, VA, Saturday, October 27, 2012. / Toby Joorin

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Make A Difference Day made its mark on America today. And from an early morning mention on NBC’s Weekend Today show to tweets from celebrities including Usher, Kevin Bacon, Kellie Pickler and the stars of Radio Disney, millions of Americans came together in the nation’s largest day of service.

"Make A Difference Day is about giving back to your community and serving others,” said seven-time Grammy winner Usher, who promotes service through his New Look Foundation. “One voice joined by another is the start of a movement.”

Those voices were heard coast to coast as an estimated 3 million volunteers spent the 22nd Make A Difference Day helping their communities in every way imaginable, from bowl-a-thons to beach cleanups. In Colorado, a moving van parked outside a Sam’s Club was stuffed with donated food for military families. A Texas organization threw a fall carnival for children with special needs, while an Illinois animal hospital collected hundreds of pounds of food for a pet rescue for older animals. In Reno, Nev., Olympic mountain biker Katerina Nash helped out at a free youth cycling clinic. At Minnesota’s Mall of America, stars from Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing took part in a bullying prevention rally.

Make A Difference Day, created by USA WEEKEND Magazine and held in partnership with Points of Light on the fourth Saturday of each October, tracks the day’s events at makeadifferenceday.com. All registered participants are eligible for $10,000 charitable awards from longtime sponsor Newman’s Own. Those awards will be announced in April 2013, during National Volunteer Week.

National groups take broad action on one day

• About 100 chapters of Golden Key collegiate honor society participated, from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where a Cookies for Cats bake sale raised money for a cat shelter, to Ohio’s Wright State University, where students helped run a fall festival at the YWCA Dayton.
• 140 chapters of Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity took action from Hawaii to Massachusetts, including almost 200 students who volunteered at Santa Claus Inc. in San Bernardino, Calif., which provides new clothes, books and toys to needy children at Christmas. “We’re doing something small here, but with everyone coming together it’s going to make a huge impact,” said Eric Ortega, a Delta Sigma Pi member from UC Riverside.
• Goodwill Industries International’s multiple efforts included events in Roanoke, Va., where a community garden built by participants in a mentorship program for at-youth risk was dedicated, and Traverse City, Mich., where alumni of Michigan Tech University helped a homeless shelter prepare for winter. Vegetables from the garden will be donated to a residence for seniors and the disabled. “The pride on the kids’ faces today as they stepped up to the podium -- that’s what it’s all about,” said Kelly Coleman, Director of Marketing & Community Relations for Goodwill Industries of the Valleys.
• An estimated 20,000 children at more than 100 different events –- many sponsored by the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America -- attended readings of author Nick Katsoris’ Loukoumi book series, which teaches the importance of helping others; proceeds are donated to charity. The children signed pledges to do good deeds ranging from cleaning their rooms to feeding the homeless. “I wish Make A Difference Day was not just one day,” said Katsoris. “I hope this feeling continues throughout the year with these kids.”

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Teens reach out, again and again

Several winners of Prudential’s Spirit of Community Awards, which honors young people for outstanding volunteerism, joined Make A Difference Day. Their service, says the Awards’ Executive Director Greg Loder, inspires others to take action. “Kids look to kids for role models,” he explained.

• More than 70 volunteers traveled from as much as 45 minutes away to the Cranston, R.I., home of Nicholas Lowinger, 14, to help distribute hundreds of pairs of new shoes Lowinger has collected for children in homeless shelters. Some even joined in after mistaking the event for a yard sale happening elsewhere in the neighborhood. “To be part of a day when there are so many people helping out in so many different ways across the United States is really inspiring,” said Lowinger.
• Anthony Frederick, 14, of Columbia, S.C., held two lemonade fundraisers/children’s coat drives for his Kids Inspired by Cancer Kampaign, which promotes cancer awareness and inspires kids to give back to their communities.
• Jordyn Schara, 17, of New Freedom, Wis., distributed comic books as part of her literacy promotion program, Comics for Change (C4C). “It’s absolutely important for young people to be involved in their communities,” she said.
• In downtown Paducah, Ky., Meg Hancock, 14, organized a cleanup of the Ohio River waterfront. “It’s really amazing to think there’s tons of people my age and all other ages making a difference today,” said Hancock.

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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.