2012 Award Winners

Nicholas Lowinger – Cranston, Rhode Island


“Homeless kids deserve shoes that fit,” says Nick Lowinger, 15. In six hours on Make A Difference Day, he did just that for nearly 500 kids in 21 shelters in six states. Joined by 78 volunteers and armed with donations from Stride Rite and Timberland, volunteers filled orders for 496 homeless kids. Nick is also the CEO of his own non-profit, Gotta Have Sole, which has provided new shoes to more than 7,400 kids. But Nick’s Make A Difference Day efforts surpassed all previous records: “I couldn’t have accomplished that in a month by myself!”

C&S Wholesale Grocers – Keene, New Hampshire


For the 10th year, employees of C&S showed their commitment to helping others on Make A Difference Day. More than 300 employees and family members of the company tackled hunger relief in 21 projects stretching from Massachusetts to Hawaii. They organized food banks, filled backpacks with food for needy kids, made lasagna at a Ronald McDonald House and forged new relationships. A New Hampshire employee who was cleaning a drug rehab pantry connected with residents, and now volunteers there on a regular basis.

Lions Club – District 22 W Thurmont, Maryland


In just one day, Lions Club District 22-W rallied 1,200 Lions, Lionesses and youthLeos across five counties of western Maryland. More than 70 projects took place including highway cleanups, food and book collections and home repairs for needy families. They educated people about organ donation, bought 550 phone cards for our troops overseas and held a golf tournament that raised $3,500 for the blind. There are Lions Clubs all over the world. They share a single motto: “We serve.” And that’s just what they did.

FIRST Robotics Competition – Rochester, New York


At the FIRST Robotics competition, nearly 60 students from two high schools near Rochester took the extra step of holding a simultaneous “Mega Drive” for Make A Difference Day. Teams 340 and 1511, from Churchville-Chili and Penfield high schools collected food, books, old electronics for recycling, and 25 units of blood. In the end, the drive netted 468 food items and $112 for a food bank, 1,052 children’s books and 3,600 pounds of electronic equipment to be recycled.

Alabama Rural Ministry – Opelika, Alabama


The Alabama Rural Ministry put their faith into action as they orchestrated the work of 72 volunteers in dozens of community projects on Make A Difference Day. Among the efforts: home repairs for the disabled, sanding walls at a historic church, cleaning a park. The Methodist group also entertained nursing home residents and helped a new food bank get ready to serve. The giving rolled into Sunday, when 40 fraternity brothers from Auburn University’s FIJI House showed up to continue the home repairs.

Shaquawana Wester – Cookeville, Tennessee


Shaquawana Wester once waited in line for a warm coat that someone had donated for her little girl. She never forgot the kindness. Wester, now an AmeriCorps member working at the housing authority, decided to organize her own coat giveaway. She asked for donations at work, on Facebook, in the local newspaper. One thousand coats later, Wester was “overwhelmed.” Not only did her Make A Difference Day giveaway benefit the housing authority, there were enough coats to stock a rescue mission and a mobile clothing unit, too.

Wen Marcec and Project SANTA – Geneva, Illinois


On Wen Marcec’s first visit to Appalachia 10 years ago, she thrilled a boy with the gift of a fishing pole, saying, “It’s like Christmas!” His reply stunned her.
He said, “Oh, no, ma’am. “We don’t get Christmas gifts.” It broke Wen’s heart. So she started a non-profit to help, Project SANTA, and each year holds a Make A Difference Day toy drive to rally her community to bring Christmas to kids who live in poverty eight hours away. A record 2,100 toys, collected mostly by Geneva’s own children, provided toys for 600 kids in Estill County, K.Y.

The Sundial Men’s Club – Sun City, Arizona


Lots of people retire to Arizona. Some of them play poker and bingo; some volunteer. The 460 members of the Sundial Men’s Club in do both.
The men, who are mostly in their 70s and 80s, set a goal for Make A Difference Day: to hold the largest one-day food drive ever in a retirement community. Bingo!

They collected a whopping 11.5 tons of food from about 9,000 donors — enough food to feed 657 families for a week.

National Assistance League – Burbank, California


On Make A Difference Day, the National Assistance League, a Burbank-based service club, put the gift of a new book into America’s smallest hands. More than 3,300 members in 94 chapters nationwide collected and gave away 113,101 books to children in need. In one shelter, kids got fleece blankets with their books. Away from domestic violence, as the kids snuggled in to read, one League member said, “You could just see the tension leave their little bodies.”

The Red Cross – Ellensburg, Washington


Last August in central Washington, the Taylor Bridge Fire raged out of control, consuming everything in its path. When firefighters drowned the last spark, it had burned 23,500 acres, destroyed 61 homes and cost $11.1 million to put out. On Make A Difference Day, more than 50 children were among 100 volunteers helping to restore the forest during Operation Lorax, named for the Dr. Seuss character who spoke for the trees. The Red Cross and the Washington Conservation Corps planned it and provided seedlings, supplies, and tools to do the job. All told, the volunteers planted 1,000 ponderosa pines that day.

The City of Albuquerque, New Mexico


Led by the city’s Open Space Division and the non-profit Nicodemus Wilderness Project, 41 volunteers took part in the city’s 13th Make A Difference Day. Volunteers descended on Piedra Lisa Canyon to plant shrubs to fight erosion, pick up trash and lug 5-gallon backpacks of water up hillsides to scrub graffiti off granite boulders. Mayor Richard Berry said afterwards “our city is better off” because of the effort.

The City of Kettering, Ohio


The city of Kettering is no stranger to Make A Difference Day. Last fall marked the 19th year that this Dayton suburb has rallied into action. More than 200 volunteers took part in projects including removing limbs, leaves and invasive plants from a seven-block area of the Richman Heights neighborhood. “Make A Difference Day is a staple of our community,” says City Manager Mark Schwieterman. The event also launched Kettering’s first Cities of Service initiative (a bipartisan coalition of mayors committed to increasing volunteerism) that will kick off the revitalization of a different neighborhood each year on Make A Difference Day.

Melbourne Central Catholic High, St. Joseph Catholic School, West Shore Junior/Senior High, Lake Washington Fellowship – Melbourne & Palm Bay, Florida

melbourne&palmBay_530x340For 15 years, Melbourne Central Catholic High and St. Joseph Catholic School in Palm Bay have led the community in Make A Difference Day action. They won a national award in 2003. Last fall, they joined forces with West Shore Junior/Senior High and Lake Washington Fellowship to organize a 5K and fundraising dinner that raised $25,000 for Jason Whitworth, a beloved former teacher who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Says project coordinator Mary Loschiavo: “Make A Difference Day is a way of life here.” $10,000 award from Gannett Foundation goes to ALS Association Florida Chapter.


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