2013 Award Winners

The University of Akron – Akron, Ohio


A total of 708 University of Akron students and staffers from across the school tackled 60 community projects. Few schools rival Akron in Make A Difference Day activity. In nine years, 5,800 volunteers have served 21,000 hours, says Alison Doehring, who volunteered each October as a student and now coordinates the day as assistant director of student life.

Students repaired rotting park benches, helped public housing residents clean their apartments, weatherproofed a home for veterans, worked on a Habitat for Humanity house, swept trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and organized a cereal shipment to a food bank, among other projects.

Nick Katsoris – Eastchester, NY


It’s one thing for children’s book authors to write stories about good deeds, but it’s quite another to actually spur the young readers into action.

Nick Katsoris, 47, author of the Loukoumi series of children’s books, used Make A Difference Day to motivate more than 20,000 kids across the nation to take on projects from making rainbow loom bracelets for patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to collecting canned goods for homeless shelters.

Adults read the Loukoumi books to kids and had them sign “I will Make A Difference by…” pledges. The kids then performed the good deeds on Oct. 26.

Operation Access – Sonoma County, CA


Daniel Rabkin, program manager of Sonoma County Operation Access, and his colleagues, are well aware that many in their community live in poverty with limited access to medical treatment.

On Make A Difference Day, Rabkin banded together with a group of ophthalmologists and their staffs to save the eyesight of 24 area agricultural workers and day laborers and another six needy cataract patients.

“By the end of Make A Difference Day, 30 people with limited means who never expected to get the help that they needed – and at no cost – were seeing a bright future ahead,” says Rabkin.

Escambia Charter School – Cantonment, FL


Some of the most troubled teenagers in one of Florida’s poorest counties attend Escambia Charter School. Eighty percent of the 120 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many were rejected by public schools for bad behavior or grades. But on Make A Difference Day, they put others first.

Starting a month ahead, students collected or contributed 300 pounds of canned goods and snacks for a food pantry and the USO in nearby Pensacola, as well as 60 boxes of clothes for three shelters. Early on Oct. 26, 20 students, with 15 parents and teachers, organized and delivered the donations — then split into teams to do yard work for four elderly or disabled homeowners.

Bailey Snow – Granite Bay, CA


Bailey Snow’s charity, BrickDreams, solicits Lego donations from his community, sorts and packages the bricks in empty tennis ball containers and distributes them to organizations working with needy children.

On Make A Difference Day, he and eight volunteers packaged 60 to 70 cans for distribution to local police departments, domestic violence organizations and boys and girls clubs.

“Say a kid is a victim of domestic violence,” he says. “They have to leave the house quickly and they don’t have a lot of things. They can go to shelters and get clothes and toiletries, but they can’t get something like Legos to help them escape.”

Jessica Carscadden – San Diego, CA


Jessica Carscadden, 11, of San Diego, rallied volunteers and oversaw donations of about 3,000 stuffed bears for police and firefighters to give to injured or frightened children on emergency calls.

On Make A Difference Day, about 60 volunteers recruited by Jessica through her website, news media announcements and word-of-mouth campaigns, sorted, tagged and filled about 580 bags with bears (exceeding her goal by 80 bags).

“As a result of the efforts of the We Care Bear Project on Make A Difference Day every police car in San Diego [had] a bag of stuffed animals for children they meet on calls,” says Kathleen Carscadden, Jessica’s mom.

Playworks DC – Washington, DC


Alison Vaux-Bjerke works at Playworks, Washington D.C., the local chapter of a nonprofit organization that provides kids with opportunities for safe, meaningful play.

That’s how Vaux-Bjerke became familiar with the D.C. Center for Therapeutic Recreation, which provides services for kids as well as seniors and people with special needs.

Playworks put out the call out for volunteers to come help give the center a facelift on Make A Difference Day. More than 60 people gathered on the cold fall morning and set to work – refurbishing picnic tables, cleaning and organizing the library, working on landscaping and decorating recycling bins.

Peggy McGee – Green Valley, AZ


It all started with a 14-hour airplane ride in 2010 and a loom knitter.

Peggy McGee decided to put the time on a flight to Australia and New Zealand to good use and make hats for homeless veterans.

When a woman she met at a local thrift shop donated 39 skeins of yarn, McGee enlisted the Women of Quail Creek to help in the effort, which became a clothing drive on Make A Difference Day for the past three years.

Besides handmade hats and other clothes, community members donated bed and kitchen linens, business suits and other items. The 18 volunteers delivered about 3,000 items to the Southern Arizona Veterans Health Care System.

Jessica Collins – Shelbyville, KY


A scene in The Blind Side is the seed that so far has produced beds for 349 children in Shelby County, Ky., including 27 in a special effort on Make A Difference Day.

Jessica Collins, now 14, was just 10 when she watched the movie and learned that some children didn’t have beds.

Four years later, her foundation, A Place to Sleep, is an annual participant in Make A Difference Day. This past year, 85 volunteers showed up to crochet blankets, make quilts, tie-dye pillow cases, donate $2,000 for supplies and, most important, deliver 27 beds to kids in need.

Elijah Rodriguez – Leonardo, NJ


Elijah Rodriguez confronted the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy every day as a junior at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, N.J. A year after the storm, friends and classmates still couldn’t go home, because they had no homes to go to.

With only a few weeks left before Make A Difference Day and the first anniversary of the storm, and with help of family and his school, Elijah organized a Hurricane Sandy Relief Walk. He created pledge forms and flyers, booked the school jazz band to entertain, lined up sponsors, solicited contributions of bagels and water (the necessary fuel of any Saturday morning in New Jersey), and arranged for the mayor of Union Beach to come speak.

More than 100 walkers showed up, with donations totaling more than $7,000.

Cleveland Tennessee – City of Cleveland, TN


Cleveland, Tenn., Mayor Tom Rowland is proud of his community and the way residents pull together. It was evident in the aftermath of a tornado in 2011, and it is evident every year on Make A Difference Day.

At this past year’s event, 800 volunteers worked on dozens of activities ranging from a YMCA job fair that helped 64 people find employment to an effort in which nearly 75 Lee University students assembled backpacks for 10,000 children filled with snacks, toothpaste, shampoo and other basics.

“Those went to three elementary schools where kids don’t eat too well when they go home on the weekend,” he says.

Weirton, WV – Weirton Madonna and Weir High Interact Clubs


In Weirton, W.Va., where the steel mill used to employ 14,000 but now has only about 1,000 workers, kids go to school in the cold with no socks. They wear clothes that haven’t been washed in weeks to save utility costs. The only meal they eat all day is the free lunch at school.

At Weirton’s first Make A Difference Day campaign, called Soup, Socks and Smiles: Warm Your Heart, Warm Your Sole, about 500 volunteers helped collect 5,000 pounds of food for the pantries; donate more than 300 pairs of kids’ socks, backpacks and other clothing to Weirton Heights Elementary School; and helped a family whose house exploded in a natural-gas accident, killing their teenage daughter.

Fayetteville, Arkansas – Volunteer Action Center – University of Arkansas


A total of 1,326 volunteers at the University of Arkansas and Fayetteville community worked on Make A Difference Day projects that ranged from cleaning and stocking the campus food pantry to creating puppets for a local literacy program. Organizers estimated total economic impact at more than $100,000.

Each project was led by one of 40 student leaders, which Holly Hilliard, president of the school’s Volunteer Action Center, hopes has a lasting impact. “Instead of just one day of service, it prepares them with working with a nonprofit,” she says. “It gets that connection started in creating those lasting relationships between the volunteers and the agencies.”


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