2014 Award Winners

All Hands Volunteers – Warren, MI


Odessa Willis was at home Aug. 11 when record rain fell on Metro Detroit.

“It came in like a roaring river,” says Willis. “There was 3 1/2 feet of water in my basement.”

Willis found help in non-profit group All Hands Volunteers, which responds to natural disasters.

On Make A Difference Day, the group worked on four Detroit homes and to date has gutted 401 houses damaged by the floods in the area.

John Griswold and a crew of seven pulled out carpeting, paneling, furnishings and other flood-damaged items at Willis’ home. “The next day they came and sanitized it,” she says.

Isaac McFarland – Shreveport, LA


Isaac McFarland has a heart for the homeless. The high school senior from Shreveport, La., started a project to assemble backpacks filled with non-perishable food and hygiene items for people in need.

On Make A Difference Day, he distributed more than 3,000 of the backpacks to the Caddo School District’s department for homeless students and to homeless shelters and rescue missions aiding families and veterans.

“Isaac sets an example, not only for younger people. The example he sets really is for the whole community,” says Suzanne Sims, development director at Providence House, a homeless shelter and resource program.

Cheerful Givers – Eagan, MN


Cheerful Givers operates on the premise that every child deserves to be special on his or her birthday. The organization assembles bags of toys, books and other items for low-income parents to give to their children and conducted a special Birthday Bag Blitz on Make A Difference Day.

About 160 volunteers in Eagan, Minn. assembled 3,000 birthday bags in just one hour. The organization raised $3,100 to purchase bags and items, and had books, bookmarks, crayons and pens donated from a variety of sources. Cheerful Givers then distributed the bags to food pantries and shelters to give to parents throughout the year when kids’ birthdays arise.

Makenna and Melissa Schwab – Wenatchee, WA


At just 12 years old, Makenna Schwab has organized four Make A Difference Day projects to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital. Makenna was born with a rare connective tissue disorder that causes bone dislocations and affects her airway, spine and joints. She just underwent her 14th surgery, says her mother, Melissa Schwab.

Last year, Makenna challenged the Wenatchee community to donate Red Flyer wagons to the hospital. She had used one to get around while there. “They’re less scary than wheelchairs,” Makenna explains.

She collected 33 wagons, as well as more than 1,300 toys and toiletries, 36 portable DVD players, five baby swings, $280 in gift cards and $674 worth of cash donations.

Free Bikes 4 Kidz – Minneapolis, MN


In south Minneapolis, Free Bikes 4 Kidz collects donated bikes, cleans and repairs them, and gives them to families who can’t afford one.

Several years ago, self-described “bikeaholic” and organization founder Terry Esau heard about a family in need. He asked fellow enthusiasts if they had bikes they weren’t using anymore. He quickly found there’s an unused or outgrown bike in just about every garage.

On Make a Difference Day, the group worked with Burroughs Elementary School to put kids in charge of a bike donation event, says organizer Maureen Vischer. More than 30 children collected and cleaned 150 bikes within three hours.

Joshua Williams – Miami, FL


High school freshman Joshua Williams’ non-profit organization, Joshua’s Heart Foundation, secured sponsors, a truck and about 60 volunteers to distribute groceries to more than 500 needy families for Make A Difference Day.

Most of the volunteers were kids. The foundation nicknames these young helpers “elves.”

The roots of Joshua’s Heart trace to 2005, when Williams was 4 1/2. He wanted to help feed the homeless but was too young to volunteer with an established non-profit. So the family organized a feeding event at a north Miami church.

Joshua’s Heart incorporated in 2007, working on various drives to collect and distribute food, toys, books, clothing and toiletries in South Florida, Jamaica and Africa.

Meals from the Heartland – Des Moines, IA


On Make A Difference Day, Meals from the Heartland produced 100,008 meals — more than 7 tons of food — to feed those in need.

The dried meals included a rice mixture, dried vegetables, minerals and a soy protein supplement. Most are sent overseas through Missouri-based nonprofit Convoy of Hope.

Last year was the first time the Meals from the Heartland participated in Make A Difference Day. Typically, it works with volunteer groups from churches, schools and other organizations. But organizers wanted to use this special day as a way to open up volunteering to the public, which increased participation by more than three times.

The Salvation Army – Rochester, NY


In the Salvation Army of Greater Rochester’s Project Bundle Up, buses took Rochester-area children — 323 on Make A Difference Day last October — to department stores. There, 275 volunteers helped each child pick out a winter coat, with costs covered by donations and foundation spending. A small number of children unable to attend the one-day event had coats chosen for them.

Last year’s Make A Difference Day project marked the 14th year for the Salvation Army effort.

Children can participate once every two years; the Project Bundle Up coats are always purchased a size too large, to accommodate for growth.

Real Estate Council of Austin – Austin, TX


For Make A Difference Day, the Real Estate Council of Austin raised about $150,000 and organized one of the largest volunteer teams ever at SafePlace, which provides shelter and counseling to about 5,000 victims of domestic and sexual abuse annually.

In the project, 115 members built a walking trail behind SafePlace’s family shelter, a new playground, a sitting area and granite benches.

“Many (victims) come from poverty and homelessness situations and are working to build better, violence-free lives” says DiGiacomo, research and grants coordinator for SafePlace, who added that the beautification project makes the campus feel more like a home.

Daniel Soupiset – San Angelo, TX


The efforts of one Texas teen have saved 57 animals from being euthanized. Daniel Soupiset organized an effort to get more pets adopted from San Angelo’s animal shelter, where about 75% of its animals end up being put down.

On Oct. 25, Daniel set up in front of the shelter with about 15 volunteers to hand out coupons that covered the cost of adopting a pet. For more than a month before that day, Daniel and about 25 volunteers worked to raise funds for his Canine and Kitty Coupons project. They raised over $4,500.

City of University City, Missouri – University City, MO


Donna Williams, 65, a polio survivor who gets around on a scooter, is frustrated when she can’t keep her yard in good shape. So she filled out an application for volunteers to fix up her house on Make A Difference Day.

Five adults and two children cleaned up overgrown vegetation, repaired a fence and did other maintenance.

Jodie Lloyd, manager of economic development for University City, says the city worked with Our Lady of the Lord parish to sign up 150 volunteers for 25 home projects for senior citizens. The city also spent about $3,000 on supplies such as paint, yard waste bags, concrete and new fencing.

Town of Fountain Hills, Arizona – Fountain Hills, AZ


About 300 Fountain Hills, Ariz., volunteers spent Oct. 25 helping elderly and infirm neighbors.

Heather Ware, director of the Fountain Hills Volunteer Program, says townsfolk provided assistance to 67 residents of this suburban Phoenix community — doing household repairs and cleaning, painting, landscaping, and building fences.

The program serves “people in need who are often invisible in a community,” Ware says, especially those who feel isolated and may be too embarrassed to ask for help.

Delaware County, Ohio – Delaware, OH


Make A Difference Day in Delaware, Ohio, began with breakfast at the Boy Scouts of America Camp Lazarus, where about 700 volunteers received their project assignments for the day. From there, they tackled projects ranging from gardening and trimming to decorating for the county’s Halloween events. Senior citizens, who applied for assistance, also received help with home maintenance, furniture moving and other household chores.

Melinda Metz and her team at the Connections Volunteer Center organized the community-wide efforts.

“Make A Difference Day is our chance to highlight volunteerism and engage so many people in the community to make it a better place,” she says.

Shaquawana Wester – Cookeville, TN


Now in its third year, Quawana’s Coats has grown into a community-wide effort that involves public schools, nonprofit agencies, churches and the health department.

Sixty volunteers organized the donated coats, scarves, hats and gloves on Make A Difference Day. More than 350 families were helped.

Organizer Shaquawana Wester, 38, is a single mother of three who has sent her children to school in donated coats. But those giveaways required answering myriad questions. She wanted her drive to be different.

“We don’t need to know your income. We don’t need to know where you live,” she says. “Maybe people won’t ask for help because of those barriers.”



MDDAY_TEAM2014 Award Winners