2015 Award Winners

Return of The Natives – Salinas, CA

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For families in Salinas, California with limited resources and time to spend together, a neighborhood park is a sanctuary. One such place is Natividad Creek Park, a large green space and popular skate park plagued recently by reported gang activity. On Make A Difference Day, more than 100 volunteers met both environmental and social goals: bringing people and nature together to support an outdoor safe place. Led by the California State University Monterey Bay, Return of the Natives Restoration Education Project volunteers picked up 926 pounds of trash and trimmed the park’s indigenous plants. Organizers say the park’s beautification is especially critical for an underserved community.



Community Assistance Day – Muncie, IN

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Located in Indiana’s rust belt, Muncie has been long identified with the decline of US-based manufacturing. As it rebounds with new jobs in healthcare and education, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church bears witness to how long-term unemployment still hurts families. On Make A Difference Day, church volunteers aided more than 180 community members in a marathon of help from providing basics like a bag of fresh groceries to the small luxury of a haircut.



Scrap Hunger Walk-A-Thon – Lincroft, NJ

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On Make A Difference Day, residents, businesses and a school in Lincroft, New Jersey, joined forces with an entrepreneurial teenager to help those in need. Leading the effort was Dominic Esposito, who in 2013, at the age of 14, founded his own nonprofit, Scrap Hunger, Inc. The charity sells donated metal with the proceeds going to feed those in need. Esposito turned to friends, social media and old-fashioned door-to-door marketing to gain community support. It paid off: On Make A Difference Day, the Scrap Hunger Walk-A-Thon raised $2,455 for the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. That’s enough to provide 7,300 meals for people in need.



Making A Difference For The Animals At Animal Friends – Pittsburgh and Wexford, PA

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For the first time in Make A Difference Day history, a ‘therapy bunny’ volunteered to aid Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, Animal Friends. In addition to finding homes for dogs, cats and the occasional rabbit, the companion-animal resource center volunteers spent October 24th collecting pet food for area food pantries and taking its animal ‘therapets’ to visit the homebound, elderly and hospitalized. Volunteers walked, petted and socialized with 250 homeless animals. Pine-Richland Middle School seventh and eighth graders raised $2,465 for the charity and project lead Eagle Scout candidate Charles Boone collected 643 pounds of pet food and supplies.



Make A Difference Day 5K – Richmond, VA

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Hospital studies show that healing is dramatically affected by whether family is present during care. But not everyone has the financial resources to be with a loved one during a lengthy treatment and recovery period. With that in mind, one independent healthcare company in Richmond, Virginia, celebrated Make A Difference Day by maximizing their fundraising for not just one but three local groups that provide a home away from home for families with children receiving medical care in Richmond-area hospitals. The Pediatric Connection’s 5K run and walk raised $24,000 that day to support families staying in nearby Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond, the Doorways and the Evelyn D. Reinhart Guest House.



Go M.A.D. SU – Selinsgrove, PA

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On Make A Difference Day, nearly 300 Susquehanna University students helped 26 organizations scattered over eight communities, logging a whopping 550 hours of service. Volunteers gave back at animal shelters, healthcare facilities and children’s agencies doing everything from landscaping to sorting donations to one-on-one visits with needy residents. Along with the immediate help delivered that day, Make A Difference Day outreach also created new partnerships. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, in nearby Shamokin Dam, never worked with the university until Make A Difference Day when students helped organize a chili fundraiser that netted nearly $5,000 for the local fire company. Now they regularly work together on community projects.



Luggage Drive for Foster Care Children – Chicago, IL

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Imagine a life of frequent moves into the homes of strangers and the sum of your belongings fitting into a trash bag or two. That’s the reality for some of the more than 16,000 kids who go through the foster care program in the state of Illinois. On average, kids move eight times during their stint in foster care. On Make A Difference Day, 10 members of the GFWC Beverly Hills Junior Women’s Club worked to make the transition for these kids just a little easier. The Club collected more than 700 pieces of donated luggage and then lovingly cleaned, zipper-checked and sorted each piece with the hopes that it would become a permanent and transportable piece of home for foster kids.



Story County Winter Weatherization Challenge – Ames, IA

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Winter doesn’t mess around in Iowa. So for the 9th year on Make A Difference Day, volunteers turned out to take part in the Story County Winter Weatherization Challenge. Organized by the Volunteer Center, the homes of 23 elderly, disabled and low-income residents were readied for winter by 110 volunteers. The group installed plastic on windows and added weather stripping to keep out the cold. They replaced furnace filters and provided energy-efficient lightbulbs. And in a first-time partnership with the Red Cross, 21 new smoke detectors were installed in homes throughout the county. Organizers estimate that energy efficient updates made that day will save homeowners as much as 50 percent on their utility bills.



Stanwood High School Make A Difference Day Projects – Stanwood, WA

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While most of Stanwood High School’s student body caught a little extra shut-eye on Make A Difference Day, 84 members of Val Schroeder’s senior English class were up early and working together to improve their community. Students created, planned and carried out 35 projects that day. Efforts included blanket, book, clothing and food collections. They mowed lawns and cleaned yards for seniors and taught young children about science. They picked up trash on roadsides, trails and beaches and held a bake sale to raise funds for the food bank and animal shelters. All told, an estimated 225 people were directly helped as a result of the students’ work.



Taking Root Community Tree Planting – Cincinnati, OH

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Healthy trees mean a healthy community. They reduce air pollution, contribute to summer cooling and control storm water runoff, just to name a few of their benefits. But the trees of southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana are being decimated by insects, drought and development. On Make A Difference Day, more than 400 volunteers led by Taking Root, a regional campaign to plant 2 million trees by 2020, took aim at the issue. A group of 32 teams planted 1,906 trees in 21 communities spread across five counties.



Race2Rebuild Moonachie 5K – Moonachie, NJ

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Three years after Hurricane Sandy put much of the northern New Jersey town of Moonachie under as much as four feet of water, residents are still cleaning up and repairing homes. On Make A Difference Day, the community came together, not to mark the historic storm’s anniversary, but to honor what came after. Race2Rebuild, a nonprofit founded in the wake of Sandy by a group of local endurance athletes, was among the groups that rallied the community in a day of service devoted to continued restoration efforts. The Moonachie 5K race wound past 14 Sandy-damaged homes since repaired by Bergen County volunteers. Elsewhere, volunteers completed re-roofing and re-insulating a home damaged by the storm.



Food/Supply Collection – Aberdeen, SD

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Employees of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation in Aberdeen understand better than most the impact of unemployment on individuals, families and the economy. They work with everyone who files a jobless claim or is looking for work through the state agency. After hearing about the strain job losses were causing local nonprofits serving their city’s needy, state workers spent three weeks ahead of Make A Difference Day collecting food and other household items for those in need. On October 24th, 75 volunteers packed up donations and delivered them to local shelters.



Let’s Rebuild John F. Kennedy Park – Richmond, CA

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Despite overcast skies and a brief rain shower, on Make A Difference Day, more than 300 community members transformed a blighted two-acre space in the Parchester Village neighborhood into their first fully-functioning playground, complete with a baseball diamond, soaring play structure, gazebo, children’s garden and picnic area. The project strengthened a community of 380 households that felt isolated and forgotten, organizers said. Families of this low-income, working class neighborhood were joined by a local construction company, which donated materials and time to lay concrete. Teens and younger children hauled woodchips in wheelbarrows and painted designs on the play area.



Operation Access – Sonoma County, CA

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For the third year, Operation Access in multiple California locations performed free surgery and specialty services for uninsured, low-income Bay Area residents. The day involved 200 healthcare volunteers working in donated space at four hospitals and one surgery center. Without the effort, the 73 patients otherwise would have delayed or foregone care. Operation Access volunteers removed cataracts, relieved pain from ears, hernias and varicose veins, and detected or prevented colon cancer. Because untreated health problems can plague uninsured patients for years, leading to constant pain, disability, reduced income and compromised quality of life, Operation Access truly makes a difference for those in need every year.



 

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