Loukoumi’s Good Deeds — Eastchester, NY
All-Star Winner — In 2009, a cuddly lamb in a children’s book titled Loukoumi’s Good Deeds inspired kids to do good, too. That year, its author, New York attorney Nick Katsoris, used the book as a springboard for Make A Difference Day. One thousand young readers participated, raising $10,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Katsoris wrote six more Loukoumi books and by 2013, his Make A Difference Day volunteer group had grown to 40,000. He started the Loukoumi Make A Difference Foundation after receiving a 2014 National Make A Difference Day award. The army keeps growing; last year, 50,000 kids helped 100,000 people, many working through groups, including Philoptocos, Kiwanis, and the National Bullying Prevention Center. Said Katsoris, “The long-term impact of Make A Difference Day is that teaching children at a young age that doing good deeds can be fun is something that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Gimme Some Sole — Chico, CA
Each year, Farshad Azad, Grandmaster of Azad’s Martial Arts Center, meets with Chico’s 29 public school principals, representing 13,817 students, to see what the kids need most. The answer this year: “Shoes.” When Chico got rainy or cold, the kids’ flip-flops, beat-up sandals and hand-me-down shoes offered no protection or warmth. Azad’s response was the “Gimme Some Sole” drive for shoes and rain boots. Make A Difference Day was part of his month-long effort. More than half of the 100 pairs of rain boots and shoes were donated that day.
Cal Poly + 800 Volunteers = 1 Community — San Luis Obispo, CA
Students at California Polytechnic University have had the Make A Difference Day spirit for about 15 years with 2016 being another success. As their tagline for the day states,”40+ Sites. 800+ Volunteers. 3,200+ Hours. 1 Community.” The school’s Center for Service in Action also welcomed individuals, Girl Scout troops and businesses from the community. Staff and student organizers coordinated the day’s efforts with United Way of San Luis Obispo County. Volunteers groomed the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, painted a Boys and Girl Club and stocked a food pantry that serves people with HIV/AIDS. They volunteered at a street fair and children’s Halloween party and prepped for one town’s annual Oktoberfest. Their efforts benefitted the Transitions Mental Health Association in San Luis Obispo, a homeless organization in Atascadero and a children’s science museum in Grover Beach, among others.
Sock Drive — New Albany, IN
“A simple pair of socks to most of us seems like a small thing but to a homeless person, they are a luxury item,” said Belinda Jacobi, a member of Moving Forward limb loss support group based at the Southern Indiana Rehabilitation Hospital in New Albany, IN. Make A Difference Day was an opportunity for this group to offer support to a much larger population. With winter coming, a sock drive seemed a simple way to contribute. Frostbite is a leading cause of amputation in the homeless population. A local census counted more than 6,000 homeless, including 1,200 children, living in their community. Members set up collection boxes at doctor’s offices, the hospital and even a fire station. By Make A Difference Day, they had accumulated 864 pairs to give to the Salvation Army, 400 more than the previous year.
Habitat for Humanity — Dutchess County, NY
On Make A Difference Day, Habitat for Humanity partnered with Thrivent Builds financial services and 160 community volunteers to tackle 20 projects, despite cold and rainy weather. Work ranged from simple yard cleanup and fence and porch repair to rebuilding the entire front porch and stairs of one home. “The tangible differences in the neighborhoods are extraordinary,” said Habitat’s Barb Adams. Afterwards, neighbors and volunteers joined together for a community lunch donated by local restaurants.
Seed Library — Mesa, AZ
Fifty volunteers in Mesa, AZ, including 30 middle schoolers, packed 3,951 packets of seeds to stock and restock three public seed libraries. Maricopa County residents can “take out” the seed packets by simply using their library cards; they then “return” seeds saved from their harvests. Garden Pool, a nonprofit headquartered in Mesa that promotes sustainable food in developing countries, used its Meetup page to gather volunteers for its Make A Difference Day Seed Packing Party. Students from Arizona State University joined teens from Taylor Junior High School to pack 60 varieties of seeds supplied by distributors to organic farms and Garden Pool’s own crops. A wealth of choices, including bok choy, collards, eggplant, fennel, kale, spinach and squash, reside in repurposed old card catalogues.
Veteran and Senior Center — Petal, MS
On Make A Difference Day, a “gently used” and donated building became home to the first Petal Senior and Veterans Center. The building, a former medical clinic, was donated by Merit Health Wesley. The nearby Lowes store donated $2,500 in cleaning supplies, while the Corner Market, a locally owned grocer, made sure volunteers were fed. Volunteers wasted no time readying the new space. They washed windows, cleaned cabinets and landscaped the property. “We are an extremely caring and close-knit city,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “The senior center has become a rallying place for the community. We all care about it. It’s everybody’s home.”
Opportunity Village — Easley, SC
500 volunteers, including students from five area high schools, began construction on 13 houses in 14 hours for a planned “Opportunity Village” of homes for the homeless. Opportunity Village will tie formerly homeless residents with the faith-based Dream Center to develop their assets and life skills for jobs that ultimately will allow them to transition back into their community. On Make A Difference Day, there were so many volunteers that churches used shuttle buses to transport them. Nurses donated their time at the First Aid tent. “Everyone in town came,” Dream Center executive director Chris Wilson said. “Black, white, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat – it was a beautiful thing to see.”
One Potato, Two Potato … — Pineville, NC
On Make A Difference Day, a tractor trailer dumped 37,000 pounds of potatoes in the parking lot of Pineville United Methodist Church. The potatoes were gleaned earlier that week from the fields of local farms. The church partnered with the local chapter of Society of St. Andrew, a national program that collects more than five million pounds of North Carolina produce left in the fields each year. On Make A Difference Day, 150 volunteers, ranging in age from toddlers to elders, bagged the spuds in 10-pound sacks and delivered them to area food banks, soup kitchens and local apartment complexes.
Share the Load — Lakeville, MN
Maggie Leach, 12, collects quarters and laundry detergent helping dozens of families living in shelters. Her motivation rose when her family lived in a hotel for six weeks while their new home was being built and she met a lot of homeless families who could not afford to do their laundry more than once a month. This past Oct. 22 brought her largest collection yet – $810 in quarters (81 rolls), 21 baskets of laundry supplies (detergent and dryer sheets) and even, a pack of diapers. That’s enough to lighten the load of dozens of families served by nearby Lewis House, which shelter families fleeing domestic violence.
PittServes PMADD — Pittsburgh, PA
For the past nine years, the Oakland-based University of Pittsburg campus has organized dozens of projects to improve the lives and neighborhoods of thousands of the most vulnerable residents in this iconic city, long associated with the once flourishing steel industry. A steady rain didn’t dampen the spirit of service for the more than 5,000 students who spent Make A Difference Day fanning out across this ethnically and economically diverse city. More than 1,000 residents and communities were helped by their efforts.
A Legacy of Doing Good — Mesa, AZ
Nearly 3,000 Mesa residents of all ages volunteered at 36 Make A Difference Day worksites helping 2,646 members of their community. Volunteers removed 47 tons of debris from city neighborhoods benefiting several groups including elementary schools, veterans, homeowners, residents in Escondido, Mesa’s first Heritage Neighborhood, and the city of Mesa. The Community Services Department orchestrated the full-out effort, led by Citywide Volunteer Coordinator Michelle Alvis-White and her mentee, Volunteer Coordinator Laura Rodriguez. Alvis-White died in a car crash on January 20, 2017, three months after organizing the city’s biggest Make A Difference Day in at least three years of participation. But her legacy lives on through volunteerism. “By engaging more volunteers in this year’s event, we educated more people about important needs in the community”, said Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Leslie Balinkie.
Gold n-Plum Emergency Needs Kits — Wenatchee, WA
Sarah Strang is a mom who knows that a child’s battle with cancer is filled with emergency trips to care centers. Seattle Children’s Hospital is three hours away from her home in Wenatchee. She made the trip countless times when her son Anthony had leukemia. There was no time to pack a bag. Comparing experiences with another such mom, Sarah Hastings, they launched Gold-n-Plum in 2011 to give pre-assembled toiletries kits to local ERs. These kits are given to parents who had no time to pack a bag as they had to quickly get in an ambulance or Seattle Life Flight. On Make A Difference Day, Strang collected enough items to make 80 kits for Wenatchee’s Confluence Hospital/Central Washington Hospital and Clinics. People brought donations adding to a stash of toiletries given by doctors, orthodontists and hotels.
Classroom with a View — Knoxville, TN
On Make A Difference Day, a group of 58 volunteers, under the guidance of the local AmeriCorps program, joined together to create a unique outdoor classroom located in a wooded area behind one of the neediest elementary schools in South Knoxville. Nearly half of the 750 students at Dogwood Elementary School are eligible to receive free lunch; and resources are stretched thin. That day, volunteers began to clear a trail in the woods behind the school with the goal of connecting it to the 12-mile Urban Wilderness Trail system along the Tennessee River. In addition, they began work on a nature observation deck and seating area cut from nearby fallen trees.