5 Ways to Make "Make a Difference Day" a Family Tradition

By: Susan Ragsdale

Mahatma Gandhi taught us to Be the change we wish to see in the world. National Make a Difference Day is a celebration of the change that people make. It is also a reminder that everyone has power. Everyone has gifts. Everyone can make a difference by showing up and making the choice to care about others and the world. We have power. We just have to use it.

This year, Make a Difference Day falls on October 27, 2012. Why not take a cue from Ghandi and make this day a part of your family fabric? Here are some ideas to help you get started:
  • At home, talk about the importance of making a difference, and as a family go do something! Commit!
  • Find a need or concern in your community. Are you concerned about a neighbor next door? Is the fact that grandma moved into a nursing home upsetting to you? Are you concerned about the environment (trash in your neighborhood)?
  • Find an agency that works around that concern. If you don’t know of one, ask friends and neighbors, call local nonprofit organizations and ask if they are participating in Make a Difference Day, or do a web search (try www.volunteermatch.org) and see if you can find a project that matches up with your family's interests.
  • Celebrate what you did together. Talk about what you learned and what you experienced: the funny moments, the scary moments, the “it felt so good to help” moments.
  • If you want an even BIGGER challenge, register your project at the Make A Difference website and recruit others to join you in your project.
  • Download: Tips to Help You Reflect on Your Family Volunteering Experience

    Here are 5 service ideas to help you get started!

    This summer my youth organization worked with 13 girls in a service camp to make a difference. Perhaps one of these memories from our own experiences will spark an idea for how your family might volunteer together.

    1. Volunteer at the Humane Society – Popular with young and old alike, volunteer opportunities include walking dogs, bagging up pet snacks (we did 57 in one hour), making treats, making and decorating bandanas for pets who will be going home to wear, updating photos on the website, and cleaning cages. At our site, anyone under the age of 14 had to be accompanied in a one-to-two adult to child ratio.

    2. Volunteer at Feed the Children – Our volunteer work was done assembly line fashion. Adults cut open boxes, and youth helped fill, tape up and stack the boxes. Bonus: Standing side-by-side gives families lots of time to chat while working. Want a goal? Fifteen of us packed 571 boxes (that’s 571 families impacted by our behind-the-scenes service) in 2 hours. What can your family of 3 or 5 do?

    3. Volunteer at a retirement center – Here, visits are never overrated. Put on a smile, a happy heart, and simply share the gift of yourself (and your time) with others. Visit, play games, sing, gather around the piano, give manicures, do arts and crafts . . . There is almost nothing you can’t come up with to bring life and happiness to residents in a retirement center. In one day, our group made and distributed 130 bookmarks and engaged in games and conversations with 11 residents by the end of the day. The interactions and mutual exchange of learning and sharing were simply priceless in value.

    Our girls’ favorite part of this experience was hearing the women’s life stories and sharing in their passions. One powerful woman, age 93, was a dance instructor until the age of 85. She gathered a small group of us around her table and gave us a quick belly-dancing lesson! One camper took the initiative to teach two women how to play scrabble. She was a self-proclaimed “not so good speller” but she didn’t shy from sharing what she knew with two women who had never played.

    4. Volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House – Making brownies, cooking a meal, collecting soda can tabs, writing notes of encouragement for guests, bringing in comic books, movies, toys, or books--these are all things that families can do to help brighten a day for worried families and sick children. In one day, our group decorated 40 doors with cut out paper dolls and words of encouragement. We made 20 necklaces to be distributed to teenage girls and 35 encouragement stones that people could put on their desks.

    5. Volunteer at Mobile Loaves and Fishes – Work in the garden, chop veggies, decorate lunch bags, make cookies, make sandwiches to distribute, ride the mobile food van, and distribute meals to others – these are some of the possibilities when working with agencies that are dedicated to getting fresh produce into “food deserts.” Our girls went to work and decorated over 100 lunch bags and made 71 cookies.

    I just shared various ways that we made a difference in one-to-two hour time slots during a five day week. What can your family do? I want to challenge you to use your power! BE THE CHANGE and make a difference. What will you do this National Make a Difference Day?

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    For more ideas for family volunteering visit:

    1. Family Volunteering

    2. Reasons to Volunteer

    2. National Days of Service, a calendar of various service-oriented days

    3. National Family Volunteer Day, coming up in November

    4. Image via Yukari on Flickr.

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