Making a Difference on Make a Difference Day

Those who regularly read this blog know that when I find a person or an organization “doing good” I write about it. I stumbled across Make a Difference Day. Sounds nice, but what is it, you may wonder? Well, it’s a movement, it’s an opportunity to do-something-good to make our world a better place, and who doesn’t want that? It’s also one of the biggest annual single service days nationwide. It started in February of 1992 and has evolved into a national event held the fourth Saturday every October. In this, its 26th year, MDD will take place on October 28th, just a couple of months away. People come together from around the country with one common goal – to better the lives of others.

The point of Make a Difference Day demonstrates that everyone and anyone, regardless of age or circumstance or background, can make an impact on their community. Each October, individuals and groups get involved and they indeed make a big difference in their communities. Some are big, some are small, but they all matter. So what kind of things do people do to make a difference? It’s simple, but really, really important stuff. Acts that truly improve the lives of those around us. Here are a few stories from the Make a Difference Day website that made my heart sing:

Have you heard of the kids’ book, Loukoumi’s Good Deeds? In 2009 the book inspired children to do good, just like one of the characters, a cuddly lamb. That same year, the book’s author, New York lawyer, Nick Katsoris, used the book to launch a Make a Difference Day Project. Ultimately 1,000 children joined in and raised $10,000 that went to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That inspired Mr. Katsoris to write more Loukoumi books. By Make a Difference Day 2013, the volunteers grew to 40,000, and the year after that – 50,000 kids helped 100,000 people. I particularly love what Mr. Katsoris said about his books inspiring kids to do good:

“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.”

In New Albany, Indiana, Belinda Jacobi, a member of the Moving Forward limb loss support group at the Southern Indiana Rehabilitation Hospital saw an opportunity to help a larger population – their local homeless. They knew that frostbite is a leading cause of amputation among the homeless. With more than 6,000 homeless in their community, including 1,200 children, they decided to collect socks to help keep their feet warm and hopefully prevent amputation. Members of the group placed collection boxes at doctors’ offices, the hospital and a fire station. By Make a Difference Day 2016 they collected 864 pairs of socks that they donated to the Salvation Army to distribute.

Daniel Soupiset of San Angelo, Texas was responsible for helping to save dozens of animals from being euthanized. He organized a project to increase pet adoptions from San Angelo’s animal shelter, where sadly, about 75% of its animals end up being put down. In 2014 during the month leading up to MDD Daniel and 25 volunteers raised funds for his “Canine and Kitty Coupons” project. On Oct. 25, Daniel and many volunteers set up in front of the shelter and handed out coupons to cover the adoption cost. They didn’t just raise over $4,500, they saved the lives of 57 animals who went onto their Forever Homes.

Maggie Leach, a Minnesota 12-year-old learned a big lesson when her family lived in a hotel for six months while their home was under construction. She discovered that many homeless families could not afford to do their laundry more than once a month. Laundry seems like something minimal, but to someone who must choose between food and doing laundry, it’s a no-brainer, food will always win that contest. But it has its consequences. Not being able to do laundry, and having to wear odiferous clothes over and over, can greatly affect self-esteem and one’s dignity. Maggie figured that out and decided to help by collecting laundry soap and quarters for families living in shelters. On last year’s Made a Difference Day Maggie collected $810 in quarters (81 rolls), 21 baskets of laundry supplies and a pack of diapers. Her effort assisted numerous families living at Lewis House, a shelter for families fleeing domestic violence.

How Make a Difference Day started is really cool and all because of our crazy calendar. When Leap Day fell on a Saturday in 1992, Gannett’s USA WEEKEND magazine suggested to their readers to spend their extra 24 hours doing something good for others. Pretty simple, right? Absolutely and the response was stupendous; it’s been going on ever since. Then in late 2014 sponsorship of Make a Difference Day shifted to USA TODAY and Gannett’s portfolio of newspapers, TV stations and digital properties. The following year, Gannett’s broadcasting and digital businesses spun off to form TEGNA Inc. Lest you think this is just one more corporate spinoff, it’s not. Tegna awards $140,000 annually to 14 honorees who are chosen by a panel of judges. Award winners designate their charity of choice to receive the grant money. Kinda a double-good, don’t you think?

Starting a service project on your own is easy. Projects can be as simple as cleaning up your local park with your family and friends or hosting a lemonade stand and donating the proceeds to charity. The ask is simple – just do something good for somebody else. Submit your project in advance at the MDD website and you could win a $10,000 grant for your project’s charity. If Make a Difference Day sounds like something you’d like to do, click here to find out more on  their website. Together we can all make a difference.




Texas Wonder Woman

TWW Ricki 2You’ve probably heard the phrase, “she be small, but she be mighty”. That pretty much describes Ricky Polcer of Tyler, Texas. Though a woman of small stature, that has not deterred her from finding needs and filling them. Like others profiled on this blog, she radiates goodness.

Her story begins with quilts, simple quilts that comfort people across the United States. She learned the craft from her aunt who taught her how to piece together fabrics at the age of eight. She didn’t get serious about quilt making until her retirement from the civil service in 2001 and then she began making quilts and more quilts and yes, more quilts. To date Ricky has made over 1,120 quilts since she hung up her day job and began using her talents for helping others. Of course you must be wondering what one woman needs or does with 1,120 quilts. Charity. She makes quilts for charity. And are they grateful!

Of that mind boggling number she has made and donated 146 quilts to the National Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Quilt Project that provides lap sized quilts to TWW quiltspatients who participate in Alzheimer’s research. Her father suffered from Alzheimer’s for over 10 years, the last eight months in a coma, and knew well what patients and their families endure. She says she makes quilts for the project because “it’s one way I can give back in his memory.”

Ricky also sews for the Quilts for Kids chapter in Austin, Texas, an organization that provides quilts to children with life – threatening illnesses and children of abuse. Ricky’s says “I love knowing I’ve provided someone with warmth and love, giving throughout the year, it’s a good feeling.” She had made and donated 982 quilts to QFK to date.

Those child and teen quilts go to a variety of local kids’ causes such as CASA, (Court Appointed Special Advocates), for newborns to teens aged 18, who are removed from their homes due to neglect, abuse, parent incarceration or death. Another group that receives her quilts is Hospice Austin for newborns to kids up to 18 who are either a Hospice patient or have an immediate family member in Hospice. A third organization who receives her quilts is the Dell Children’s/Ronald McDonald House for children undergoing long term treatment for a life altering disease or condition.

And then there are the girls at New Life. These children aged 11-18 have suffered the unfathomable: severe physical, sexual and mental abuse.  The girls who live in and go to school at New Life undergo psychiatric intervention to turn their tumultuous lives around. Many are suicidal when they enter New Life.  My gosh, what do you do for a kid like that? Ricky knows; she has made a bunch of quilts for the girls as well as 288 pillow cases that the girls received at the holidays. To give the girls something fun to purchase in the New Life facility store, she whipped up 104 cosmetic bags that they girls can “buy” using good behavior points that work like money.  To make sure there was makeup the girls could buy to put in the cosmetic cases Ricky purchased 200 e.l.f. cosmetics to line the store shelves. She also made 36 fleece throws and 153 totes the girls can purchase in the little store.

TWW two pupsDoes this woman have a heart as big as Texas, or what? She makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker especially because that’s not all this spunky woman does. Ricky is as passionate about her other “hobby” as what she sews for those in need.

Since 2007 when she took in her first greyhound and got involved with Greyhounds TWW Ricki & pupsUnlimited of Dallas, Texas she has been fostering and adopting the elegant former racing dogs. To date Ricky has fostered 10 “greyts” with medical issues, and adopted eight. At this time she cares for two greyts, an eight year-old named Jinx and seven year-old Manuel. To be expected she sews for the dogs too, items like fleece belly bands to keep male dogs from marking the inside of a house. The woman’s energy knows no limits.

I’m not sure that this dynamo eats or sleeps, how else does she do it? I imagine that joy and the elation of giving back plays a big part. When asked her favorite part of quilting she answered, “I treasure the quiet time with my greyhounds at my feet helping.” For Ricky, quilts and greyhounds go hand in hand. Quilts and greyts, what a sweet combo.

Do you know of a selfless hero or heroine like Ricky Polcer in your town? If so, I’d like to hear about it. Please leave a comment below.


Hitting It Big, Giving It Back

Who doesn’t harbor a secret fantasy of winning the lottery? It’s not uncommon for people to dream what they would do with the money should they hit the ‘big one’. A new car, a new house, travel, maybe a small tropical island. Anything is possible depending on the amount of the win.

HIB Win Photo

Back in late 2012 when Mark and Cindy Hill of Dearborn, Missouri won half of an astounding $587 million Powerball payout (netted to $136.5 million after taxes) they were simultaneously shocked and ecstatic. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

When asked at a press conference held at the high school where they met how they planned to spend the money, Mark, a mechanic, said he was thinking about buying a red Camaro. Not a Jag, not a Lamborghini, a Camaro. That gives you an idea what kind of humble people the Hills are. Ultimately Mark bought a pickup truck.

HIB Messsage on FBCindy, a laid-off office manager had been looking for work. They had already adopted a little girl from China and with the influx of money were thinking of adopting another. They also planned to help family members, by paying for their four granddaughters, nieces and nephews college educations. Their other big plan was to take their little daughter to the beach because she had never seen one.

Not much has changed for the couple, except that Cindy gave up her job search and Mark retired. He still meets friends for coffee every morning at a local convenience store and they still live in the same home and keep up with all their usual activities. No fancy cars, no tropical island, no exotic cruises to places they can’t pronounce. Instead they have slowly begun using their windfall to give back by funding civic projects in their local community, as well as in Mark’s home town, Camden Point, Missouri, a small settlement of less than 500 residents.

HIB Dearborn signSo far they’ve donated a scholarship fund to nearby North Platte High School in Dearborn, where both graduated, paid for a new ball field for children, safely built far from the dangers of traffic, and donated $50,000 towards the sewage treatment plant.

Who uses their lottery winnings to fund a sewage treatment plant? Good people with their priorities in the right place, that’s who. The new sewage treatment plant will allow residents to remove their personal septic tanks. Ever had to deal with a personal septic tank? You know this is a biggie.

HIB Fire StationAnd then there’s the fire station they funded in Camden Point, a gesture to thank local firefighters for twice saving the life of Mark’s father. Mark took a vested interest in the new fire station by working with architects, contractors, and members of the local volunteer fire department to make sure they got everything just right.

The new station, built to be larger than needed so it could meet demands as the community grows in the decades to come will be dedicated mid-July. It’s built from reinforced concrete to make sure it lasts for generations. In local reports city officials estimate that these projects would have taken around 25 years to complete had the city needed to rely on its existing tax base.

Often big money, like a lottery win, changes people. It’s gratifying to hear of a case where it didn’t, where people stuck to their values. At the press conference that announced their huge windfall, Cindy Hill explained their plans in the humblest way she knew how. “For some reason (God) put it in our hands,” she said, “I think to make sure it goes to the right things.”

If it were up to Mark, he would have kept the fire station a secret. He told a local news station, “If my wife and I could have built this without anybody knowing, that’s exactly what we would have done.” He doesn’t want people making a big deal over the gift because it’s simply their way of giving back to their neighbors, to their community.

Now if these folks aren’t the epitome of The Goodness Principle, I don’t know what is.


Carol and Tiki Tackle a Daunting Mission

What compels a woman to ride her horse 800 miles along the sometimes perilous, steep Arizona Trail, full of risky passes, such as the Crest Trail that traverses Miller Peak at over 9,000 feet? Never mind that she is the first person to attempt to ride the entire trail by horse. No one has been able to do it, but that doesn’t seem to faze Carol Fontana, an accomplished endurance rider. And her 11 year-old, Arabian horse, Tiki Barber? He may just be along for the ride or it may be fun for him. After all, the two of them won the 25 mile horse division of the Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, Arizona in 2014 i thought about this. Just in case you think that 800 miles may be more endurance than any horse should bear, Tiki is up for the ride. This horse can rock it. Last year he won Best Conditioned Horse in the 50 mile McDowell endurance race near Phoenix. In the world of horse endurance races, this is a big deal. Yep, he’s up for it.

So while it sounds like both horse and rider are as well prepared as anyone to undergo such a ride, why do it? It’s personal. Carol’s mother was a single mom who raised three daughters. Carol knows only too well the hardships of a single mother.

“I know firsthand the challenges,” Carol says. “I have been very fortunate and I want to give back.”

She decided that she would use her and Tiki’s skills to raise money for Saddle Up!, the organization sponsoring the ride. The money raised will go to the Prescott Area Shelter Services (PASS ), an organization that receives no government funding; it is the only emergency and transitional housing shelter for women and families in Arizona’s Yavapai County. Quite remarkably, 100% of donations go directly to support their services. Not many non-profits can make that claim; kudos to them.

On April 2nd Carol and Tiki began their historic ride, with a little help from the U.S. Forest Service. You see, the trail starts at the border with Mexico, a place off limits to horseback riders. Fortunately the Forest Service saw the wisdom of granting a special exemption allowing Carol and Tiki to ride the first two mile portion of the trail, beginning at the border. Of course that took some choreography, paperwork and the purchase of a $100 special use permit from the U.S. Department of Interior to travel along the rocky switchbacks from Montezuma’s pass to the Mexico border.

The second day the duo faced late season snow, ice and fallen trees across the trail which required Carol to physically clear the trees and branches; sometimes she had to stand on lower limbs to raise others, allowing Tiki to climb through.

Carol and her team expect the ride to take more or less three months. Yes, she has a team. How could she not? Carol is supported by her husband and a few fellow veterans who drive from base camp to base camp in a specially equipped RV that’s self-sufficient and capable of navigating jagged forest roads to the base camps. You didn’t really think she was going to do this out in the wilds of Arizona entirely on her own, did you? Naw, didn’t think so. They also anticipate that on occasion Carol may be accompanied by experienced endurance riders.

If you’re not familiar with the 800-mile Arizona Trail, it stretches from the Mexican border near Sonoita to the Utah border near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  Romantic as it sounds, it’s nothing to sneeze at. It crosses over Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, over the precipitous Mogollon Rim, in and out of the Grand Canyon and through some very rough, secluded country. It’s divided into 43 passages, each with a designated base camp (thank goodness).  While some of the base camps feature camping facilities, others are a wide spot on a forest road. Each day, Carol and Tiki leave their base camp and head back out on the trail. The team members break camp and drive to the next base camp and set up. For the most unmanageable passages, where vehicles cannot reach, Carol and Tiki will camp out for the night.

As you can imagine, this operation takes an incredible amount of coordination. Planning and groundwork has been underway for over a year, including every aspect of Tiki’s care. Lest you think Tiki’s welfare is at risk, the ride plans were reviewed by the Yavapai Humane Society, which has endorsed the ride. In addition to special high-performance diets and supplements for all the animals, Tiki’s own veterinarians from the Prescott Animal Hospital are overseeing his care. But just in case it’s needed Carol has contact information for local veterinarians along the route. And to make sure that his hoofs stay in tip-top shape, Carol’s farrier will meet the team at base camps along the way to ensure that Tiki’s shoeing remains intact. So many details went into the preparations. For example, when and where needed along the trail, stewards will supply water to Carol and Tiki, and will report on current trail conditions. Nice.

In addition to raising funds for northern Arizona’s homeless, Carol is taking notes for the trail managers on how they can make areas such as the Huachuca Mountains Pass more equine-friendly. As trailblazers they hope that their efforts will make it easier for future trail riders.

By the time they reach Utah they hope to raise $25,000 to $50,000 for PASS. As of the middle of April they had raised $15,000. If you’re interested in helping spread a little goodness to the homeless of northern Arizona, please visit their website here.  Then, if you like to ride or never have and would like to give it a shot, find a local stable and go on a group trail ride. As you and your horse meander through the countryside for a mile or two taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the back country just imagine what it would be like to ride like that for 800 very long, very challenging miles. That’s when you’ll realize what an incredible feat this is for Carol and Tiki to undertake. Not everyone has it in themselves to embark on such an effort. Obviously Carol is an extraordinary woman and Tiki, quite an extraordinary horse.

How Romeo Gave Lee Her Spirit Back

A happy, talkative boy
A happy, talkative boy

Lee Fulbright suffered a double whammy in 2012. She lost both her husband and her sister in one year. For a long, dark time it took everything she had to get up each day and simply live. It was just her and Baby Rae, her 13 year old cattle dog.

The following year, as she slowly adjusted to a new life she read an article in a small newspaper about a local San Diego physical therapist, Trish Penick, who specialized in physical therapy for dogs. Trish used water therapy to help dogs recover from surgery and stroke paralysis. The swimming pool therapy also provided pain relief to dogs suffering from arthritis whose joints throbbed when they walked on cement or trails. She read how once in the pool those pups were soothed by warm water as they played, weightless in the water; all while getting much-needed exercise. Reading further Lee learned that Trish was losing access to a donated private pool and was looking for another centrally located San Diego pool as soon as possible. Lee vividly remembers the thoughts that raced through her head.

“I was reading this and thinking, I love dogs and I have a pool. I’m in the city, on Point Loma. And it’s just me and Baby Rae now–those babies can yip and play and get worked on all they want– I’ve no problem with dog “singing.” I have a pool with two shallow areas for hands-on procedures, with a decent-sized length in-between for laps.”

She quickly realized that her pool could work. She contacted Trish and invited her to take a look. It turned out that Trish lived just blocks away. Trish and her yellow lab, Tori, came right over. As Lee likes to say, the rest is history. Two plus years later worth of history. Lee says that some weeks she has counted as many as forty dogs in the pool. Dogs whose hind ends have given out, who’ve had strokes, who’ve recently had knee or hip surgeries, or any kind of surgery really, who’re recovering from car accident injuries, who are overweight or whose human parents can’t exercise them for one reason or another, or are debilitated rescue dogs and need to be built back up so they can be adopted out. Good story, right? Oh, but it gets better. Here’s where the silver lining of this story emerges.

The Southern California German Shepherd Rescue has been one of Trish’s charities; she has taken on some of their most hopeless-seeming cases pro bono, Romeo was one of them. Lee recalls the day she met with him with precision clarity.

“He was approximately 10-11years old, a HUGE German shepherd with an un-German shepherd, bear-like head, hair sticking straight out all around, like a halo,” Lee says. “He was funny-looking, oh, but such intelligence in those brown eyes. A very tall dog, but completely emaciated, with a thin, dry coat, and sores all over any visible skin.”

Romeo couldn’t walk on his own; his back legs were paralyzed. He was found in some bushes and taken to Southern California German Shepherd Rescue, who cleaned him up, and got a medical done on him. His hips were deemed “gone”; he needed surgery, but at 30 pounds underweight, he was too debilitated to undergo, much less survive surgery. The veterinarian treated his sores, recommended a special protein diet to put weight on his emaciated frame and physical therapy to rebuild and strengthen muscle. Sounds pretty grim, huh? Seeing him was worse.

“I about died when I first laid eyes on him. He was so, so thin and dependent. His angel of a foster mom managed him with the aid of special rear-end harness that allowed him to move his front legs while she held up his hind end. The second thing, after his shocking condition, that set Romeo apart was his personality. Sweetest, gentlest dog ever. And the most vocal. But he didn’t bark, he “talked.” Almost constantly. He talked even while swimming (Romeo learned to swim in about ten minutes). He loved the warm water. He talked and talked and talked. Eventually, he did wheelies. He fetched toys. He did laps. He stretched those front limbs and paddled like crazy, and he was beautiful–and before we knew it– this was about three sessions out– his back limbs fluttered. And he talked some more. Long story short, because Romeo’s rehab was not an immediate thing– it took a few months– Romeo was ready for his first surgery (a very expensive surgery paid for by German Shepherd Rescue).”

Lee says that the surgery was successful, relieving Romeo of pain on dry land, giving him some mobility on the ground, under his own steam. Who could not love a dog like that? His foster mom officially adopted him, and for more than a year he lived the good life, sheltered and pampered, swimming in Lee’s pool for exercise, and, she says, always talking. He was lucky. Instead of dying behind some bush on the side of the road, Romeo died of natural causes in his sleep, loved and pain-free. Lee will never forget him.

“I still get teary-eyed thinking of him. All he’d been through, and yet he never lost his amazingly beautiful spirit. In many ways, because of the journey I’d been on, of recovery from care-giving and loss, it was Romeo who first made my heart soar again. Because he was majestic. And he was magic. And he’d been down, but was starting over, getting a new life, and it seemed he understood he’d been given another chance. I’d watch him and think anything was possible, because the impossible–his healing– was happening right in front of us.”

The very same can be said for Lee Fulbright. From a dark place full of grief, through the selfless, simple act of providing her pool for canine physical therapy, she found healing and a renewed spirit.

To learn more about Trish’s work at Cutting Edge K-9 Rehab, please visit her website