Lawrence gears up for Make a Difference Day

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fourteen agencies around Lawrence will be opening their doors this Saturday to welcome volunteers. Members of the community will be working together as part of the largest fall volunteer event — Make a Difference Day.

A National Event

At least 170 volunteers are expected to lend a hand in Lawrence, a small portion of the 3 million that participate globally. Started in 1992 by USA Weekend magazine, the fourth Saturday of October is now the largest community service effort in the nation.

The Roger Hill Volunteer Center will be participating in this national day of service by coordinating service projects between agencies and volunteers throughout the community. Emily Hampton, program director at Roger Hill Volunteer Center, says the Center is bringing the day back, after not having participated since 2007.

“We want to bring it back and follow the national trend by making it our big fall event just like the Day of Service is our big event in the spring,” Hampton says.

The need

As of last Monday, close to 100 volunteers were still needed. Hampton says the projects will not interfere with the KU football game (also Homecoming) that starts at 6 p.m. The projects last 2-3 hours with the earliest starting at 9 a.m. and the latest finishing at 4 p.m.

Agencies typically try to coordinate large-scale landscaping and maintenance projects that they do not normally have the time or resources to do. Volunteers could be helping with anything from outdoor park restoration to painting and cleaning.

Durand Reiber, coordinator at the Hidden Valley Camp, says volunteers will primarily be helping with native woods restoration by taking out invasive honeysuckle shrubs and transplanting native trees and shrubs in their place.

“We’ve already had five groups this fall digging out the woody sumac bushes that spread like wildfire,” Reiber says. “This is an ongoing, never-ending project requiring lots of volunteers.”

Agencies still in need of volunteers include:

• Community Living Opportunities (CLO) — Yard work and deep cleaning of vans.

• Family Promise — Planting and mulching flowerbeds/yardwork; indoor cleaning and painting.

• Hidden Valley Camp — Native woods restoration, trimming trees, burning brush, other outdoor work.

• Hilltop Child Development Center — Playground maintenance and cleanup.

• Independence, Inc. — Painting offices.

• Midnight Farm @ CLO — Outdoor work including gardening and staining of hanging planters.

• Pinckney School — Garden and yard work, possibly help install water garden.

• Save the Wakarusa Wetlands — Helping erect and fill wire frame piling supports with rocks.

• Tenants to Homeowners — Paint exterior, clean brush.

Making a Difference

For some people, service is second nature.

Since taking over in January, Zach Devine, coach of the Lawrence Aquahawks, has made service a priority on his team. Devine says he thinks it is important to get students involved with community service and instill a mentality to give back. The choice of day does not bother him either.

“I think it is good that the event is on a Saturday,” Devine says. “It forces them to have to make a sacrifice and do something outside themselves.”

However, for most of his swimmers, it is not a sacrifice at all.

Sarah Smoot, ninth-grader at Southwest Junior High, says she is used to volunteering and happy to give up her Saturday. Smoot says she is looking forward to the day because of the opportunity to give back and say thanks to the community that supports her team.

“I would rather be helping somebody else than doing something for myself and instead of sitting down watching TV,” she says.

Instilling a trend

For Hampton, it is not only an opportunity to spend a Saturday helping out agencies around Lawrence, but also a chance to create a lasting impression.

She says Make a Difference Day, will not only be making an immediate difference for the agencies, but will be making a difference in the long run in how people view service.

“A day of service is important because it is inspiring for volunteers to see the whole community out together working on projects,” Hampton says. “We hope that it won’t be one day out of the year that they volunteer, but that they will make a connection that carries on to the future.”