Make a Difference Day comes to Kirtland

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- If one person helps another, that person is helping his entire community. That's the premise of Make a Difference Day, the most encompassing national day of helping others, which falls on Oct. 28 this year. As many around the country gear up to lend a hand where it is needed, volunteers at Kirtland AFB prepare to do their part in bettering their neighborhoods.

Make a Difference Day is a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors wherein everyone and anyone can participate. Created by USA WEEKEND Magazine, Make a Difference Day is an annual event that takes place on the fourth Saturday of every October.

Diane Keays, the Family Support Center team lead and the point of contact for the effort here, has been participating in Make a Difference Day for more than 10 years.

"It's always a lot of fun and a cause worthy of everyone's time and talents," Ms. Keays said. "Every year, we (at the base) tend to really come together to make a difference in the lives of our area children and others who may need help."

For the past several years, she said, the focus of Make a Difference Day has revolved around the three base elementary schools, Sandia Base Elementary, Wherry Elementary and Kirtland Elementary. Volunteers from Kirtland AFB and volunteers from the schools, both employees and non-employees, will host read-a-thons and other school-related activities for the children this year, similar to what they did in past years.

Although Oct. 28 is the official Make a Difference Day, this year area schools are all holding the read-athons beginning Oct. 23 and running through Oct. 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Ms. Keays said she is still in the process of recruiting volunteers for the elementary school read-a-thons and other school-related projects.

"Hopefully, the projects will firm up within the next week," she said. "We had people from Kirtland AFB participate in the read-a-thons at the schools last year who really loved it. Hopefully we can get a lot of people during the week of this year's read-a-thon."

Kirtland Elementary also has a project entitled "Making Memories" scheduled as part of the after school program, Ms. Keays said. The school children will be making scrapbooks and the volunteers will supervise, from 3-5 p.m. on Oct. 27. Volunteers are still needed for all the projects.

Those interested in volunteering for any of the activities can call the FSC at 505-846-0741 or 505-846-0751.

Ms. Keays said that last year, Kirtland Elementary School held a read-a-thon and art projects during the After School Program; Sandia Base Elementary School had painting rooms for the children and read to the students; and Wherry Elementary School had special reading sessions for the students.

"It's so great for the children, who can never benefit enough from the time we can give them," Ms. Keays said.

Amber Polizzi, a mathematician at the Air Force Research Laboratory, participated in last year's event by reading to third-graders at Kirtland Elementary for three days in October 2005.

"I have always enjoyed volunteering. I really enjoyed visiting the local elementary school last year because I had just moved to Albuquerque about two months prior," said Ms. Polizzi. "The children really seemed to like having a new storyteller in the classroom and it seemed like a treat for them."

Each year in April, hundreds of good deeds done on Make a Difference Day are selected for honors, headlines and charitable donations.

If you want to participate, just help someone else on the next Make A Difference Day, Oct. 28, or if you want to extend your time, feel free to volunteer for an entire week. You participation is not limited to Oct. 28.

Those who wish to participate can visit the organization's Web site and use a tool called the idea generator to come up with ideas if you need a little help. Volunteer activities can be anything ranging from helping an elderly neighbor with shopping or household chores to creating a community garden in a low-income neighborhood to organizing a group to help build a home for someone in need.

Throughout the month of October, USA WEEKEND will feature various Make a Difference Day projects. All entry forms must be postmarked by mid-November to be eligible for an award. In April, the honorees will be featured in the magazine and charitable donations will be made.

"This national day recognizes what people all over the country, including those at Kirtland AFB, do for their neighbors," Ms. Keays said. "It is a great incentive to get people active in their communities and it honors those who make a difference in peoples' lives on a day-to-day basis."

She said Make a Difference Day is a great way for groups and companies who participate to boost morale, not only for those they aim to help, but for the volunteers as well.

On Oct. 23, 1999, Kirtland AFB workers received a $2,000 state award for making a difference in their community. On that day, more than 175 military and civilian workers at Kirtland AFB reached out to residents in the Trumball neighborhood, home to Cuban, Vietnamese, Native American, Mexican, and Anglo- and African-American residents.