Sunday, October 27, 2002

Volunteers pitch in to Make a Difference

National day to help draws thousands

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Lakshmi Geddem (right), 13, of Mason helps Kari Fitzpatrick, 6, of Hyde Park make a paper pumpkin at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center on Saturday.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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The autumn chill and gray skies of Saturday made it a good day to stay inside - unless, that is, you wanted to be a person who makes a difference.

Thousands of Tristate volunteers put aside notions of spending a lazy Saturday on the couch and instead fanned out to dozens of locations as part of Make a Difference Day, the nationwide volunteer program that takes place each year on the fourth Saturday in October.

At nearly 70 locations around Greater Cincinnati, volunteers picked up shovels, wielded rakes, filled trash bags and dished out food for the hungry.

In Kentucky, the Make a Difference Day program had 52 events statewide. In Ohio, there were more than 330 in all 88 counties, including one at an assisted-living home in Columbus, where Gov. Bob Taft and his wife, Hope, helped Ohio State University students build a fence.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful rounded up more than 1,000 volunteers from 36 community organizations Saturday to pick up trash and plant flowers and trees in about 30 Cincinnati neighborhoods.

[photo] Spiros Sarakatsannis of East Walnut Hills picks up trash under the Western Hills Viaduct
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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By the time it was over, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful volunteers had picked up 27,870 pounds of trash and planted more than 15,000 plants, according to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful spokeswoman Susan McDonald.

In Newport, the Retired and Senior Volunteer program of Northern Kentucky collected cans of beef stew in a drive for food pantries. Across the river in Over-the-Rhine, volunteers from the Mission of Love shared food and clothing with the homeless in Washington Park. In Hamilton, elementary school students hosted senior citizens at a luncheon.

There were groups and individuals collecting gently used school uniforms for needy children, young people collecting soda pop pull-tabs to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House and volunteers building a basketball court for a children's home.

They were all part of a nationwide force of volunteers about 2 million strong.

Making a dent in garbage

Saturday morning, about a dozen members of One Human Family, a Cincinnati human-rights organization, donned gloves and carried trash bags into one of the most neglected and trash-ridden areas of the city - the underside of the Western Hills Viaduct.

[photo] Craig Blythe, Alexandria United Methodist Church youth group leader, and Becky Field, 14, sort donated toys at the church on Saturday.
([name of photographer] photo)
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The One Human Family volunteers - which included Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley - came out of the brush around the viaduct with bag after bag of trash, picking up old tires, rusted-out mufflers, hood ornaments and countless cans and bottles.

Patrick Korb of downtown walked up and down the lower deck of the viaduct collecting trash.

"There's just too much here to make much of a dent in this,'' Mr. Korb said, wielding a set of pincers on the end of a broom handle that he uses to pick up trash on his own street. "But we're visible; maybe people will see and us and realize that there are people trying to help. As they toss their cans out the car window, that is.''

A dozen girls from Mason High School's HOPE Club hauled large boxes through the busy concourse of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and up the elevators to the sixth-floor activity center Saturday afternoon.

The boxes were full of toys for the patients at Children's, bought with money the group raised at the high school.

For these high school students, there was nothing out of the ordinary about spending a day helping others. The name of their club, staff adviser Melissa Jurewicz said, stands for "Helpers of People Everywhere'' and is devoted to community service.

"These girls are used to giving their time; that's what they do,'' Ms. Jurewicz said.

Ms. Jurewicz and fellow adviser Kristi Stephens divided the Mason High School girls into two groups - one to go off to another room to blow up balloons for the kids, another to set up an activity table where they would help the children cut and paste brightly colored construction paper and turn them into Halloween ghosts and goblins.

Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi Geddem carefully cut out a ghostly figure for one little girl wearing a medical face mask.

"Now, you try it,'' Miss Geddem said, as the girl's eyes lighted up.

Toys for needy kids

A handful of members of the Alexandria United Methodist Church youth group busied themselves sorting, cleaning and packing donated toys.

The toys will be taken to Brighton Center, a Northern Kentucky service agency, and sold for no more than a quarter each to needy children during the holidays.

The students said they didn't mind giving up their Saturday for Make a Difference Day.

"It's important to give," said youth group member Caitlin Foltz, 15, a Campbell County High ninth-grader.

"We went to a church camp the last two summers in Philadelphia and learned about sharing. We were challenged to do mission work outside of camp. Now, we're doing something that is helpful to the community."

Enquirer reporter Jennifer Mrozowski contributed.

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