REGIONAL AWARD: Fort Hood
On the 25th of October, 1997, over 3,000 Fort Hood community members turned out to make a real difference in the lives of many in celebration of National Make A Difference Day. Planning for this special day of giving began back in August of 1997. The idea was to focus as much energy and attention as possible onto projects and causes that could help others, as well as to share that incredibly good feeling one gets when selflessly giving and making a difference in the lives of others. The ultimate hope, of course, was to "hook" our first-time volunteers with that special giving feeling so that they would feel that almost irresistible urge to continue to get involved, to continue to make a difference.
We held our first "open-to-the-public" brainstorming meeting on the 12th of September at the Lane Volunteer Center, and representatives from 14 different organizations attended. We were thrilled with this initial show of support and by the end of the meeting had listed over 30 possible projects for Make A Difference Day. The word spread and by the next meeting, on the 30th of September, we had even more participants and had lengthened our projects list to over 40. Coordination and planning took off and by the 25th of October, well over 3,000 volunteers were involved with at least 42 different projects.
On the morning of National Make A Difference Day, volunteers were eager to begin their day of service and although a kick-off breakfast was held, many participants chose to go straight to their project sites to get started. Other volunteers then delivered juice and bagels to those sites so that work would not be interrupted. Soldiers, civilians, young, old, and in-between worked on projects as diverse as building a new storage building for the Killeen Food Care Center, which serves both the Killeen and Fort Hood communities, and visiting with senior citizens in nursing homes, bringing light and laughter into their day.
One project included volunteers working at Peaceable Kingdom Retreat, a retreat for critically ill children. Over 60 soldiers and family members spent Make A Difference Day laying gravel dirt paths, pruning trees along the paths, cleaning buildings and framing a barn for the six horses kept at the retreat center. 1LT Matt Kinkead said, "Life in our unit is really hectic. We just came back from Kuwait last month. Yet, it's times like this that truly do your heart good. This is a day to take a step back, recharge your batteries, and get a new fix on why we do what we do."
In another project, 65 soldiers collected over 10,000 pounds of food for the Killeen Food Care Center. The Center helps about 750 families every month on an emergency basis, including many military families. "I know people who have been in that position," said Specialist Jason McClain. "We don't want to see anyone go hungry. We're not only helping the city, but we're helping our own as well."
Playground equipment at Fowler Elementary School got a fresh coat of paint on Make A Difference Day. Girl Scouts and Brownies collected toys for Santa's Workshop, which provides toys for children in need on Christmas. Residents of Fort Hood's Chaffee Village collected fishing equipment and delivered poles to veterans at the local VA Hospital, which has a stocked pond behind it. Volunteers helped clean up and landscape Families in Crisis, a domestic violence shelter serving Central Texas, including Fort Hood. Camp Finlayson, a youth camp often used by local Girl Scout troops, received some much needed work, as did local soup kitchens.
Fort Hood volunteers made a difference for homeless shelters, nursing homes, schools, a domestic violence shelter, veterans, children, the blood bank, and more on the 25th of October, 1998. So many smiles shined brightly that day; so many tears of joy and memories, so many strong feelings shared. Hugs were frequent and thanks were abundant We felt good. Really good. Our volunteers took great pride and pleasure in making a difference. They also took away something very precious, a feeling that only selfless giving can give, and most said they would never forget the experience. Some connections did not end there; projects were permanently adopted and help continues to this day.
Fort Hood truly made a difference on Make A Difference Day, and that special day made a difference on Fort Hood. We now know that one person, one day, can really help. We know that even if you can only contribute for one day, your part is important. We did spark some new "frequent flyer" volunteers that day. They got a taste of that giving feeling and were hooked. We're grateful for them. We're grateful for all our volunteers, and for all of their hard work.
Fort Hood's Make A Difference Day was selected as one of 50 across the Nation for regional recognition by Weekend Magazine and the Points of Light Foundation, co-sponsors, of National Make A Difference Day. We will be getting a $2000 prize, which we will use to help fund next year's Make A Difference Day efforts. We couldn't be more pleased or proud, and can't wait to begin planning for next October!