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2004 Encore Award - Fort Hood, Texas

Make A Difference Day 2004 - ENCORE AWARD: Fort Hood/Killeen TX

ENCORE AWARD: Fort Hood/Killeen TX

Gardening USA WEEKEND Magazine's 13th annual Make A Difference Day was held Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003. The Encore Award is presented to those organizations that previously received one of the ten yearly Make A Difference Day Awards and still continues extraordinary volunteer service on Make A Difference Day.

Despite deployments of almost half the 45,000 troops stationed at nearby Fort Hood, the nation's most populous military installation, thousands of volunteers in Killeen, Texas, turned out for duty on Oct. 25. Killeen-Fort Hood were national honorees for Make A Difference Day 2000, when 12,000 volunteers tackled more than 135 projects. In 2003 Killeen-Fort Hood' participated for the 10th year where 15,389 citizens and soldiers participated, donating more than 50,000 hours on a single day.

Fort Hood Soldiers, civilians, retirees, families, and friends showed the community the love in their hearts during this year’s National Make A Difference Day. Fort Hood’s theme was, "Put A Little Love In Your Heart!" and was in evidence throughout the community as volunteers shared their time, labor, and love while completing a wide array of projects for worthy organizations, causes, and individuals.

Men on groundProjects ranged from basic food and provision drives, to more complex and labor-intensive efforts, such as remodeling and reorganizing the Habitat for Humanities warehouse. The generosity extended beyond this central Texas town. A massive effort to provide Iraqi children with basic school supplies -- initiated by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th ID -- netted 50,000 pounds of pencils, crayons, chalk and spiral notebooks, plus handwritten letters from school kids in a project they called "Operation Pencil Box."

For 2,200 locals who attended a free carnival to cheer children whose parents are deployed in Iraq, the day meant a break from war worries."

We have many, many reasons to be profoundly proud of our Soldiers, our civilians, and their families. This is one very bright example.

Soldiers and families from the 57th Signal Battalion and members of the Fort Hood Recycle Office were "all over" the Habitat for Humanity Warehouse, building shelves, cleaning, and reorganizing. SGT Rudy McWashington, Charlie Company, 57th Signal, proudly announced that this was his sixth year participating in Make A Difference Day. "When the opportunity comes around, I remember that one of the reasons I joined the Army was to be of service. It feels really good to know we are doing something so positive for the community."

Little girlIndeed, SGT McWashington’s words reflect this tradition of service for the 57th Signal Battalion. They turn out in large numbers every year in support of Make A Difference Day and can always be counted upon to adopt projects throughout the community.

Clearly proud of his Soldiers and their families, CPT Johnnie Richardson, HHC, 57th Signal Battalion said, "Many just came in from the field. We have convoy training going on. We’re preparing for deployment. Lots of moving parts, yet they still chose to come out today and donate their time."

This year, of course, recruiting huge numbers of Soldier volunteers was especially challenging, given the on-going deployments in support of the War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom. While the total number of adopted projects was lower, Fort Hood still made an honorable effort for this Make A Difference Day. With half our numbers deployed to far-off and dangerous places, well over 2,000 volunteers still turned out ready and eager to make a difference.

Families from the 204th Forward Support Battalion Family Readiness Group adopted the project of a needy senior citizen from the Bob Gilmore Senior Center in Killeen. They pulled up old carpeting, painted her porch, and worked in her yard. What a wonderful connection they made. This lovely lady shared that her husband had fought in World War II and was gone for three years. The group especially enjoyed helping someone who understood the challenges they themselves are now facing.

The Fort Hood Fisher House was the proverbial beehive of activity, with volunteers working inside and out. Soldiers and family members from the 1st Cavalry Division and Harker Heights High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (JROTC) mowed, raked, trimmed, weeded, washed, dusted, and sweated. They also laughed and smiled a lot, as they enjoyed a special sense of camaraderie and shared purpose in the helping of others.

Woman on roofOne of the hardworking volunteers helping with the landscaping and yard work at the Fisher House on Saturday was Linda Rogers, wife of a 3-8 Cavalry Soldier. Mrs. Rogers came to Fort Hood from Boston where her brother was diagnosed with cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, Linda was a match and so was able to donate marrow to her brother.

In Boston, Linda had stayed at the Nealey House, which is similar to the Fisher House, a home for families of hospital patients. Fort Hood’s Fisher House, a warm and lovely place, serves as a temporary home to families of Soldiers receiving care at Darnall Army Community Hospital. Mrs. Rogers shared that she was drawn to the Fisher House Make A Difference Day project because it gave her for the opportunity to contribute to a cause so close to her heart.

We are especially pleased when connections made during Make A Difference Day, continue past this official "national day of doing good." For instance, the good folks with the 21st Cavalry Brigade adopted the Reynolds House, current home of the local American Red Cross.

Project lead, Tonya Dunn, wife of CPT William Dunn, raved about the volunteers who responded to her call for assistance on the project. "We have a great group here, and this is such a terrific project."

Red Cross Senior Station Manager, Gary Trotter, (rake in hand), agreed wholeheartedly. "This is so great," he beamed, looking around at all the busy volunteers, "they are all just so eager to help."

Beth Arnold, another 21st Cavalry Brigade volunteer, and a certified Master Gardner, enthusiastically shared, "We plan on staying with this project. We want to restore the grounds to their original beauty as a Texas homestead site."

Our own Lane Volunteer Center staff again adopted the Friendship House Senior Citizens’ Center in Belton, Texas, and made another on-going connection. Sharon Rice, project lead, was clearly moved when she returned from delivering the items requested by the Friendship House provided by the Lane staff.

Girl painting

When asked how it went, "They made me feel so good," she managed to whisper, filled with emotion. "They are just so grateful for even the smallest kindness. I told them we’d be back before next year."

Emotions definitely tended to run strong throughout our Make A Difference Day planning, preparation, and execution efforts. We had the honor of meeting with some inspiring people. Crystal James is one especially remarkable volunteer whose motivation for her part in Make Difference Day is unforgettable.

When Crystal was a child, she did not grow up in a loving home filled with toys and nice things. She grew up in foster care where she had nothing to call her own until a lady gave her a teddy bear. She kept that teddy bear and took it with her wherever she went until it fell apart, but even though the teddy bear was gone, she always carried the memory of that special person who gave it to her and the kindness that she had shown.

In 2000, Crystal heard about Make a Difference Day and decided that even though she and her Soldier husband had no children of their own, she wanted to give something back to children like her, who may otherwise have nothing of their own. It was her way of saying "thank you" to the lady who helped her years earlier.

Every year right after Christmas, Crystal begins her mission to purchase toys to donate to a local domestic violence shelter, Families in Crisis, that serves as a safe haven for families dealing with abusive situations, and to Santa’s Workshop, a wonderful organization that provides Christmas gifts to needy soldiers who may otherwise be unable to provide them for their families.

"I identify with these children," shared Crystal. "I feel blessed that I can help in this way." She shops for children of all ages and spends on average at least two of her hard earned paychecks each year on nothing but toys to be donated on Make a Difference Day. "My husband is a very understanding man," she added with a warm smile. Cleary, this special volunteer derives great joy from her selfless project.

A $10,000 award from USA WEEKEND and the Gannett Foundation will benefit Fort Hood/Killeen Volunteers.