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Make a Difference!

Participate in America's National Day of Doing Good

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Saint Faustina sought to make a difference for the Lord every day of her life.

After a special encounter with a poor man, she records in her Diary, "An ardent love of God sees all around itself constant opportunities to share itself through deed, word, and prayer" (1313).

What was the occasion?

A poor young man, barefoot and with his clothes in tatters, came to the convent gate on a cold and rainy day begging for hot food.

Sister Faustina immediately went into the kitchen, but found nothing there for him. She finally succeeded in finding some soup, which she reheated and into which she crumbled some bread.

After the young man ate the soup, He revealed to her His true identity — the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Then, He vanished from sight.

Later, she heard these words in her soul: "My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless Me as they leave this gate have reached My ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased Me, and this is why I came down from My throne — to taste the fruits of your mercy" (Diary, 1312).

Now all of us who are committed to Divine Mercy have a special opportunity to let Jesus taste the fruits of our mercy. The occasion is the 15th annual Make A Difference Day, which is marked this year on Saturday, Oct. 28.

Every year, on the fourth Saturday of October, thousands of volunteers across the U.S. make a difference by helping others in need, usually in their local communities. It's a unique program that inspires and rewards volunteers.

If you get a newspaper on Sundays, you may have read about Make A Difference Day. In partnership with the Points of Light Foundation and the Volunteer National Network, USA Weekend Magazine sponsors the day. (This magazine is a Sunday supplement that is carried in 600 U.S. newspapers.)

The day provides a great way for you to publicize a worthy work of mercy and help fund a charitable cause. Everyone who volunteers on Oct. 28 and sends in an entry form is eligible for an award and a cash donation of $10,000 to a charitable cause.

Actor-philanthropist Paul Newman will award a $10,000 charitable donation in the name of each of the 10 award-winners from the day. Further, the award-winners and their projects will be announced in a special report of USA Weekend Magazine next April and on makeadifferenceday.com.

For more details, go to www.usaweekend.com/diffday. Click on "How to get involved." There's a great checklist to get you started. If you don't have a project in mind, there are project ideas and even an idea generator to get you going. I've summarized here the key steps for you, with a sense of the resources that are offered online.

Under Step #1, you're encouraged to ask what your community needs. "Are people hungry, homeless, or ill? Are parks or schools dirty or neglected? No matter where you live, there's a need nearby."

As devotees of Divine Mercy, you may already know of needs in your local community or parish. These might involve the opportunity to volunteer at a soup kitchen, in a clothing drive for the needy, or as part of a work crew building affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity.

If you want to use the idea generator, it helps you come up with ideas, based on three criteria:

• The scope — ranging from a personal or family project to a larger group effort that might involve your parish, a civic organization, or co-workers.
• The skills involved — consider using your occupational skills or something entirely different.
• Putting it all together — how you or your group would most like to help in your community.

Step #1 also includes frequently asked questions and timelines for your project.

In Step #2, you have the opportunity to tell others what you're doing and enlist help for your work of mercy. It's as simple as registering your plans in the Make A Difference DAYtaBANK. This is a national registry of local projects for the day that can be viewed by interested volunteers, other planners looking for good project ideas, and news media looking for good stories to tell.

Under Step #3, the encouragement is to follow through with your work of mercy. Carry out your plans to help others on Make A Difference Day. Under this step, you'll find project tools and planning guides that you can download.

In Step #4, you are asked to report on your work of mercy after the fact, so your project can be considered for the national awards. Here, you fill out the official entry form online, which you print for your records.

Under Step #5, the organizers describe the awards. To inspire you in your own work of mercy, read here about the award winners or honorees from 1998-2005.

Among the 2005 award-winners, I was particularly moved to read about Michael Rivard of Long Beach, Calif., who sponsored a kite-flying fundraiser to raise $40,000 to send kids with heart ailments to a special summer camp equipped to care for them. According to the USA Weekend Magazine article on Rivard's project, 540 volunteers participated in the event for Camp del Corazon. One participant, Lisa Knight, wrote on her kite the names of 14 children who had lost their lives to serious heart problems.

What was Rivard's motivation for his project? "There was nothing like Camp del Corazon 48 years ago, when Rivard, at age 11, became Long Beach's first open-heart surgery patient." The youngsters at the camp, Rivard says, are "just like he was: embarrassed about their surgical scars and struggling to keep pace at play, living lives so sheltered that many have never gone swimming or stayed away from home overnight — except in a hospital."

I don't know about you, but this particular project really tugged at my heartstrings.

One final suggestion about Make A Difference Day: If the day goes well for you this year, consider making it an annual affair. Maybe in future years, you could involve more people in your work of mercy. Imagine the impact as more Christians who are committed to Divine Mercy get involved in this annual national day of doing good!

Whatever you decide to do this Oct. 28, remember to do it out of love for Jesus. Recall our opening example from St. Faustina. Jesus is the poor man at your gate and at my gate. And He wants to taste the fruits of our mercy.

David Came is the Executive Editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass.

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