A Day Reserved to ‘Make a Difference’

By Jeff Zdrale

For some people, Make a Difference Day may be something new. But it’s been around for almost 30 years. The USA Weekend publication suggested that because 1992 was a leap year, the extra day could be used for people to do something good. The idea quickly caught on all over the country. This day’s overall purpose is to help communities and individuals in need. Make a Difference Day is always set for the fourth Saturday in October. This year it is Oct. 24.

Jean Blaney-McGinnis (left) and Susan Vanden Heuvel are coordinating efforts for Make a Difference Day that will be held throughout the nation on Oct. 24.

One person who has worked to make this happen for many years is Jean Blaney-McGinnis, the employee volunteer program specialist for all the ThedaCare facilities. She was quick to remind me, however, that the “person power” for these annual efforts comes from many other volunteers in addition to ThedaCare employees.

Volunteer Fox Cities has a Workplace Volunteer Council made up of reps from companies in the Fox Valley,” she said. “In addition to ThedaCare, the presenting sponsor, other sponsors are Cellcom, First Business Bank, Integrity Insurance, Kimberly-Clark, Miron Construction, Modern Woodmen of America, SECURA Insurance, Thrivent, U.S. Venture, and in-kind donations from Coalesce Marketing & Design and Kisser Stone & Garden. Together we brainstorm ways in which our employees can have a volunteer experience for each year’s Make a Difference Day that will be meaningful to them and to those who will be served.”

Blaney-McGinnis and her collaborators knew that they had to rethink their plans in light of the COVID pandemic.

“Last year we had the Give Back Bus with a focus on youth,” she said. “It was great, but for this year we had to keep social distancing in mind. And that’s how our ‘Creations of Kindness’ project was born.”

This year’s focus for services will be people in long-term care facilities regarding social connectedness. Blaney-McGinnis and her local leaders in each of the seven ThedaCare markets (Appleton, Berlin, Neenah, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose) have identified 21 such facilities. I was curious.

“So what can you do with the residents of these places if you can’t even get near them?” That’s when I learned more about how the “Creations of Kindness” project will work.

She told me that the creations will be painted rocks, special message cards, mini-bird houses, large bird houses for outdoors and tie blankets.

“Things that may brighten up the room and the day of those in these facilities,” she said. “That’s what we want to produce this year. We have had great financial support. The sponsor companies have given funds for the purchase of materials. Kisser Stone & Garden have provided in-kind assistance and Coalesce Marketing has donated design and publicity support.”

It sounded great, but I still wondered how the materials were secured and who would be preparing them for distribution. I learned that this is where Volunteer Fox Cities comes into play. As past president of its board, Blaney-McGinnis knows that this organization is the perfect vehicle for these tasks. Volunteer Fox Cities orders the materials and places the items into kits for the sponsor companies who, in turn, have their employees decorate and personalize the gift bag items.

These unique gifts will be delivered to the 21 long-term care facilities just in time for Make a Difference Day on Oct. .  So, in keeping with social distancing, each of the residents will still get a real message of love and caring from the many volunteers who have worked to make this possible.

Let’s hope that this special day is here to stay and that more people will volunteer to help and think of others on future Make a Difference days.

Editor’s note: Jeff Zdrale is a member of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program and the RSVP Community Council.