The biggest national volunteer project is quickly approaching. Many know it as Make a Difference Day, the day that comes every fourth Saturday in October and that celebrates helping the neighbors of our community. This year, that day comes Oct. 23, and students are awaiting their chance to make a difference. Senior citizens of Marquette are also very excited to have their yards raked and their gardens cleaned out.
“I love making the calls telling them that a volunteer group is on their way,” said Barb Dupras of the Senior Center in Marquette. “(The seniors) are so happy because they need the help. Sometimes they have to pay for their yard work to get done, and that’s hard to do on a fixed income. They’re just delighted when someone comes and does it for free.”
Raking leaves isn’t the only service that the students offer when they come to a senior citizen’s door. They’re also willing to move outdoor furniture, clear out gardens, and most other yard work that needs to be done before the abundant snowfall hits Marquette County.
“Be particular and ask what they need,” Dupras advises new students volunteering for the first time this year. “Also, talk to them and get to know the seniors. They really need that friendliness.”
Blanche Brown, a 92-year-old woman who has been receiving services for four years now, has experienced firsthand the results of a growing friendship with one of the volunteer groups, Alpha Lambda Delta. This group is a scholarship-based student organization with a focus of volunteering and providing services throughout the community. They’ve requested Brown for two years in a row.
“I find them very courteous,” said Brown. “They’re very kind and very caring. I can’t even imagine, they come and they do everything so neatly. I love what they do, and I’m fussy.”
Alpha Lambda Delta’s members even come throughout the year, making sure that Brown has everything that she needs and helping her with house and yard work, especially in the spring.
“They come back in the spring because most of my leaves don’t even fall by the time they come for this Make a Difference Day,” said Brown.
Kurt Brandly, Alpha Lambda Delta’s vice president and a senior here at Northern, said he talks to Brown all year round.
“My favorite part is just sitting and talking to Blanche. She always tells us stories about her life and her family. I really feel like I’ve gotten to know not only Blanche, but her family too from all of her stories,” Brandly said.
Alpha Lambda Delta volunteers in the community throughout the year. Their many projects include fundraising for the annual Relay for Life and shopping for less fortunate families in the community during the Christmas season.
“It’s a great thing to volunteer,” Brandly said. “You meet new people and you get new experiences. It’s just a great thing. You just feel better helping people.”
Helping people is what NMU’s Volunteer Center is all about. Last year, they completed 167 service projects throughout the community through Make a Difference Day. There were 111 student organizations helping to prepare homes in the community for winter, and overall, there were 1,177 students volunteering and helping their neighbors.
This year, the Volunteer Center is well on its way to meeting those numbers with 82 student organizations already signed up and 103 homes to rake leaves at. When Make a Difference Day started 15 years ago, it was much smaller with only about 10 volunteers. Since then, it has grown dramatically.
“The enthusiasm you see in the students is just great,” said Victoria Leonhardt, one of three student coordinators of this event and a junior at Northern. “These guys are so excited, and you can see their passion. It’s crazy and so cool to see.”
This is also a special year because, for the first time since Northern started to participate in Make a Difference Day, an athletic team has joined forces with the volunteer groups.
“I think it is so cool that the men’s basketball team has decided to help out this year,” said Leonhardt. “We need all the help we can get, and I love that an athletic team is finally helping out.”
Everyone is invited and welcome to join in this special event which starts on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 8 a.m.