Apr. 11

Here’s How People Like You Make Life Better During National Volunteer Week

When winter storms caused massive flooding across the United Kingdom, Zafar Ahmed filled sandbags for his neighbors. Worried that people in her community wouldn’t be able to cook proper meals in their storm-damaged kitchens, Clare Aparicio cooked for them.

Zafar Ahmed

These volunteers, who instantly found ways to help when they saw their communities hurting, are the essence of what we’ve been celebrating back here in the States this week – National Volunteer Week. Demonstrating the power of people to change lives, they are among the first recipients of the new UK Points of Light award, modeled after Points of Light’s own Daily Point of Light Award, created by President George H. W. Bush more than 20 years ago.

“President George H. W. Bush spoke about 1,000 points of light shining out in difficult times,” British Prime Minister David Cameron noted during Monday’s award ceremony. That kind of resolve and compassion resonates with us, particularly this week.

We started celebrating National Volunteer Week early, last Friday, in College Station, Texas, during a 25th anniversary celebration of President Bush’s presidency. With thanks, as Points of Light is based in Atlanta, we presented a Daily Point of Light Award to Michelle Sollicito of Marietta, Ga., who used her social media skills and a new brand of online activism to help thousands of Atlantans get help when left stranded by winter storms.

one_america_los_angeles_for_blog_2.jpgOne America volunteers spent Saturday removing graffiti, picking up trash, pulling weeds and more.

The next day we joined 600 volunteers – many of them high school and college students – in the glorious California sunshine to clean up a stretch of land along the Los Angeles River. It was a wonderful way to wrap up the national One America tour, led by Points of Light and Chase to unite people in volunteer service. (Read about the tour stops.) Our special guest, “Entertainment Tonight” co-host Rocsi Diaz, received a Daily Point of Light Award for working to help keep kids in school.

We also honored several other inspiring Daily Point of Light winners this week: Isaac McFarland of Shreveport, La., a 16-year-old who created his own foundation to address hunger in his community; Rich Ryffel, who volunteers for a St. Louis organization that helps low-income families secure affordable housing; the Leali family, who started a mini library in front of their New Orleans home; and Ben Pohl of Chicago, who accompanies kids with disabilities on fun outings, including ball games and bowling.

At a luncheon yesterday in Washington, D.C. – with help from singer Jon Bon Jovi and “Today” show hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie – we cheered the 14 honorees of Make A Difference Day 2013 (Oct. 26). For more than 20 years, USA WEEKEND and Points of Light have sponsored Make A Difference Day, the country’s largest day of community service. (Read USA WEEKEND’s coverage of the event.)

jessica_carscadden_hug.jpgJessica Carscadden gets a hug for the work she does collecting donated stuffed animals for police and fire departments to give scared kids on emergency calls.

Among the winners were several kids and teens, including 11-year-old Jessica Carscadden of San Diego. Jessica, who was abandoned at birth because of facial deformities, found comfort in stuffed animals when she was adopted at age 5. Now she collects and delivers donated stuffed bears for police and firefighters to give to frightened children on emergency calls. (Read all honoree stories.) Young people like Jessica show us that the future of volunteer service is both creative and strong.

Also for National Volunteer Week, our HandsOn Network affiliates – which connect people with volunteer projects in their communities every day – have put together some special events. (Read about HandsOn Network events and find your local center.) To mention a few:

  • Tomorrow New York Cares will coordinate New York City's largest hands-on, spring-cleaning event, during which more than 4,000 volunteers will help clean 70 parks and gardens.
  • Also tomorrow, HandsOn Inland Empire in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., will gather more than 300 volunteers to spruce up a local school – painting murals and landscaping the grounds.
  • Activate Good in Raleigh, N.C., has been holding a series of service projects this week, addressing animal welfare, hunger, homelessness and more.

How have you helped your neighbors this week? Tell us at


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