Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who has led the local effort for the past 13 years, encouraged city and Bradley County residents to get involved on what he described as, “... America’s largest day of doing good.”
The annual observance, which focuses on physical action, is always held on the fourth Saturday in October.
The nationwide thrust for helping others is sponsored by USA Weekend Magazine and the Points of Light Foundation.
“Each year [they] issue a national call to action, challenging Americans to spend a Saturday ‘making a difference’ in their communities and in the lives of others,” Cleveland’s 20-year mayor explained.
Rowland still remembers the first year he spearheaded the “Make a Difference Day” drive locally, and pointed to it as an example of what has followed over the years by caring residents who work as teams, groups, organizations — just whatever force is behind an individual or group effort and in whatever section of the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
“That first year, we received a great response and hundreds of volunteers came forward with varied projects,” Rowland said. “Each year, new groups, individuals, organizations, churches and schools have joined the effort with new and creative projects to ‘make a difference’ in this community.”
Tennessee’s longest-tenured mayor, who willingly admits he is probably Cleveland’s biggest fan and who shoulders the role of community ambassador in all his travels, pointed to examples of some of the types of projects in years past completed by Cleveland area groups.
“Our first few years, we had young people visiting the elderly performing odd jobs such as cleaning gutters, raking lawns and trimming shrubs,” Rowland cited. “We had organizations, such as 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc., installing new steps and wheelchair ramps at homes for disabled and elderly residents.”
He added, “Several church and civic groups adopted projects and targeted their completion dates for ‘Make a Difference Day.’ The groups were creative and productive, and I have been impressed by the degree of volunteerism.”
Rowland, whose Cleveland-first selection panel of volunteers is still working to identify a branding nickname for the city, cited the work of other organizations whose efforts are making a difference with “Make a Difference Day.”
A couple of those groups are Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland and the Ocoee Region Builders Association whose members, staff and volunteers are rebuilding homes — many of which were damaged by the devastating tornadoes of April 27.
Another significant event taking place Saturday is the return of the Dallas Brass Quintet, an internationally acclaimed musical group that was scheduled to perform in Cleveland last spring when the powerful storms ripped through the Bradley County community.
Now, the Dallas Brass is returning and will perform Saturday at 7 p.m. at Walker Valley High School. The event will benefit Bradley County’s storm recovery effort as well as the local high school, Rowland explained. The group also will conduct a workshop for the WVHS band.
The Dallas Brass had been scheduled as one of the season’s four Community Concert Association performers, the mayor noted.
Rowland also pinpointed another significant “Make a Difference Day” event. On Saturday at 1 p.m., the Cleveland Civitan Club will continue in its fundraising quest to raise $223,000 for the rebuilding and refurbishing of the organization’s community-popular and kid-friendly Handi-Park at George R. Stuart Elementary School. The scheduled event will take place at Don Ledford Automotive Center where a new vehicle, donated by the dealership, will be given away.
“Providing support for local handicapped and disadvantaged children and adults is a top project of the Cleveland Civitans who each spring organize the Special Olympics for the young and old alike,” Rowland cited. “The Civitans are in the middle of raising $223,000 for the inclusive park project at Stuart School, and 100 percent of the proceeds from the Don Ledford dealership giveaway will go toward the needed project.”
Another effort that is making a difference this month is the “Going Respectfully Against Addictive Behaviors” Coalition’s 31 Days of Prevention.
“The local initiative scheduled a month of activities to bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse,” Rowland said. “The project began at the start of the month and will continue over the next two weeks.”
Two events are scheduled this week. GRAAB is conducting an open house today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the organization’s offices at 940 South Ocoee St. On Friday, the group will hold a community-wide prayer breakfast from 8 to 9 a.m. at the Tucker Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
“GRAAB officials emphasize that faith is a powerful tool in drug rehabilitation and addiction treatment,” the mayor said. “This group is one of many making a difference in the areas of drug rehabilitation and addiction treatment.”
Additional national days of volunteering, sponsored by several emerging organizations, are springing up throughout the year in support of a variety of causes, but “Make a Difference Day” remains the nation’s largest, Rowland said.
“Such a national recognition program makes it possible for some organizations to earn awards and cash prizes for local charitable groups,” the mayor explained. In other cases, celebrities have served as primary sponsors. According to Rowland, one is the late Hollywood actor Paul Newman who donated $10,000 annually to charities as part of the “Make a Difference” program.
Contact the mayor’s office
Local groups planning to participate in Saturday’s activities are asked to contact the mayor’s office at 476-8931, and to report their plans to Sue Zius, Rowland’s administrative assistant. Individuals and groups may also provide information about their Saturday project by sending an email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“For those planning a Saturday project, and who report these plans to our office at the Municipal Building, we would also ask that you take one more step,” the mayor said. “Sometime after the Saturday events, we would ask that you call us back, or email, and let us know the number of volunteers who participated and the number of volunteer hours spent on each activity.”
He explained the purpose of these details.
“The National Make a Difference organization likes to keep tabs on how many volunteer hours are actually given each year,” Rowland cited. “It reflects well on our community when we join others across America in this humanitarian effort.”