Historians may not record Saturday as the busiest day in the diverse chronology of Bradley County, but it’s shaping up to be the one that makes the biggest difference in the lives of many who call it home.
From job fairs to household hazardous waste cleanup, from biking for a city to a 5K pumpkin run, and from a walk for life to a walk in memory of a little girl, Saturday is beginning to look a lot like a day for making a difference and for celebrating the myriad of ways that people are doing it.
And these are just a small handful. Others are being planned and their good-deed doers range from big-hearted individuals to civic clubs to churches to schools and to any number of small groups, neighborhoods and families who are reaching out to others in need.
Most of it is happening Saturday — but not all — because it’s “Make a Difference Day,” an annual celebration of kindness that was launched two decades ago by USA WEEKEND magazine and the Hands On Network, a business unit of the Points of Light Institute.
It’s also a favorite time of year for Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland who encourages area residents to get involved, and to report those accomplishments back to his City Hall office.
“This year, I encourage our citizens to consider doing a project,” Rowland said. “Whether it’s a Scout Troop, civic club or organization, church, Sunday School class or individual, there is something that can be done to help someone else.”
The longtime mayor, whose tenure leads the rest of the Tennessee pack among municipal administrators, said it’s not hard to find a project ... even with “Make a Difference Day” just three days away.
“Just look around,” Rowland offered. “There is always something that can be done and always someone out there who could use a helping hand.”
He added, “Through the years, Cleveland projects have ranged from simple acts like helping a senior citizen with lawn care, cleaning projects, installing wheelchair ramps and picking up litter, to name only a few.”
Regardless of location in the Cleveland and Bradley County community and irrespective of neighborhoods, Rowland urged local residents to “... just look out your front or back door and find something that needs attention — a neighbor who could use a visit or a helping hand, or perhaps a street or lawn that needs debris removed.”
An article in last Sunday’s edition of USA WEEKEND echoed the same sentiments voiced by the Cleveland mayor. Written by USA Today reporter Laura Petrecca, the informational piece spotlighted Gayle King, a TV co-host for “CBS This Morning” and editor-at-large for “O, the Oprah Magazine.”
King, 58, a veteran news personality in both TV and print, is an acknowledged proponent of helping others. She likes the difference that “Make a Difference Day” is making in America and in the mindset of Americans, but she also believes in keeping it simple. “Make a Difference Day” isn’t about making a slam dunk on the gauge of goodwill, she believes. It’s about helping others in any way at any time at whatever level.
“People often think that volunteering means writing a big check or doing something lofty, but it’s the small things that can make a difference in someone’s life,” King told USA Today. “You can start by just saying ‘hello’ to people. Just show people that they matter as human beings.”
King added, “Don’t misunderstand; sometimes writing a check is nice. I’m a big proponent of writing checks for causes you believe in. But it’s also important to have eye-to-eye and face-to-face contact, because a conversation can help to change someone’s life.”
King’s volunteerism began at a young age when she served at a hospital as a candy striper.
“It’s not that I ever thought about being a doctor or nurse, but you’re in a place where all they do is help people,” she told the USA Today reporter. “That was my very first volunteer job, and I really, really liked it. I gave people tours of the hospital, fed patients and worked in the gift shop.”
The warm feeling it gave her stuck ... all the way to adulthood. Now she teaches kids, but not by preaching. Rather, it’s by role modeling and showing how little things done in less than a day can add up to big things in life.
“You can really teach your children so much more by example than by [sternly] saying, ‘This is the right thing to do,’” King stressed.
Rowland sings the same tune, one he has hummed through years of experience in helping others.
“Cleveland is a caring community whose people and various organizations literally work year-round to ‘make a difference,’” Rowland said. “This one day a year just reinforces what we do all year long — find ways to make the lives of our family, friends and neighbors a little brighter.”
In a plea straight to the ears, and the hearts, of Cleveland and Bradley County residents, the mayor suggested, “Do something, no matter how small, on Make a Difference Day 2013. You’ll be glad you did.”
Those who do are encouraged to report it to Rowland’s office at 423-476-8931. The mayor, working through administrative assistant Sue Zius, needs to know the project, the number of volunteers involved, the amount of hours worked and the status of the initiative.
“My office each year provides a report to ‘Make a Difference Day’ as to what is done here in this community,” Rowland said. “Though we have not sought awards or cash rewards, it is important to share with the world that this community has a heart for ‘making a difference’ in others.”
Whether they were all organized originally as a part of “Make a Difference Day,” the Cleveland and Bradley County community has a slew of events taking place Saturday, all of which will in some way help people.
Just a quick rundown of some of the community events, and this is not all-inclusive of the entire list, includes:
- Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day: Scheduled Saturday for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Tri-State Exhibition Center, this biannual initiative is sponsored by Santek Waste Services, Cleveland Utilities, Cleveland/Bradley Keep America Beautiful, Tri-State and the Bradley County mayor’s office. Ready to clean out some household goop that doesn’t need to find its way into Southeast Tennessee waterways or the ground beneath? Do it Saturday and deliver it to HHWCD volunteers at the Tri-State collection point for proper disposal. Call Cheryl Dunson at 303-7101 or Joanne Maskew at 559-3307 for additional information.
- The Refuge Job Fair: Scheduled Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Family Support Center at 1075 Blythe Ave. (old Blythe Elementary School), the job fair will host a large group of potential employers. To date, the group includes Applebee’s, Belk, Bradley/Polk Adult Education (REACH), Cato, Cleveland State Community College, DEB, Express Employment, Firehouse Subs, Hampton Inn, Massage Institute, New Concept School of Cosmetology, ProLogistix, Rue 21, Select Staffing, Sodexo, Staff Management, SunTrust Bank, Taco Bell, and TJ Maxx. Others are expected to sign on before Saturday. Questions may be directed to 423-584-5211 or email email@example.com.
- Cleveland Family YMCA Job Fair: It’s not happening Saturday, but on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the YMCA. To run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the job fair is being sponsored by the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and the Cleveland Career & Workforce Development Office. Last year’s fair welcomed 500 visitors and 50 business representatives. Although it’s not taking place on “Make a Difference Day,” organizers agree it’s still making a difference.
- Bike 2 Build: Operating by a name that’s similar to one already taken by Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland for its own fundraising purposes, Bike 2 Build is a Saturday bicycling event sponsored by People for Care & Learning. PCL is an international nonprofit headquartered in Cleveland that is working to raise funds for Build A City, a massive municipal construction project in the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia, a war-torn, poverty-stricken country whose capital city, Phnom Penh, is the “Sister City” to Cleveland. Bike 2 Build will offer three courses — 100K, 50K and 20K. Start and finish will be in the parking lot at First Baptist Church of Cleveland. The 100K and 50K start at 9 a.m., and the 20K gets underway at 10 a.m. Find additional information at peopleforcare.org/biketobuild. (Note: People for Care & Learning and Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland are close working partners in community betterment projects.)
- Walk for Life: Sponsored by New Hope Pregnancy Center, this Saturday benefit supports the nonprofit’s work whose mission is to “... provide help, hope and accurate information to those facing an unplanned pregnancy.” The 27-year-old ministry plans to convert from a pregnancy help center to a pregnancy help medical clinic that will offer free ultrasounds. Saturday’s walk begins at 9 a.m. at Cleveland High School. Registration gets underway at 8:30 a.m. Walkers can walk the traditional 1.7 miles, or walk on the CHS track as an alternative. For more information, call the center at 479-5825 or visit www.newhopepcc.org.
- Great Pumpkin Chase 5K & 1-Mile Walk: The Saturday race and walk will begin at 9 a.m. on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway starting on Raider Drive at the former First Tennessee Bank location. Proceeds will benefit the 40&8 Society’s various programs like nurse training, child welfare, POW/MIA, youth sports and veterans assistance. Registration forms or additional information are available by contacting race directors Rick Williams at 423-339-8916 or Daniel Koob at 423-309-1389.
- Moonlight Walk: This is a community initiative taking place on Thursday night, 48 hours ahead of “Make a Difference Day,” yet its organizers believe they too are making a difference. The annual Moonlight Walk is sponsored by CASA of Bradley County. The somber event gets underway at 7 p.m. on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway near Cleveland High School. The Moonlight Walk supports the work of CASA and the life of Melisha Morgana Gibson, a 4-year-old victim of child abuse who died Oct. 13, 1976, in Cleveland. Her death stirred the moral conscience of the nation. For additional information about the Moonlight Walk, contact CASA of Bradley County at 716-1844 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the CASA of Bradley County Facebook page and link to the Melisha Gibson “Light of Hope” page.
“So many individuals, groups and organizations are doing extraordinary things in Cleveland on Make a Difference Day,” Rowland stressed. “And some are even being done in advance of Saturday or even just a little later. Even if it’s not happening on Saturday, we know it is truly making a difference in the lives of others.”
He added, “And that’s what Make a Difference Day is all about. I thank everyone who is getting involved. I encourage others to follow their path to other projects that can be just as heartwarming.”
(Editor’s Note: The above list is not intended as an all-encompassing look at what’s happening locally on “Make a Difference Day.” Most likely, many other activities will be taking place. Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland urges that all be reported to his office for inclusion in his annual “Make a Difference Day” report to the national organization.)