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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

Volunteers make a difference once again

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yesterday, folks all across the nation launched book drives, unleashed environmental awareness campaigns, picked up rakes and hammers and went to work — all with a singleness of purpose:

Brooke Yokoyama, 12, of Waikiki collected canned goods with her mother, Lyndee Yokoyama, at the state Capitol yesterday. The food will go to the River Of Life Mission as part of Make A Difference Day.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

To make a difference.

Once again it was Make a Difference Day, a national day of volunteerism, sponsored by USA Weekend and the Points of Light Foundation. Around the state, trails were beautified, the less fortunate were helped, and public facilities were scrubbed and spiffed.

On O'ahu, difference-makers fanned out by the thousands — some 600 from the U.S. Army Community Service. Those soldiers alone tackled more than three dozen projects island-wide.

Sgt. 1st Class Mario Rodriguez was one of a dozen volunteers who showed up early in the morning at St. Francis Hospital in Liliha to restore a long forgotten garden beside what used to be the facility's convent.

Half a century ago the garden was tended by the sisters who lived in the convent, said Sister Rose Fatima, a teacher who once lived in the convent in summers.

Fatima said that after the convent became a drug addiction treatment center in 1971, the sisters left and the garden declined from neglect. Yesterday's restoration was done in honor of the Sisters of St. Francis on the 75th anniversary of the hospital's 1927 founding.

"If they need anything destroyed, that's what we're good for," joked Rodriguez as he ripped out years of weed and underbrush build-up. "We're specialists."

Entry forms

Make A Difference Day volunteer leaders are reminded to visit the USA Weekend-sponsored Web site to download an entry form and to be eligible to become a local honoree, recognized by USA Weekend next spring.

By noon, hospital spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett declared the garden "75 percent improved," and Rodriguez and crew were only getting warmed up.

"This is a big difference," she said.

One of the largest cleanup efforts took place in Waikiki, where one team of volunteers took to the beach with garbage bags while another stenciled "Dump No Waste, Goes to Ocean" markings on storm drains along Kalakaua Avenue.

Meanwhile, a group of Kilohana United Methodist Youth Group volunteers were dispensing "Random Sacks of Kindness" to the homeless, or anyone else in need. The cloth bags were handmade by group members.

Donna Witsell, executive director of HUGS, (Help, Understanding & Group Support, a program for seriously ill children), was overwhelmed by the work of more than four dozen volunteers who painted the entire HUGS office building in Kaimuki throughout the day and finished in time for Witsell to hold the facility's annual Halloween Party.

"Not only that, these guys washed the windows, cleaned the curtains, weeded out the playground sandbox, and scrubbed every toy," said Witsell. "To say they made a difference is an understatement. I'm at a loss for words. I can't think of enough adjectives."

Sister Rose Fatima yesterday helped bring St. Francis Hospital's garden back to life.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Les Yanagi, who is with the Hawai'i Kai Jaycees, hatched a food drive idea with a clever wrinkle: station volunteers beside the State Capitol drive-through ramp on Beretania to retrieve canned goods from motorists who can come in and out without leaving their vehicles.

"It has been great," said Yanagi, halfway through the five-hour effort. "It has been better than we thought it would be. All this food will go to the River of Life Mission to feed the homeless. We're very happy to be able to do this."

"We've received items from all four basic food groups," added Jaycee Barney Ho, who was holding a large can of beef stew. "We've got canned fruits and vegetables, pasta and rice. We've got lots of rice."

Not every project involved rolled-up-sleeves work.

Hundreds of volunteers took part in The Kaka'ako Ocean Fest, A Day of Fun Under the Sun for the Whole Family at Kaka'ako Gateway Park, which featured games, crafts, food, prizes, surfing lessons, cooking demonstrations, bus tours, a farmer's market and numerous entertainers, including Aunty Genoa Keawe.

The entire affair was a Make A Difference Day benefit for The Children's Discovery Center.

"This goes to support our educational programs," said Center president, Loretta Yajima, who referred to the festival as a "first annual" event, promising to return. "We have a perfect day. The important thing is to bring so many families together to do something fun."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.