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Making a difference for our neighbors

What began in 2008 as a modest, compact holiday giving appeal by The Day newsroom, "Make A Difference," returns today for the 14th year. By the end of the first season Make A Diff — newsroom shorthand — was already looking like an annual project. Its accomplishments have grown to be not so modest after all, thanks to the generosity of you, our readers.

Make A Difference has endured from the Great Recession through better times and on into the COVID-19 pandemic because it links givers with local people in need of specific kinds of support. Being able to help means a great deal to the staff journalists, each of whom deals regularly with news about the hurts and harm in people's lives. Make A Difference gives us a way to respond not just professionally — calling attention to hardship and injustice — but personally, by doing something about a problem, retail.

For anyone who doesn't know, Make A Difference works this way: Staff members sign up to contact about two dozen participating agencies such as Safe Futures, Jonnycake Center or Catholic Charities to ask for the first name — only — of a client in need of material help: maybe an apartment, gift cards for children's clothing, a used car for getting to work.

The agencies play a key role; their recommendations provide the verification that we need before we can ask readers to consider donating. The system has worked so well for helping their clients that the agencies are now ready and waiting each November to hear from a Day staff member, usually with a name and backstory ready to share. 

For about a month, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, a brief description of the need of an individual client from a specific agency appears at the bottom of the front page of the newspaper and on the homepage of the www.theday.com. The item spells out the who-, what-, how-to-help information. It may describe either a person or a whole family and what they need that generosity can provide. To donate, a reader simply contacts the named agency.

That simple formula has annually appealed to readers as much as it did to the news staff when the idea was first hatched. For the agencies' other clients, it may produce help as well, because the generosity of the response often covers many others' needs in addition to the people profiled in the appeal.

It's probably not a coincidence that in the early days of the recession the newsroom came up with this idea. The newspaper itself is a perennial giver to charities in the region. Amounts vary with availability of funds in a given year, but The Day Publishing Co. continues to carry out the expressed wishes of the late publisher Theodore Bodenwein, to distribute its profits by supporting charitable organizations in their work. Those gifts go to vital programs for many people; Make A Difference aid goes directly toward someone's pressing need. 

Have we all, organizers and donors, been able to make a difference in the lives of neighbors? Did any of the six teenagers who got a used car to repair at the New England Adolescent Treatment Center in 2011 discover hidden talents and the power of work to heal? Did the couple stranded in Connecticut in 2009, who got money for gas to drive home to Virginia, have better times in the years ahead? Did anything Make A Difference was able to do actually help someone turn a corner on misfortune and get their bearings for a better life?

We will never know, but that does not matter. Each year, Make A Difference lightens people's burdens at least for a time, and with that sends the message that in southeastern Connecticut kindness to strangers is alive and well.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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