Called to serve

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Again this year, Ohio will take part in a national service initiative that aims to bring together longstanding charities, new projects and first-time volunteers - and to bring a spirit of giving back to the community.

About 40,000 across the state are set to participate in Make a Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 25. Those with scheduling conflicts can participate in an optional service day Oct. 24.

Last year, Ohio saw 1,087 projects, including 218 in Franklin County, a hot spot for doing good works. Seventy-one of the state's 88 counties participated in 2007, and more are expected this time around.

Each year since 2000, the Buckeye State has been a leader in the countrywide campaign.

"It's very much a grassroots effort," said Frank Underwood, special projects director for the Ohio Community Service Council, a state conduit for the event. "It's people doing their own thing in their own community."

Those interested can organize and register a project on the website,, or sign up for one already listed. Events are searchable by project type or area code, and contact info for getting involved is listed.

This year in Central Ohio, volunteers will be making "get well" cards for patients at local hospitals and performing a play at a retirement home. They will be planting bulbs, recycling plastic, collecting winter coats, raking leaves and passing out fire-prevention packets.

Local projects will run from Powell to Grove City, New Albany to Hilliard.

In the short term, the event is geared to identifying and meeting pressing community needs. Organizers don't try to steer the workforce toward certain projects, but they noted that local food pantries are strapped this year because of the recent wind storm and poor economy.

Long-term goals seek to develop a lifelong service ethic and encourage young people to give back early. About 40 percent of volunteers are under the age of 18, and many continue service projects long after the daylong event.

"A lot of organizations use this to up their volunteer counts, and it works," Underwood said. "It's also a good chance to get organizations together that might not have before."