Students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas-Pan American spent National Make a Difference Day Oct. 22 creating a positive change in the lives of children living in Rio Bravo, México through a project co-sponsored by the UTPA Student Leadership Academy and the Mexican Border Children's Fund.
Loaded on two charter buses, 75 UTPA student volunteers and nine faculty/staff members headed to the Manuel Gonzalez Elementary School in Rio Bravo and spent the day helping to improve the school's facilities by painting the exterior of two of its buildings and the interior of eight classrooms.
Amy Martin, coordinator of the Student Leadership Academy, said she was proud of both the students who provided hands-on assistance on Oct. 22 and the student organizations that collected the school supplies and children's books.
The Mexican Border Children's Fund, who joined with the academy in the project's activities, is an organization started by UTPA educators, community members and students with a vision of making a meaningful difference in the lives of children and families, particularly in their school environment.
"Our goal for National Make a Difference Day was to put our own cares on hold and care for someone else for the day," Martin said. "Involvement in this project provided a great learning experience for many of the student volunteers."
Argelia Barrera, a Student Leadership Academy member who helped paint the school's facilities, said the experience showed her that "united together, people can really make a difference" while Savannah Weaver, a Kappa Delta Chi member, said that from volunteering in the project, she learned "to appreciate what I have and to help those less fortunate."
Other participants said the experience gave them as great a feeling as those receiving the assistance.
"It was wonderful to see all their bright smiling faces happy to see us when we arrived. It was hard work but all well worth it in the end," she said.
For Young Adult Catholic Ministry member Dulce M. Cantu, the Make a Difference Day experience guaranteed her future involvement in volunteerism.
"I was blessed to have met a little girl named Flor who started painting with us. To my surprise, that was her classroom and it just made all the work worthwhile when she looked around and said, 'Esta quedando bonito el salon.' Her eyes sparkled when she told her mom that the school was beautiful now. If another opportunity comes about to make a difference, I will definitely join," she said.
Created 13 years ago by USA Weekend Magazine, Make a Difference Day is part of a national effort to help others - a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. According to the USA Weekend Web site, in 2004, three million people cared enough about their communities to volunteer on that day, accomplishing thousands of projects in hundreds of towns.
For more information on activities held on the 2005 National Make a Difference Day, visit http://www.usaweekend.com/diffday