Being able to speak English well enough to get a job is making a difference for some Spanish-speaking residents in Aurora.
In Naperville, making a difference means collecting food and other items for the needy.
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In Wheaton, where hundreds of volunteers will participate in this year's annual Make a Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 22, the message is in the award-winning show of force: people want to help others.
Make a Difference Day -- the largest national day of community service -- began more than 20 years ago as a time to emphasize neighbors helping neighbors. Sponsored by USA WEEKEND Magazine and HandsOn Network, thousands of projects will take place nationwide Saturday.
In Aurora, there will be an Autumn Conversation Cafe for people learning to speak English courtesy of the Waubonsee Community College Adult Literacy Project at the school's Aurora campus, 18 S. River St.
Learning to speak better English can be the difference in finding employment, having a closer relationship with your English-speaking children and having more confidence to speak up and ask questions, organizers said.
"Many of (the participants), when they go home after their classes, they're not in an environment to practice and speak English," said Sherry Woodward, Waubonsee's adult and family literacy manager. "We want them to feel comfortable with the language and build confidence."
Saturday's event takes place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and will begin with a few simple questions to jump start the conversation. Children ages 3 to 9 may meet in a nearby room for story time and crafts while their parents practice their English.
"Many of them have gotten better jobs because they've been working on their English skills or they've gotten their first job," Woodward said. "They communicate with their kids better and with teachers at parent-teacher conferences by speaking up and asking more questions. They have that confidence that 'I can do this now.'"
In Naperville, the Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors joined efforts to sponsor their first Make a Difference Day event, a stuff-a-truck food and nonperishable drive from 9 a.m. to noon in the parking lot at Whole Foods Market, 75th Street and Beebe Drive.
"We would love for people to come out and fill their trunks with items to support our nonprofits and we'll be here to help unload them and stuff our trucks," said Kathy Blair, executive director of Giving DuPage, a co-sponsor of the event. "We're just hoping everyone will come out."
Volunteers will accept items ranging from nonperishable food to new winter coats, children's books, small appliances and sporting equipment, used cellphones and baby gear.
Proceeds benefit Goodwill Industries International, Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry, ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation, Junior League of Kane and DuPage Counties, Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Teen Parent Connection.
Additionally, the environmental group SCARCE organized an electronics recycling event during that time.
In Wheaton, the Make a Difference Day effort has become contagious.
What began 11 years ago as a campaign to encourage people to help others by raking a neighbor's leaves or donating blood has evolved into hundreds of volunteers banding together at various events and drives throughout the month, beginning with a breast cancer awareness walk the first Saturday in October.
Last year, the city's efforts earned a $10,000 award from USA WEEKEND Magazine -- money that was donated to the People's Resource Center.
"People like to help and want to help," said Laurie Swanson Oberhelman, who heads the stuff-a-truck event for the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce and co-chairs the Community Relations Commission's Make a Difference Day event. "You give them a way to do it, and we try to make it as easy as possible."
Throughout the month, organizations have collected various items. Wheaton Park District soccer programs collected gently used soccer cleats and gym shoes for the People's Resource Center. Fans attending a Wheaton Warrenville South football game were asked to bring a new pair of adult or children's socks to benefit troops overseas and the People's Resource Center.
Edison Middle School students collected food and organized a fun run.
The city's collection culminates on Saturday, when groups will donate their items at a family event from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the former Hubble Middle School site that includes a parade, a 30-foot climbing wall, games and activities.
"Bring a can of corn and come out and stuff a truck and play some games with your kids," Oberhelman said. "We want people to come, come, come. We don't even require you to bring food, but it would be nice if you did."
Last year, volunteers collected 5,000 pounds of donated items. This year, they'll aim for 10,000 pounds that will go to benefit the People's Resource Center and Operation Support Our Troops, among other places.
Other activities Saturday include an Adams Park cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon. St. Paul Lutheran Church, 515 S. Wheaton Ave., is accepting fabric and yarn donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to make items such as quilts and baby blankets for organizations like Lutheran World Relief and to be sold at fundraisers.
A quick glance through the pantry is enough to make a difference, Oberhelman said.
"Grab that spaghetti that's already sitting there," she said. "The food that we collect will feed hundreds of families this year. The economy this year is not doing anyone any favors. It's more critical now to do this and reach a little deeper and help out."
To find more Make a Difference Day events in the area, visit makeadifferenceday.com.