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Making a Difference: The World of Giving -- Giving Back on Labor Day

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With Labor Day fast approaching, many of us are already beginning to anticipate the end of summer and all its fun activities. However, I suggest this Labor Day taking a look at the meaning of the holiday and what you can do to uphold and honor its original intent while making a difference!

Labor Day, which is celebrated the first Monday in September, was started on August 26, 1878 in Boston, Massachusetts. It officially became a federal holiday 16 years later in 1894, following the deaths of a number of workers during the Pullman Strike. Then U.S. President Grover Cleveland used legislation to enact a federal holiday to occur in September as a time of observance for labor, so as to demonstrate his commitment to making healing and reconciliation with labor a top priority. The earliest celebrations set the direction and tone, with parades featuring labor and festivals afterwards for the workers and their families.

Another tradition that started over the Labor Day holiday in 1955 is the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. It began in New York City at Carnegie Hall with a 16 ½ hour show raising more than $600,000. Then, in 1966, the famed comedian and actor Jerry Lewis began hosting the annually televised Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day telethon. The first televised telethon raised more than $1 million; Jerry Lewis had to paint the number one on the tally board as no one had thought it would be that successful! It has grown ever since, with MDA raising more $58.9 million in pledges in 2010 with help from more than 250,000 volunteers. Overall it is estimated that MDA through the telethon has raised more than $2.45 billion! There have been many memorable moments over the past 45 years, but none stands out more to me than in 1976, when Frank Sinatra arranged for a healing moment between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who had reportedly not talked or seen each other for years!

The telethon has been broadcasted for 21 ½ hours since its inception. However, in 2011 the broadcast from Las Vegas, Nevada will only be for six hours. How I vividly remember trying to stay awake for the entire show with my cousins when I was young, watching the fundraising totals on the board go ever higher and higher as the hours passed! What great memories and fun to share as a family!

A new tradition emerging over Labor Day and throughout September is ensuring school age children are not hungry. These tough economic times have made the issue of hunger even more apparent, with 1 in 4 children being hungry. Feeding America, the nation's food bank network, has designated the month of September as Hunger Awareness Month. It is a month-long effort to highlight how wide spread hunger is in America. Many people think hunger doesn't exist in America because it does not look like hunger in third world or developing countries or because of the obesity epidemic. However, Feeding America fed 37 million Americans last year with 1 in 8 relying on this network for their food! Did you know studies show that a hungry child is more likely to grow up to be a poor adult? We must feed our children. Check out the options at your local food bank via Feeding America's website; simply type in your zip code and you will find the food bank serving your area.

In New Mexico, for example, The Food Depot is the food bank serving Northern New Mexico. They have a program where donating $60 annually will provide a child with a backpack of food weekly for the entire school year! Many other food banks have similar programs. Check them out and see how you might make the Labor Day holiday the weekend you begin feeding children in your community.

Another suggestion involves helping children directly in the classroom. As you know, most kids will be in school after Labor Day, if not before. There are often children that need school supplies that perhaps their families can't afford to purchase. When buying your child's supplies, consider buying two of everything and donating one to the teacher of your child's class. It's an easy and quiet way to make a difference!

Let's start a new tradition in our families with this Labor Day holiday weekend. Let's make it the time we begin talking about how we are going to make a difference. Here are five (5) recommendations and tips on how you can Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

1. Have a family meeting discussing what activities the family will undertake this fall to give back to the community. You could consider working in a soup kitchen, helping with a clean up effort, visiting a senior center, etc. The list goes on and on.
2. Talk each day at the dinner table or at least once during the week about how each member of the family has given back and made a difference.
3. Create a calendar to track your activities of making a difference!
4. Consider watching part of the MDA telethon and making a donation. There is still so much work to be done.
5. Attend your community's Labor Day parade. Remember, many volunteers are needed to ensure it goes off without any problems. Consider volunteering to help!

Bonus Tip: Host a Labor Day Picnic and invite your family and friends as well as your neighbors. In this tough economy, many people will be staying home. Let's take this opportunity to gather together and celebrate all that is good about having a job and what the labor movement did for this country's workers. It may not be perfect, but it did make a difference!

The Labor Day holiday sometimes puts folks in a melancholy mood thinking that summer, and thereby fun times, are gone. I suggest we change our thinking and recognize that the Labor Day holiday is a perfect starting place to begin Making A Difference in your community and world. By helping others and giving back you will feel good about what you have done. What will you do to Make A Difference (M.A.D.)? Are you M.A.D.?

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