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Programs that Make a Difference



Every successful program was once just the glimmer of an idea.

One person or a small group of people had faith in that idea and had the fortitude and persistence to make the idea become reality.

After programs have been in operation a while, they seem simply to be a part of life. We forget that today's institutions were once pipe dreams -- that libraries were only a wish; that national parks were a vision for future generations; that public health inoculations flickered in the mind of a scientist sitting at a desk deep in the night thinking, "There's got to be a way."

Individuals make changes. Such programs often start small. This web site describes some current creative solutions people have come up with to help make our world just a little better.

Jump to:

Breast Cancer Awareness Stamp
Calendar Women
Community Policing
Edible Schoolyard
Freedom Writers Diary
Fishing Has No Boundaries
Giraffe Project

Global Ideas Bank
Heifer International
Modest Needs
Nursing Home Visitor Exchange
Random Genealogical Kindness
Roots & Shoots
Solar Cooking
Security Dads
Street Level Youth Media
Veggie Van
Youth in Focus

Helping the hungry with a click of the mouse

Computer programmer John Breen established a web site that supports the United Nations World Food Program. Sponsors make a donation to the food program in return for advertising links. Visitors may click once a day. Bookmark the site:

The Giraffe Project


"Craig Kielburger didn't just listen to the stories of child slave labor and complain about how awful it was. He didn't wait for someone with more experience and training to 'fix the problem.' He stuck his neck out to take on a challenge. . . ."*

Do you ever hear the complaint that "our children don't have any heroes anymore?" Have you thought about doing something about it? The Giraffe Project is a program that finds people in a community who "stick their necks out for the common good," commends them publicity for their efforts, and uses them as examples of real heroes in that community's K-12 classrooms. Their goal is to "guide the kids into lives of courage, caring and involvement in their communities.")

Giraffe Project logo

* John Graham. It's UP to Us. Langley, WA: The Giraffe Project, 1999:4.

Global Ideas Bank logo


Global Ideas Bank

The Global Ideas Bank is a web site devoted to solving the problem of how creative people with good ideas can share with one another. The site compiles over 2000 ideas from different 2472 schemes from different sources and publications in lists by category. Typical categories are Social Innovations, Children and Education, Relationships, Housing,Work & Unemployment, Crime & the Law, Health & Therapy, Environment and Ecology, Communication, Politics, Death and Dying, and Promoting Social Inventions.

Read some sample ideas.

The Veggie Van What can one person do to support alternative fuels? How about touring the U.S. in a biodiesel-powered Winnebago fueled by recycled vegetable oil from fast food restaurants? The Veggie Van can go up to 65 miles per hour and gets 25 miles per gallon of oil.



Breast Cancer awareness stamp

Breast Cancer
Awareness Stamp




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If you wanted to convince an already existing agency to charge more for their product and give you the proceeds, would you approach the organization that inspired the term "going postal"? That's what Dr. Ernie Bodai of Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Sacramento, California, did. After treating more than 2,000 women, Bodai became inspired to sell a 32-cent stamp for 40 cents, with the 8-cent difference going to cancer research.

No U.S. stamp had ever had its net proceeds above the cost of postage earmarked for a cause, and Bodai initially faced great resistance. This came not only from the Postal Service, but even from breast cancer research groups who feared they would lose existing research money.

Bodai persisted. As John Joss reported, the stamp "never would have happened without Bodai's persistence." Ultimately as a result of Bodai's efforts, 250,000 letters were sent to Congress, who approved the stamp in 1997. It first appeared in July 1998.

Within two months, 33 million were sold.

(Some of this information came from John Joss, "Stamping Out Breast Cancer," Front Lines, Modern Maturity, March-April 1999.)

Modest Needs

Have you ever had that feeling that if you could just get through this one thing--buy a new battery for the truck, pay the dental bill, heat the house in January--you would be okay? Sure, you'd love to win the lottery, but you could survive with just a small loan or grant. Modest Needs is designed to help you. It's the idea of one man who wanted to help people who live paycheck to paycheck. Now it has grown though donations of the very people it seeks to help.

Share your books when you have read them. Register them with BookCrossing, then write the BookCrossing number inside the cover (or paste in a BookCrossing label). Then take your books on a little trip and "free them" into the universe. Leave them in a coffee shop, at a library book sale, in the dentist's office. Someone else will find the book, read it, then go to and leave a message about that book. It's a great way to keep good books circulating.

It's bad news for the fish, but the goal of Fishing Has No Boundaries is to open up the great outdoors for people with disabilities through the world of fishing. Bobby Cammack, founded the group in 1986 after he encountered a problem getting in and out of a boat with a broken leg. The first event was held in 1988 near Hayward, Wisconsin with 80 people attending from seven states. From this first initial event it has now grown into a national organization with 13 chapters in eight states, helping thousands of disabled individuals participate fully in this recreational activity. Check out the web page for the latest events.

What if young people in at-risk neighborhoods had cameras to document their world?

Street Level Youth Media


"We speculate about probabilities of success. The truth is, the probabilities change once you commit."--Jim Collins, The Creative Spirit

From Chicago's Street-Level Youth Media web page:

Everything we are today started from a simple idea. What if young people in our west side neighborhood had video cameras to document the world as they saw it? What stories would they tell? What could they teach us?

Teens from the local high school took the idea and ran with it. That first summer they made forty videos about everything from gangs, to their families, to the gradual gentrification of their neighborhood. They threw a giant community block party and installed their videos on seventy monitors up and down the street. This first Street-Level Block Party drew national attention and inspired an entire community to celebrate the talents and dreams of their youngest residents.

With the success of this first effort, a new idea arose. What if there was a place in the neighborhood where Street-Level students could teach other kids how to make videos? What if there was a safe place to come in off the street and actually do something about the problems? That place was the first Street-Level storefront. Located across the street from Wells High School and on a corner where four gang lines converge, the storefront became known throughout the city as "that video place run by kids." In fact, the first pilot program, Neutral Ground, demonstrated how media can transform a community.

How far would you go
to raise $500,000 to fight leukemia?


Would you take it all off but your pearls? Would you do it if you were a doting grandmother, an active church member, and you'd never see 50 again?

Picture of women in pearls from calendar

The Ladies of Rylstone, England
Alternative Women's Institute Calendar
(Use Back key to return.)



Security Dads



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Parents at Arlington High in Indianapolis have a new way of policing teen events: dads. About two dozen fathers of kids in the school wear identifying tee shirts in school colors labeled "Security Dad." They come to the games, dances, and other teen events. If there's trouble, the dads are there to stop it.

Whenever kids start to become unruly, the dads approach them. They seldom have to do more because this is not just a guard, it's "Kisha's dad." Said one dad, "With an officer they think, 'Hey, I must be in trouble.' With us, they smile and say, 'Hey, what's up?' And we love it."



A home for
retired circus elephants
and furry thespians


collage of animals



PAWS logo

You want to talk about BIG PROBLEMS?

Think elephants.
Think movie stars with fur and claws and really big teeth.

Mistreatment of performing animals was the problem Pat Derby identified more than 25 years ago when she worked as an animal trainer on the sets of many popular television shows (Flipper, Daktari, Gunsmoke, Lassie) and Disney films, as well as working with the famed Lincoln-Mercury cougars, Chauncey and Christopher. She was shocked to discover what she describes as "a profession rampant with cruelty, ignorance and lack of concern about the animals."

But how can an individual solve a problem as big as that?

Read about the PAWS solution.


THE FREEDOM WRITERS DIARY: How a Group of Teens Used the Power of the Pen to Wage a War Against Intolerance

High school teacher Erin Gruwell faced a room of "unteachable, at-risk" students. She led them to study the diary of Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and then to write their their own diary entries. Her efforts to reach them resulted in a book written by the students, followed by book tours, TV appearances, and a change in students' beliefs about themselves. And they raised the funds to bring Zlata for a visit to the U.S. For more, read the book. Here's an excerpt.

An old adage says that if you give a person a fish, she will eat for a day; if you teach her to fish, she will eat for a lifetim. This the the philosophy that motivates Heifer International. It began in the 1930s during a Spanish civil war. As Heifer International reports: "Dan West, a Midwestern farmer. . . , ladled out cups of milk to hungry children on both sides of the conflict. It struck him that what these families needed was "not a cup, but a cow." He asked his friends back home to donate heifers, a young cow that has not borne a calf." Built into the program is the expectation that the recipient family will give one of their gift animalÍs female calves to another needy family. The program is highly respected.


3 students,
an RV,
a digital camera,
a nation full of animal shelters



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anmal paws

Three students from MIT and the Tufts University School of Veterinary Science traveled across 15 states in a 40-foot RV, showing animal shelters across the U.S. how to use a web-based software program. The three traveled to more than 40 shelters in an 11,000-mile trip.

The student volunteers take digital images of shelter animals and post these on the Web site with information about the animals.

Arfdigita Online Pet Adoption Center (Use Back key to return.)




Kwanzaa logo

Have you ever thought of starting a holiday? If you think it is impossible, read up on Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is a festive, non-religious celebration, founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana "Ron" Karenga, currently a professor at California State University, Long Beach. Beginning December 26, Kwanzaa is a time for African Americans to celebrate their heritage. It lasts for seven days. Each day focuses on one of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Dr. Karenga modeled Kwanzaa after historical African fruit festivals in ancient Egypt. In this and other African celebrations, he found shared characteristics: gathering of the people; reverence for the Creator and creation; commemoration of the past, especially ancestors; re-commitment to our highest ethical and cultural values; and celebration of life's goodness.


Toy library
with special toys for
disabled kids



"When you stop giving and offering something to the rest of the world, it's time to turn out the lights"
--George Burns

A disabled child cannot automatically play with the same toys as children without disabilities. In the 1960s in Sweden, some parents of disabled children were finding it hard to find toys their children could use. They began to share toys, passing them around when their own children outgrew them.

They developed the idea of forming a source much like a library, where kids could check out toys rather than books, then bring them back on their due date. Out of that idea grew an international organization called Lekotek ("play library"). Not every U.S. state has branches yet, but the organization seeks volunteers to expand its sources. They loan toys, software, and computer games, sponsor parent groups, and engage in activities in schools to help foster understanding about disabilities.

Link to Lekotek.

Solar Cookers

Something as simple as a way to cook food without using firewood can change a nation. In emerging nations, people can spend much of the day searching for firewood. A creation that is, at base, aluminum foil and glass, can change that.


Gourmet vegetables, grown for you at your local middle school



Green plant


The Edible Schoolyard

Famed restaurateur Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley not only works with her own elegant dinner house, but also with King Middle School where kids grow their own vegetables through a project called the Edible Schoolyard Project. The school has 780 students and a half acre farm plot where once there was asphalt on the school property.

In an interview with Online Chef, Waters, who received an "Excellence in Education" Award from the U.S. Dept. of Education in the1998-99 school year for her work with this project, said:

"We're planting a half acre plot on the school property and showing the children how to take care of the land. The garden will supply the school lunch program and the students will do all the harvesting, cooking, and serving of the food. We've remodeled the cafeteria kitchen which hasn't been used in 17 years and, eventually, we will be building a new lunchroom and kitchen. We want to make this a model project to show the students where their food comes from, to respect both the food and the land that produced it, and, hopefully, to use this as the model for all institutional food service."

She may get her wish. The Edible Schooyard web page reports : "In 1999-2000, the Berkeley Unified School District, inspired by the success of the Edible Schoolyard, adopts a policy of incorporating organic produce to the greatest extent possible in their meals programs."

Reported on CBS Sunday Morning




Rise Above Your Troubles






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Sam Keen, author of Learning to Fly, turned his fascination with the circus trapeze into a program called Upward Bound for troubled kids and abused women. He explained what he thought they could gain from "learning to fly" in an interview with Scott London.

Many of the abused women in the program were afraid of loneliness and of not being able to take care of themselves, so they stayed in abusive relationships. Trapeze helped them to discover that being alone and independent is less frightening than an abusive relationship. They also learned something about trust. One woman said to me, "I don't trust men. I think they're after me all the time. But having people on the safety lines, helping me on the board, and catching me has made me reevaluate my attitude."

Troubled kids typically talk about getting high: "I never knew there was another way of getting high except by drugs." They talk about how much better trapeze is because they don't get hung over and feel ashamed. They also increase their self-esteem by doing things they didn't think they could do.

Nursing Home
Visitor Exchange
Concerned about Aunt Eileen, now that she's in a Boston nursing home and you're working in St. Louis? The Nursing Home Visitor Exchange is a solution. You go to the site and request that a volunteer drop in on your aunt. The volunteer will send you an amyl after the visit letting you know how Eileen is doing.
Random Acts

of Genealogical Kindness

At Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, genealogical volunteers provide information available in their area to those who live far away. This program was started by two researchers who saw the need for such a service. The site grew very rapidly from just a statewide service to an international one. The volunteers of this movement have agreed at least once per month to do a research task in their local area as an act of kindness.


Youth in Focus


Using photography as "a gimmick to get to the kids," (according to Walter Bodle, co-founder), Youth in Focus reaches kids by letting them photograph their own world.

During the program, students are given 35-mm cameras, rolls of film, access to a darkroom, and assignments every week. Each one also has a photography mentor who is a professional or serious amateur photographer. Students are asked to produce two exhibition-quality prints by the end of the term. The program encourages students to document their own neighborhoods and families. Their images are then displayed in area galleries, coffee shops and community centers.

Co-founder Walter Bodle says that what the program really aims to do is "send a message to these young people that they matter, that they can be successful and that there's a safe place to do it."

(Initially based on an article by Mieke H. Bomann at the American News Service.)

drawing of police office

Community Policing Consortium

When the old crime-fighting method of arresting criminals seemed unable to stop the flood of crime across the nation, police officials turned to a different approach--collaboration with the community to both prevent and punish crime. The approach was initially advanced by Herman Goldstein in the late 1970s. His strong advocacy and the work other influential criminal justice academics and practitioners changed the face of policing in the United States and Canada, and now, even other countries. For more detail go to the home site of the Community Policing Consortium.

"Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play, every individual makes a difference."
--Jane Goodall

Roots and Shoots

Roots & Shoots is a youth organization developed by Dr. Jane Goodall. In local groups, Roots & Shoots members plan and implement projects based on their group's unique interests, resources and community concerns. Roots & Shoots projects address one or more of the following three themes:

  • Care and concern for the environment
  • Care and concern for animals
  • Care and concern for the human community.
Read how Roots and Shoots started on Jane Goodall's front porch.