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Inspiring stories of people giving back

Reader's Digest 'Make It Matter' program profiles people who are significantly giving back to their community with interesting and creative nonprofit organizations.
/ Source: TODAY

For the next ten months, Reader’s Digest "Make It Matter" will choose one individual with an inspiring story of helping others — and donate $100,000 to the nonprofit organization associated with their cause. Read about those who are significantly helping improve their communities:

On January 2, 2007, four teenagers had gone to dinner and were going to a bowling alley for the evening. They were involved in an automobile accident and two of the teenagers were killed as a result of the accident.

Stephen Suggs was almost 20 years old. He was killed instantly. He was a great kid who set a great example for others. He had graduated from high school and was attending North Metro Technical School in Acworth, Ga. In addition to going to school, he also worked a part-time job.

His family and friends were devastated by their loss, and his parents wanted to find a way for him to live on in others. Through a financial settlement after the accident, his parents established two scholarships in his name. The scholarships are based on need and certain other criteria. This is based partly on the fact that Stephen knew how important it was to get an education. He had made the "president's list" every semester and received it as well after his death.

The first scholarship has just been awarded to a young girl who is majoring in automotive technology at the technical school Stephen attended. Through a local educational foundation, another scholarship will be awarded soon.

A final note: At Stephen's sister’s 16th birthday party in January 2008, rather than accept gifts for herself, his sister requested that attendees bring money to donate to Stephen’s scholarship fund. She was able to raise almost $2,000. Although this family will never recover from the loss of this wonderful young man, Stephen will continue to give for years and years to come. —Dede Toole, Cartersville, Ga.

My girlfriend, Lisa, works at a Washington, D.C., charter school, which is composed of a very diverse student body. She has gone out of her way to step in and help young children from underprivileged families.

For several years, she helped take care of a young boy at her school whose mother was dead. His father was in his 60s and dying of cancer, and lived with his two young sons in a one-bedroom apartment. She took the boy home with her one day a week and helped him out in many ways. She often bought him food, clothes and shoes and took him for pizza and a movie once in a while.

When his father ended up in the hospital on his deathbed, Lisa took the boy and his brother to visit him. Then when he died, she took the boys to the funeral, since no one else would do these things.

The boy is now doing very well and living with his aunt and is thriving. There are a few other similar stories, but not enough room to write. —Peter Munsat, Rockville, Md.

My mother, Jane Gordon, noticed that there was no Sunday school or junior church at her small church, so she started one. Although she works full-time, is learning to play the piano, directs choir, and is the lay leader, she took on this job as well.

She creates lessons every week from scratch that include reading, playing and crafts. She also bakes goodies and brings healthy snacks for kids who most of time wouldn't get breakfast otherwise. She also bakes cookies with them once a month for the shut-ins (people too ill to come to church) to teach them charity.

The kids love her. The class has expanded and the kids can't wait to get there. They invite her to their birthday parties. They also want to join the church formally through confirmation classes (that she has helped facilitate). These kids don't have much. They are from poor households and nontraditional families. My mother provides a good role model to enhance their lives.

My mother is a wonderful, giving woman. She doesn't do any of this for pay or credit. In fact, she pays for most of the supplies, food, etc., because the church can't afford do so. She does it for the kids. —Jennifer Collister, Emsley, Conn.

A woman named Dianne Villano started a Web site,, which sends care packages to Marines on the front lines. She gathers things like letters from local elementary schools, Q-tips, energy bars, coffee and nonperishable food items. The letters she gets in return show what a tremendous difference packages from home can mean when some soldiers are not getting anything at all.

She was spending $1,200 per month of her own money on this. She uses her own apartment with the balcony as a storage station for the supplies. She then goes to the local USPS and flat rates the packages. After two years of doing this her accountant told her that she needs to start a charity to make these donations from local businesses tax deductible.

She is still waiting to hear from the IRS about official 501c3 status. Her goal this year is to raise around $25,000 and she has been accumulating more and more Marine units who need her help. One unit gave Dianne their American flag they used throughout their Iraq tour. Other wives have called and written her telling her how much the packages have increased morale and gotten their loved ones through difficult times.

This is really is a small grassroots organization that is in need of a booster shot. —Bennett Barrow, Tampa, Fla.

My sister, Janice Blick, made porcelain dolls for years with her husband Malcolm and sister-in-law Carol’s help. Both her husband and sister-in-law were taken much too young by cancer.

Janice has been called "The Angel Lady" for as long as I can remember. She makes these angels from simple beads and satin ribbons, and gives them away. When Malcolm was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and he began treatment, Janice began passing out angels at hospitals, treatment centers, restaurants and the like.

Many people have asked to pay for these little pieces of hope, but she has never accepted a dime for any of them. She has noted encouraging people with over 1,000 angels just in the past year.

She feels connected to all the lives she has reached out to, and she misses her loves terribly. Malcolm’s retirement allots her $139 per month, and she doesn't have a job yet, since she devoted her life to seeing him through his appointments. His passing has been so hard for her, yet she continues to make her angels and pass them on to all who she meets. —Laurie Renshaw, Topsham, Maine

My friend Larry Lucas, who has a rare illness and is disabled, began collecting old bikes that needed work. He did the repairs and then donated them to Toys for Tots. He spent about a year collecting them and working on them as he was able to, and ended up delivering 175 refurbished bikes to two Toys for Tots drop-off points.

Because he is unable to work, Larry lives off disability checks and pulled this off with little money. Also, he is frequently ill, so he was able to do the repair work only when he was physically up for it.—Lee Ward, Huntington, W.Va.

For more information or to submit a story, visit Reader's Digest "Make it Matter."