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For the Win: The Power to Create Change

Alex Walter's experiences with Summer Search and Make a Difference Day have helped demonstrate the importance of community service.
Alex Walter FTW

Alex Walter accepts a check from Make a Difference Day on behalf of Summer Search (Photo courtesy of Points of Light).

For the Win is a guest blog series featuring the remarkable initiatives that young Americans are advancing to win the future for their communities. Each week we highlight a new young person and learn about their inspiring work through their own words. 

Alex Walter is a mentor with Summer Search, a national nonprofit that transforms the odds for low-income high school students by building the confidence, character and skills necessary to complete college and become leaders. The Make A Difference Day efforts of Summer Search received national recognition in April and a $10,000 grant to their organization. USA WEEKEND’S Make A Difference Day is proudly held in partnership with Newman’s Own, Inc. and Points of Light.

Ten years ago, I landed on Ohio State University’s campus wide-eyed and eager. College meant the opportunity to expand my knowledge and broaden my perspective. I plunged into campus activities, learning about issues and helping others. One of the first events I participated in was Make A Difference Day, a national day of service that today boasts more than three million volunteers. On that crisp October day I cleaned the facility and grounds at a convalescent home a block from my new dorm. Armed with Windex and paper towels, shovels and rakes, I realized the difference I could make united with my peers in service to others. I was hooked.

Fast forward a decade and I am now helping aspiring college students realize their potential as a mentor with Summer Search, a national college nonprofit that transforms the odds for low-income high school students by building the confidence, character and skills necessary to complete college and become leaders.

For the past two years, I’ve mobilized Summer Search students in the North San Francisco Bay Area to participate in Make A Difference Day. Last October, 55 Summer Search students restored trails at a preserve, beautified the grounds of a local high school and participated in other projects that are benefitting 6,000 people in Sonoma, Calif.

In recognition of their altruistic efforts, Summer Search was one of 10 recipients of the National Make A Difference Day Award, which included a $10,000 grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation. Last month Summer Search Senior Jose Delgadillo and I attended the award ceremony in Washington, D.C. 

Jose and his Summer Search peers invested time, sweat and heart building a fence to protect a garden that is feeding an underserved community that otherwise might not have access to healthy, fresh food.

This award is an affirmation to Jose and his Summer Search peers that they have the capacity to make a tangible difference in their communities. They have made a powerful leap from recipients of aid to agents of change, giving support and hope to others.  They will carry this message of self-efficacy with them as they complete college and become the first college graduates and professionals in their families.

Make a Difference Day and Summer Search are about people realizing their own potential to create change. I am proud to be a part of both.

Check out previous For the Win blog posts:

Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement.