ATLANTA -- Saturday was Make a Difference Day across the United States - a time when thousands of volunteers engaged in community projects from coast-to-coast.
And right on the front lines, 11Alive (WXIA/WATL) and its parent company TEGNA were there teaming up with Arby's and the Arby's Foundation to make a difference in dozens of communities - at schools, in shelters, in parks and with major military and charitable organizations.
In metro Atlanta, 11Alive volunteers spent the day at My Sister’s House, an Atlanta Mission facility, where 275 women and their children reside. 11Alive's partner, Arby’s, focused on the Belmont Hills Elementary School in Smyrna, Ga.
11Alive volunteers were enthusiastic about the chance to participate.
“I just think it’s an obligation to give to others and I was taught to do that,” one volunteer said.
PHOTOS: Make a Difference Day 2016
“I am too privileged to not give back to somebody who doesn’t have as much as I have,” said another.
For others, it was simply the right thing to do.
“This is what life is about - making a difference and this is what we are supposed to do,” yet another volunteer told 11Alive's Bill Liss.
At My Sister's House, it was not just about 11Alive volunteers, but about sending a strong message of giving back to families.
“I explained to them (her two children) this morning that we were coming to a place where mothers and their kids needed a lot of help and they are excited to do it,” said Jaye Watson, an 11Alive reporter and Make a Difference Day volunteer.
In total, more than 50 11Alive staffers joined community volunteers in making a difference at My Sisters House.
They spent the day cleaning buses and vans and teamed up in the kitchen to prepare lunch for the resident women and their children.
For Jim Reese, president and CEO of the Atlanta Mission, a visit to My Sister’s House can mean a lot more than just a brief hello.
“Many times, when you show up, you don’t understand what it means to people who spent their lives with nobody showing up," he said. "They will come and serve and they will leave today and their life will be changed because they will interact with people that, many times, we don’t interact with.”
And while 11Alive volunteers were actively engaged at My Sister’s House, the station's partner Arby's and it’s nearly 100 volunteers were going strong in Smyrna.
For Arby's and its Chairman Paul Brown, teaming up with 11Alive's parent company TEGNA is a long term effort.
“We have over 1,000 team members across the nation doing a variety of things ranging from tutoring children in schools like this, to working on improving parks to working in food banks,” Brown said. “Every year we do something like this and it just gets bigger and bigger and more and more of our team members participate, so we are going to do it well into the future.”
For Belmont Hills parents, Make a Difference Day sends an important message.
“Give me an opportunity to wish that more parents would get involved and do more things,” said school parent Nathan Morris.
They shared in doing work that included mentoring, painting, landscaping and working on the school's nature trail.
Belmont Hills Principal Bertha Nelson knows the importance and value of volunteerism and making a difference.
“It means we have folks who actually care and the kids see that - folks out in the community that care about them," Nelson said. "And that they are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to come out and help them throughout the day.”
For the volunteers, and for those who experienced the effort, Make a Difference was truly just that -- a day that changed and influenced many lives.