"I don't know whether we could rouse such support in a major city. Smaller cities have a tighter weave to the community fiber. People are connected because they intersect at work, in stores, through church, at school functions. What you read in the paper happens to people you know. So when my sister and I worked on the first Make a Difference Day, or later when Laurel and I expanded community involvement, we were already well networked.

"Nationwide volunteerism has been affected by time poverty. This doesn't mean people don't want to help - if you make it easy to get involved, most folks will step forward if asked. That's what we've done with our efforts. People with more time or enthusiasm spearhead an effort like landscaping a street, maintaining a trail, entertaining the elderly, cleaning a park … Then, with the help of the local media, we publicize the details of these projects. Locals see or hear what needs to be done, pick a project of interest, show up, and help.

"Despite their willingness to help if you can make it easy, it seems like many Americans get sidetracked from volunteering because they are too focused on their ma-terial well-being. When my husband and I had babies, about all we bought were diapers; now parents fill up their homes with baby paraphernalia. That applies to much of what we spend our lives earning. I don't have cable services for the television, don't own a cellphone, and don't have a computer because these possessions consume time and money that, for me, is better spent elsewhere.

"Recently I participated in a mission project in Nicaragua and the poverty there, by our standards, was severe. Yet, amazingly, the people were happy - they had tight families, strong faith, and connected communities. That had me wondering whether it is us, with our fragmented families wandering the strip malls of plenty, who deserve pity.