DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Let's not be normal -- let's be even better

George W. urges you to return to normal. I urge you not to.
For three months now, Americans, for the most part, have been united, charitable and patriotic. I urge you to take that triumvirate, particularly the middle portion, and carry it into the new year and beyond. Let's not return to normal. Let's be better than that.
In November, I mentioned some local charities that could use a helping hand. At least two readers responded.
Anthony and Mary Lariccia (whose names you've no doubt heard connected to many philanthropies), donated $10,000 to the Pincham Initiative Resource Center. The Center, at 46 N. Phelps St., in Youngstown, helps children pass their proficiency exams. The brainchild of Edna Pincham, it does so without any government assistance.
"I think Edna's great," Tony said. "She believes God will help you if you help yourself. She promotes self-reliance in her example, and she makes kids be self-reliant. She wants to reverse thinking, within the African-American community, that you should go to the government for help. She began with her own initiative and money and that's phenomenal! I'm happy to support it."
Donating time: We don't all have large sums to donate, but Mr. Lariccia's final comments are telling. He said, "There are so many people in this town that volunteer their time, you can't believe it. When people give their time, it is so much more valuable than me writing a check."
I believe both are extraordinarily valuable. Some more ideas (once more contributed by my friend Darlene Pavlock, administrator of Home Savings & amp; Loan's charitable contributions):
Don't leave the neighborhood. Open your eyes to the people around you. Does someone need help shoveling? Could someone use an occasional visitor? When the snow melts, is there a yard that could use a cleanup? Could a committee of neighbors tackle the litter in a vacant area or streetside?
Donate what you don't need. For example, Trumbull County Animal Shelter takes ONLY Wall Street Journals because they fit perfectly in their animal pens. That old computer you replaced at Christmas might be a welcome addition to a local school or preschool.
Volunteer at a hospital. Children's Hospital Medical Center in Akron serves more than 2 million children in 17 counties of northeastern Ohio. It has a burn unit that frequently treats Valley children. You can donate time or money (no matter how small a contribution) by going online at www.akronchildrens.org or by calling (330) 543-8424 to volunteer or (330) 543-8340 to make a donation.
Call your local school library and find out if you can contribute a new book. Ask the principal if there are any other small needs you might be able to fill. Next time your child or grandchild sends off a school book order, offer to buy a book for the classroom as well. Volunteer in a school reading program. Just call an elementary school and offer.
Other ideas: Women, consider pooling resources ($5 from each of your friends) and give another "gal" what Pavlock calls "a day to remember -- the beauty shop, dinner, a movie, etc." She suggests Beatitude House, a not-for-profit organization sponsored by the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, (330) 744-3147. Beatitude's House of Blessing provides transitional housing for homeless women with children. Its Potter's Wheel provides job preparation services to unemployed and under-employed women.
Volunteer time at a small home for the aged, like Paisley House or Blackburn Home. My daughter's Girl Scout troop visited the latter over the holidays to donate and play box games like Yahtzee and Sorry. It was a lovely house with lovely people to visit. As Lariccia said, time is a valuable resource.

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