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Volunteering to Make a Difference One Hour at a Time


Clubs Can Literally Make A Difference

What inspires students to serve others? In answering this, some said they wanted to give back to the community, acknowledged their good fortune, realized the needs of others, or simply had the desire to give disadvantaged people a better chance at life. However, Abby Bartlett (`19) once had a very different view. She said, “Sometimes service can be associated with boring activities…I thought service was boring and almost painful work to do.” When Bartlett joined M.A.D. Club, her opinion changed.

M.A.D. (Make A Difference) Club is an organization of students working together to build enthusiasm within their school and outside community by joining in a movement of creative ideas and volunteer time in order to make a positive difference in the lives of others. This club offers a wide array of unique activities that are focused on fulfilling the immediate needs of people experiencing various types of hardships within the Cleveland area.

These hardships include aiding the homeless, to supporting victims of domestic violence and addiction, or growing food for those that visit numerous food banks, and bringing joy to communities of underprivileged children. Bartlett describes M.A.D. Club as “…a way to earn service hours you might need, while having fun with your peers and really doing something meaningful for others…through my M.A.D. Club experience, I have learned that service can be fun.”

Serving Others Is Fun

Among the many activities M.A.D. Club has completed, it is unanimous among members that volunteering for the Benjamin Franklin Community Gardens is a favorite. Throughout the summer and into the fall of 2016, members volunteered to plant, maintain, and harvest an area of the Community Garden called the Hunger Gardens. These gardens comprise nearly an acre of land which is designated to produce vegetables for six local food banks. Members spent their time planting, watering, fertilizing, and weeding.  They also volunteered time to complete other tasks that contributed toward the general upkeep of this Community Garden Center, such as painting picnic benches or repairing roof sidings. 

Pictured is a group of M.A.D. Club members from Padua and Gilmour volunteering at the Benjamin Franklin Community Garden this past fall.

M.A.D. Club member Luke Shepherd (`19) commented, “Working at the Ben Franklin Community Garden enabled me to hone my agricultural skills while helping the needy.”

Work Is Needed

In the fall, all experienced the reward of the harvest after many long weeks of hard work.  The club reported that the designated area maintained through the summer months reaped over two-thousand pounds of vegetables that were happily received by nearby hunger centers. 

Additionally, M.A.D. Club has made meal pouches for the homeless, organized clothing and toiletry collections for various shelters including those that help victims of addiction and domestic violence, and has also contributed toward holiday parties for underprivileged children.  

Above is a photo from the Saint Bartholomew Chapter of members creating meal pouches for the homeless. Here members are making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be packed inside the pouches to be delivered to the homeless shelter.

Most recently, M.A.D. Club hosted its second annual Warm Hands, Warm Hearts winter wear drive. Initially, this was started as a collection of new or used gloves for underprivileged men living within the Cleveland area. The focus was on men for this collection as items for them are greatly lacking at homeless shelters because most donations received typically benefit women and children. During winter months, gloves for men are extremely scarce and very much needed. They are also used all year round as it gets very cold at night in the spring and fall – and they are used as hand protectors when rummaging for items of survival.

However, because there are so many in need, this year, Warm Hands, Warm Hearts expanded the collection to items of warmth not only for men, but for women and children too. This year, the Gilmour community helped to collect nearly 350 items, including over 90 coats for many people in need. These items have been distributed as collected to various shelters and organizations, such as Varsity Coats for Needy Folks, the West Side Catholic Center, and the St. Edward High School Service Program where the students take the items directly to the homeless.

M.A.D. Is Growing

Madison Wagner (`19) founded M.A.D. Club when she was in the eighth grade. It began as a school club at her grade school, The Academy of Saint Bartholomew, and since then has continued to be active and grow. Currently, M.A.D. Club is in the process of becoming a federally recognized, non-profit organization and chapters have been established at Wagner’s middle school, Gilmour Academy, Padua High School, and a chapter is in the process of being started at the Strongsville Senior Center so that senior citizens can also get involved and help make a difference.

Members of M.A.D. Club shared that student-led service is preferential to other forms of service because it’s more comfortable. Sophia Minello (`19) and regular Community Garden attendee comments that it’s easier to approach a fellow student with ideas than an adult sometimes, as that can be intimidating. “It really pushes the students to be leaders rather than followers,” Luke Shepherd adds. “It teaches life skills such as organization and responsibility.”

M.A.D. Members Are Moved

Allie Mikolanis (`19) said, “M.A.D. Club helps me engage with my community and makes me feel like I have a role in it. Even though I may be fifteen, I can still leave a handprint on the people around me and what’s happening so that I’m not silent in all the problems of the world. Student-led service lets students take the reins and choose the problems that mean the most to them. It caters to you and how you want to help the world so that you can connect more to it.”

Even so, M.A.D. Club goes beyond this. According to members, M.A.D. Club helps not only the community, but makes a difference in their lives as well. Mia Nannicola (`19) says “M.A.D. Club gives me the opportunity to do service in places or for certain people that I wouldn’t have been able to help before. It is awesome to see young people wanting to make such big changes in the world and it can be a challenge to find ways to make a difference, but M.A.D. Club offers the resources to do so through its many activities and projects. The kids of our generation are the future so it is important to start now in how we can impact others around us.”

Bartlett comments that she has become a more aware citizen since joining the club, and that it has helped her grow and become a better person. According to Bartlett, not only does M.A.D. Club give students a voice, it gives them the opportunity to directly see the impact they have had on the people they helped. Mikolanis agrees. She stated: “We are serving the people around us, not just packing things to send off to a faraway land. You know that what you’re doing impacts the people right next to you.”

Beyond M.A.D., What’s Next?

Founder and future Executive Director of the non-profit organization, Madison Wagner, plans to take M.A.D. Club to a higher level over the next few years and beyond. She said, “It’s my dream that years from now Gilmour and other schools will still have active chapters led by students that want to see positive change in the lives of others who need support and help.” Until then, members will be working to keep aiding those in their communities, giving them second chances, and making a difference one volunteer hour at a time.

“I hope to remain with the club for the remainder of high school,” Shepherd says, “M.A.D. Club requires you to look inside yourself and find your purpose for whatever it is you do. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that should not be taken for granted.”


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Madison is a junior at Gilmour Academy and lives in Strongsville, Ohio. She is interested in exploring many different fields, including research science, preventive medicine, law, business, working with special needs children, and, of course, journalism. Above all of this, her dream is to "accomplish something big" and make a positive change in the world. For now, however, she is focusing on journalism and serving her school by contributing to its newspaper, The Lance. Thus far, she has experience in various english courses, power of the pen, and is a member of Gilmour's speech and debate team. She enjoys these classes and activities because they further expand her understanding and interest in the communication fields. Madison embraces new challenges and opportunities and is excited to experience all of the adventures life has to offer her. Other concepts and hobbies that interest Madison include astronomy, reading, drawing, running, old movies and 50's music (particularly Frank Sinatra), baseball, service activities, bunnies, and Italian food. Madison is the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization, M.A.D. Club and is a cheerleader for Gilmour's Varsity basketball team. She is a member of her school's Speech and Debate Team, Club for Animal Respect and Education (C.A.R.E.), Astronomy Club, and the National Society of High School Scholars.