Making a Difference

by Antonio on July 31, 2009 · 33 comments

in A Man's Life, On Virtue


Civilian Conservation Corps, Oregon

A man walking on the beach saw a child reaching down to pick up small objects and then throwing them into the ocean. He called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”  The child looked up and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” To this, the child replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the man commented, “But do you not realize that there are thousands of starfish? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the child bent down, picked up a starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Adapted – Loren Eiseley “The Star Thrower”

This article is intended to inspire; because it can seem that the efforts of one are insignificant, that a single man’s actions will not be noticed.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Inspired individuals can and do make a difference.

Declaring War on Extreme Poverty – Nuru International

NURU Training in Kenya - modern farming techniques, water sanitation training, and sustainability are the topics being covered.

Nuru International Training in Kenya - modern farming techniques, water sanitation training, and sustainability are the topics being covered.

I use the term “war” because that is how Jake Harriman has approached his mission of eliminating extreme poverty.  A Naval Academy graduate, Jake served as a Special Operations Platoon Commander with 1st Marines and deployed with BLT 3/1 during the initial thrust up from Kuwait to Baghdad.  It was in Iraq that he came into contact with people whose economic situation was so desperate that they were being forced into the unthinkable life and death decision of fighting US forces or having their families murdered. After these events he sought to make a difference, to find a way to help his fellow human beings caught in the cycle of extreme poverty.

Leaving the military, Jake pursued his masters at Stanford where he conducted independent research on what worked and what didn’t for non-profits operating in impoverished regions, specifically Africa.  Taking what he learned, he founded Nuru International with the goal of helping communities pull themselves out of the clutches of extreme poverty through a sustainable business model that included education and micro loans for better crop inputs. Creating a lean strike force which he would lead, the initial Nuru team was to be the test subject to see if the idea was scalable. Nuru’s first team into Africa included water & sanitation specialist Nicole Scott, marketing specialist Douglas Scott, and health care expert Janine Dzuba. Harnessing their individual strengths along with a grassroots support base, Jake sought to lay the foundation for a concerted and sustained effort to eradicate extreme poverty in Kuria, Kenya.

What has Nuru International accomplished in less than a year?  With their modest resources, Jake and his team helped 450 farmers learn modern farming techniques, worked with them to acquire 70 tons of fertilizer, and planted over 7 tons of quality seed.  As of April 2009, this has translated into an increased crop yield of over 400% which will enable the farmer to not only feed their families but pay back their loans in addition to having resources left over to repeat the process next year.  They also taught thousands proper sanitation techniques (boiling water before use, washing with soap properly, using mosquito nets, etc), spearheaded the building of collecting rain water from roofs, and organized the digging of 4 wells to decrease the need of women to walk miles to fetch water from streams.

Nuru Internation Crop Results

Nuru International Crop Results - The farmer on the left did not participate while the farmer on the right did and experienced a 400% crop yield increase.

This picture, take in July of 2009, shows clearly the difference Nuru made for farmers who took advantage of their training and loans.  These two fields were within a stone’s throw of each other – the field on the right yielded more corn in one season than this farmer had seen in the previous five years combined.

Nuru International has permanently improving the lives of 5000 people by providing them the tools to pull themselves out of extreme poverty.  And the amazing thing is their model is both sustainable and transferable; already there are plans to expand the program once the proper resources are available.  To learn more visit Nuru’s website where you can see their videos summarizing recent accomplishments and become a fan of their Facebook Page where they just posted their latest pictures from Kenya.

Using Your Unique Skill Set – The First Response Team of America

Tad Agoglia and The First Response Team at work clearing debris after a natural disaster strikes a small town.

Tad Agoglia and The First Response Team at work clearing debris after a natural disaster strikes a small town.

Growing up in West Texas I remember seeing firsthand how destructive nature could be; in 1987, the town of Saragosa was wiped off the map when a monster tornado ripped through the town.  The floods in Iowa last year again highlight to me just how powerful the forces of nature can be.  Nothing can be done to avoid a natural disaster – but what can we do to help immediately after the event, in the first few critical days when people need help the most?  What can one person do in that critical time period?

Tad Agoglia asked himself that question; a successful small businessman, he owned two specially designed trucks outfitted with debris clearing claw cranes capable of lifting cars.  As a contractor he watched government agencies sometimes take weeks to get recovery operations going.  Seeing this, Tad felt that America deserved a better type of response to these disasters.

In May 2007, Greensburg, Kansas was destroyed by a tornado. Tad immediately loaded up his equipment and small team of men and drove to the disaster offering his services – free of charge. His team cleared roads for emergency vehicles, opened the fire department and hospitals, recovered valuable equipment and documents covered by debris, and provided power with their industrial strength generators.  His work allowed emergency personnel to do their jobs, helping heroes be heroes.  Since Greensburg, Tad and his team have responded to over 20 disasters across the United States. Again, all free of charge.  I can only imagine what this world would be like with more men like Tad.

To learn more about the First Response Team of America, visit their website and join their Facebook page.

What Can I do Right Now?

We all know that money is something non-profit organizations are always short on, so all I’ll say is make sure your contribution counts.  I prefer small, local, and religious organizations that use a volunteer force vs. a well paid staff.  These organizations usually do a better job of stretching every dollar, and only a tiny bit if any goes to payroll.  Although 8 years old, this article highlights the strengths of my favorite large charity, the Salvation Army.

No money? Time and skills are a great substitute for monetary contributions.  Can you create a blog for the local Boys Club and spend the day snapping pictures to upload so that others can become aware of the organization’s plight?  What about volunteering at a local school to help the children who need extra instruction and encouragement with their basic math and reading skills?  Even something as simple as taking a few minutes to properly social bookmark your favorite non-profit can help bring in scores of traffic it wouldn’t have otherwise received.  All of us have something to give.

I would like us to use the comments section below to highlight other men & small organizations making a difference. I know I’ll personally visit each link and if nothing else, social bookmark it or become a fan. A small “contribution,” I know, but every little bit counts – sometimes a tiny contributions is the spark that leads to a much larger set of actions.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew Barbour July 31, 2009 at 6:09 am

I’m sure many people will offer their own favorite charitable/betterment organizations, so I’ll give mine here: ( You fund (interest free) a microloan to a borrower in a developing country. This is the system that won Mohamed Yunus the Nobel peace prize a few years back.

You can see my profile at to get an idea of whom I’m loaning to.

2 Brad Drell July 31, 2009 at 6:49 am

I am a part of Kairos Prison Ministry.

Essentially, the ministry uses three day weekend retreats inside prisons to share God’s forgiveness and love with 36-48 residents, with monthly reunions. The idea behind this is to get the residents of the institution to be a part of a small prayer and share group for support inside the prison. I’ve been involved for about nine years, and I’ve seen lives changed. Each weekend retreat requires a team of volunteers, the vast majority of whom are not clergy, that is equal to the number of residents attending the retreat.

I’ve lost count, but I’m pretty sure I’ve served more than 16 or more weekends in prison, including a couple of time where it was the first Kairos weekend in a particular prison. I am currently at our summer conference as a member of the board of directors. We are now in 8 different countries; ministry was started in the 1970′s by a few friends in Florida.

I could write a whole lot about this, but, needless to say, I learned more about what it really means to be a man by spending weekends sharing Jesus with the residents as a part of one of these teams.

3 David July 31, 2009 at 7:34 am

During the war in Bosnia, in the 1990s, my wife and I were fortunate enough to know an elderly woman in Milwaukee; an ex-nurse, who was determined to make a difference in people’s lives. She would scavenge medicine samples and old (small) equipment from doctors’ offices, soap, daily necessities and pack them into boxes. At her own expense, she would fly these boxes to Italy, then find a way to Bosnia – usually by hitching a ride on a United Nations troop transport (remember, this is an old lady, all by herself!). Then she would find a church or other organization in Bosnia that would help her distribute the things that she had collected. While there, she would find families and try to help them as much as she could – she told me once of asking an older man if there was anything that he needed. He replied “if we only had a goat, then we could make it through the winter”. She found that family a goat, (convincing someone to drive an hour with it in the back seat of the car). She went back and forth from the US to Bosnia several times like this. This woman humbled me with her service, and from her, I learned that one person really can make a difference in people’s lives.

4 Brian July 31, 2009 at 8:11 am

On a smaller scale, I used to help organize “Men’s Workdays” at my church. Two of us would spec out jobs that needed to be done around for some of the elderly and widows in our church. We built wheelchair ramps, simple plumbing, simple electrical, yard work and even changing out light bulbs or flipping a mattress. As for the cost, we often would take care of the materials ourselves.
It wasn’t all about the service side. I think neat things happen when you get guys together with power tools and treated lumber. The fellowship time is the icing on the cake.
It is easy to setup — see someone that has a need, grab a guy, fix it. I think that it puts the true meaning to James 1:27.

5 DONALD BEEMAN July 31, 2009 at 8:56 am

We are a small church in the heart of the big city of knoxville. Started in 1898 in Knoxville Tennessee the church has helped literally thousands of families both spiritually and with phsyical needs. Over the years the area where our church is located has changed as well as our ministry opportunities. The second largest low income housing project (in the USA) is located just 1 block from our church facility. In the past year our congregation has made contact with all 5000 homes within a 1 mile radius of our church. This includes the 680 + units to located in the Western Heights Housing Project. Just recently the ministry started a Teens for Truth group and we are reaching teens, praying we make a positive change for Christ in their life. Many of the families that we ministry to struggle with addictions to drugs, alchohol and sexual perversion. The 12-15000 children in our area need a Godly influence and people of strong character to counsel with. Please help us reach these children and families by donating via our Paypal donation link or mailing it to our church. We have an immediate need for $5300 to replace our auditorium heat & air unit. So far just over $1800 has been donated. Please help if you can. Here is the donation link:

6 JAG July 31, 2009 at 9:06 am

This is one of my favorite non-profits. They are similar to The First Response Team of America however they allow anyone to come and join in helping in the relief work. They provide you a place to stay and food during while you volunteer and all they ask is that you pay to travel to the location. They have helped in Haiti after the hurricanes a few years ago and in Iowa last year. You can read all of their trip reports on their websites.

This is a non-profit that I have been involved with for several years. I joined the local FIRST robotics team at my high school when I was a freshman and have been on a team or mentoring a team every year since. Basically the idea is that they get High School students and community mentors together to build a robot in six weeks. If you think it is a problem that school don’t offer shop classes anymore then this is a great program to support. I know personally I learned a lot about machining and construction form my long hours in our shop. So if you can find a FIRST team near you and help mentor them, you may not realize it but a lot of kids don’t even know which way to turn screws so I guarantee there is something you can contribute to a team.

7 JAG July 31, 2009 at 9:08 am

This is a non-profit that I have been involved with for several years. I joined the local FIRST robotics team at my high school when I was a freshman and have been on a team or mentoring a team every year since. Basically the idea is that they get High School students and community mentors together to build a robot in six weeks. If you think it is a problem that school don’t offer shop classes anymore then this is a great program to support. I know personally I learned a lot about machining and construction form my long hours in our shop. So if you can find a FIRST team near you and help mentor them, you may not realize it but a lot of kids don’t even know which way to turn screws so I guarantee there is something you can contribute to a team.

This is one of my favorite non-profits. They are similar to The First Response Team of America however they allow anyone to come and join in helping in the relief work. They provide you a place to stay and food during while you volunteer and all they ask is that you pay to travel to the location. They have helped in Haiti after the hurricanes a few years ago and in Iowa last year. You can read all of their trip reports on their websites.

8 Brian Burnham July 31, 2009 at 9:29 am

A personal favorite charity of mine is KOVAR KOVAR is an initiative of the Virginia State Council of the Knights of Columbus that provides funding to non-profit, tax exempt organizations that assist individuals with intellectual disabilities. KOVAR is the second largest provider of such funds in Virginia, only superseded by the State Government. KOVAR is a proud sponsor of the Special Olympics as well as providing funds to support group home construction and operation, transportation for individuals with intellectual disabilities, infant intervention programs to help ensure early detection and treatment, and training programs to help the intellectually disabled learn skills to improve their quality of life. Since KOVAR relies on the volunteerism of Knights of Columbus Councils at most phases of its operation, overhead is kept to a minimum, ensuring that as much money as possible reaches those in need.

9 Jason Y July 31, 2009 at 9:36 am

This is in no way volunteering on my part since I am paid a very good salary, but I am a software developer at Crown Financial Ministries (website: Crown’s focus is educating people worldwide on biblical financial principles–e.g., the borrower is slave to the lender, so get out of debt, etc.–which are, unfortunately, seldom taught from the pulpit or in Sunday School, despite their importance.

10 Alex July 31, 2009 at 9:44 am

My wife and I do a variety of charity work and volunteer work, mostly with the International Rescue Committee. The IRC focuses on integrating arriving refugees into the community and helping them with language and life skills. We also volunteer teaching science and electronics to k-12 kids in under served communities. My wife works full time as a writer and as a student I don’t make much north of 20k a year, so while we scrape by, we also manage to find a way to give money to the smile train and amnesty international. A few years ago, our families stopped giving each other gifts, instead we donate to charities of ones choice. Finally, one of our friends run an organization for orphans with disabilities in Armenia, we try to give to her frequently, there is no doubt she’s a hero:

If you need some perspective on your position in life:

11 Mark Rough July 31, 2009 at 10:20 am

Lots of great people and organizations already mentioned. Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power, has been providing, and teaching others to provide, healthy, sustainable food in all communities (but especially urban communities), especially communities where healthy food isn’t readily available. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008.

12 Jake July 31, 2009 at 10:49 am

Here in Chicago poverty takes on a different form. It’s not as extreme, maybe, but in impoverished neighborhoods, we can have upwards of 15 shootings in a night, or several within the span of an hour. Small children have been injured in more than a few cases.
The violence stems from the poverty; the kids doing the shooting have become gang members, as they choose not to attend their poorly funded, inadequate schools. They feel they are in hopeless situations, and there is a serious lack of help in most of their areas, which are devoid of churches, schools, or hospitals to host after-school programs.
This is where the manliness connection comes in. There is one effort that does much to help, and I personally know its founder, Dan. Dan has been directly involved in service to help impoverished Chicago youth since 1973, founding two nonprofit organizations to direct focus and service these kids’ way. The Tutor-Mentor Connection is an extensive online database of articles, maps, links, and information about what can be done – and what has been done, with astonishing success – to help students stay in school and out of gangs, get into college, and ultimately land a steady job by age 25. It even features a map-enhanced program locator that allows people who need help to find it nearby, and people who have help to give to direct their efforts effectively. The other program, Cabrini Connections, is one such free tutor-mentor service.
Dan has personally overseen the development of every aspect of this. He works quite hard at what he does, and his efforts make a difference.

Tutor-Mentor Connection:
Cabrini Connections:

13 John July 31, 2009 at 11:22 am

There are two organizations that I volunteer for and want to show you:
Royal Family Kids Camp ( – A faith based camp for abused and neglected children to come free of charge. These kids are from foster/group homes and don’t really have many positive memories to give them hope. We spend a week with these kids helping them have fun and just be kids. I just got back from camp this week and am in the process of blogging about specific experiences on the AoM Community. Check them out. Here’s one

Harvest India ( – Harvest India is a church located in India. They spread the good news about Jesus to a country with 1 billion people where only 3% of the population is Christian. They run a school for orphan children (the lowest of the low peoples in India), a rescue mission for prostitutes, a Bible college to equip more ministers, a nursing school for low income people, free food missions, etc. They are spreading Jesus’ love around the country and their goal is to reach every single village in India. I am applying for a trip to India to help at the end of the year.

14 Dan Smith July 31, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I would like to add the recommendation to find a project that you can sink your heart into. One of the mistakes a lot of young (and old) sailors make is to join any project just to say they are in it, and of course they don’t focus enough to make it valuable to them, or to truly “make a difference”. I used to do this too…

My wife and I now do a fair amount of volunteer work through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which seeks to find better treatments and a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. This is a disease that our daughter suffers from, so the key to this one is that our own daughter gets to know first hand how much her parents care about her.

15 Jonathan July 31, 2009 at 12:19 pm

A great organization to get involved with is the Big Brother Program.

I have been involved in the program for six years. It has not only been rewarding for myself, but through mentorship my little brother has gone from being in the principals office everyday to an honor roll student with plans to go to college. He’s a great athlete too.
It doesn’t take much time to change the life of a kid growing up in circumstances that are not always the best. For example my little brother lives with his grandparent’s and four of his cousins and sister. So two to three days a month is all the program recommends. And they also have a tutor program, a one day a month program, and Big Sisters program too.

16 Tyler July 31, 2009 at 12:38 pm

My friend Michelle and her finacee, Mike, traveled to Africa last summer, and, long story short, ended up starting an orphanage in Uganda. There’s more information here, as well as video of the children at the orphanage.

I was stunned that my friend, a junior in college at the time, had the guts to not only travel to another country to serve people and God, but to help start an orphanage. I’ve donated a few times to their cause, and if anyone else is interested, please contact me.

17 Paul July 31, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Out of Portland, Oregon a soup-kitchen and rehabilitation center for the less fortunate of our community, the Blanchet House, is full of stories of men making a difference.

Started in 1952 by young men, recently graduated from the University of Portland, it serves 600-800 meals a day, no questions asked. It also provides 29 beds to men in need of a place to stay, based on the condition that they work in the House. After a work period the men then go to school, training, and look for work. It is a safety net for those without one, trying to pick people up and put them back on their feet one at a time.

This place has the heart of gold. We all deserve a plate of food when we need it, a place to stay when we have no place to go. Blanchet makes that difference everyday.

18 West Breedlove July 31, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Great post and comments!

I’ve profited from Crown, and volunteered for BigBrothers here in Knoxville.

I’ll also add Joni and Friends (, whose vision is to accelerate Christian ministry in the disability community. It is a blessing to spend a week with families and friends dealing with such things as autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Down Syndrome, epilepsy, and disabilities such as quadriplegia and paraplegia.

19 Tyler July 31, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Fantastic article, Antonio, doing your part to help make the world a better place is surely an essential art of manliness. I am a former Peace Corps volunteer, having served in Guatemala, and the absolutely amazing result of that experience is that I left having received much, much, more than I had given. Only when you lose the focus on you will you truly know yourself.

20 Dan J. July 31, 2009 at 3:42 pm

I am involved in an organization that helps volunteer at the Indiana Soldier’s Home in West Lafayette, IN. We help the residents to and from the church services held on the grounds every Sunday. Visit your local Veteran’s Home or Hospital today.

21 Ross July 31, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Andrew mentioned it at the start, but I’m going to reiterate Kiva. Micro-loans allow anyone to change someone’s life, in a direct way that few other charitable donations provide.

Furthermore as the money is repaid, you can reinvest into another project allowing your gift to work many times more than just a one off donation, as well as the knowledge that because the person is able to repay the money, they have lifted themselves up thanks to your help.

22 Jon jon Wes July 31, 2009 at 4:14 pm

MY friend started an orginization called Care For Aids with three other friends in college. He’s not even graduated yet and they are already their own 501c3 with full time employees. They make educational centers to help AIDS and HIV positive victims vocationally with teaching and micro loans. Four men started this, and helped thousands of people before they even finished college.

23 Donald Beeman July 31, 2009 at 4:44 pm

I want to apologize for the error on my part of including my comment twice. There was a problem with the verification code not showing. I refreshed and then tweaked my message and sent it again,without knowing it was sent already… since I never was able to see the verification code in my browser (probably a user error). There are a lot of worthy non-profits. May we all take our part in supporting the ones we can. God Bless You and thank you for this informative and encouraging post.

24 Jon July 31, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I do something a little closer to home. I donate blood through an aphaeresis donation every two weeks at my local blood bank. For those that don’t know…Aphaeresis is the process where whole blood is extracted from the body and separated into red cells, plasma, and platlets. The needed parts are taken and individually bagged and the excess is returned to the body. It is used for “Patients with cancer, especially when it involves the bone marrow, such as in multiple myeloma or leukemia, may need platelet transfusions at the outset because their bone marrows are infiltrated with abnormal cells, and they are simply unable to produce platelets.” (taken directly from the organizations site I will most likely never meet the people I have helped through my donations. Even If I only save one life then it is worth every bit of pain that I go through. That and I am a bone marrow donor and have signed the organ donor card that CA sends with my license.

25 mythago August 1, 2009 at 12:37 am

Well said, Jon – signing up as a blood, marrow and organ donor is a very simple way to help others.

26 Ricky August 1, 2009 at 4:09 am

I think we can all recognize the value of charity, so for people who wish to donate to charity that has no religious connections here is a wonderful list.

27 Jon August 2, 2009 at 5:02 am

To anyone who is thinking about it or currently does not donate. Consider such a small investment of time can help someone else so much. It takes about 30-60 minutes for a unit of whole blood and 75-120 minutes for apheresis… that and they give you cookies and juice…Yay.

28 A August 3, 2009 at 11:31 am

First off: Before I donate to any charity, I check out their rating on; it’s an invaluable site that lets you see how much of an organization’s income goes to its mission and how much goes to “administration” and such, i.e., how efficiently they use donations.

Donating blood and/or marrow is a great idea, and I give money when I can to the Myeloproliferative Disorders Foundation ( My mother died in 2007 of a myeloproliferative disorder.

I’d also recommend St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, right here in Memphis: Any child with cancer or other “catastrophic” disease will be treated without charge at St. Jude.

One other topic that’s worth raising: Most of the charities named here seem to be overtly religious. If someone wants to donate to an atheist organization, the Council for Secular Humanism might be worth checking out:

29 Harry August 4, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I am a long time member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) for my county. This is a nation wide (US) organization part of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for volunteers who want to help out in the event of disasters. If you think you might want to be a fireman or EMT but don’t have the time to make such a commitment, this is the light version. We only get called in when big things happen – think major storms, earthquakes, etc. Each county group is different and focuses on the most likely disasters to fall on that area. In my case, it is hurricane evacuation and sheltering.

Almost anyone can join – fresh out of school to 85 and needs a walker to get around. Able bodies are more than welcome, but if you can only sit at a table and do paperwork that’s one more fireman who doesn’t need to do it and can be out doing the things you can’t. My group meets about once a month, with drills or training events maybe twice a year. They will train you in everything you need to know.

30 Conquistahore August 5, 2009 at 12:14 am

I volunteer regularly as part of an organization called the Surfrider Foundation. My local chapter is DC Surfrider. Originally founded by surfers, the mission has expanded. From the website:

The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research, and education.

On a recent river cleanup we pulled enough garbage out to reassemble an automobile. More information can be found here:

31 Jeff August 5, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I would like to add the group Development In Gardening (D.I.G.). This group focuses on eradicating hunger on the micro scale by teaching sustainable gardening techniques to the world’s poorest. Initially founded as a way to supply nutritional needs for African AIDS patients, D.I.G. has grown rapidly into a multi-national organization. Best of all for me, it was co-founded by a classmate and friend of mine.

The website is

32 Santa August 6, 2009 at 11:25 am

I remember reading this in a book once, that said the most valuable thing you can give to someone else is your time. I don’t get the chance to always help out huge charities but I try and make it a habit every day to help others in real time situations and keep my eye open for the opportunities. For example I may be at a convenience store and see a lady trying to handle bags of groceries to her car so I’ll offer to carry them for her. Or like today at work I saw this guy looking for change to get something in the snack machine and offered him some snacks I had at my own desk, we talked and I made a new friend…small things like this do make a difference.

33 Alexander Connell April 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I concur with those who suggest doing homework prior to donating to a charity. I’ve been disappointed in the past when after giving time and/or money to a cause, I’ve learned the charity’s CEO is pulling down a salary many times that of mine and that precious little of the funding makes it’s way to the needy.

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