Making a difference: The far-reaching effect of one woman’s volunteer efforts
It started with a simple request. In the fall of 1998 a fellow member of the Carlow University alumni board told Cheryl Walter that her women’s club needed help filling Christmas stockings for the children at HEARTH. At the time Cheryl, who was the choir director at Norwin High School, was looking for a volunteer project for her students, one that was personal and helped children.
That first year the chorus went out caroling in the area to earn money to fill the stockings. When Cheryl called to arrange delivery of the stockings, the HEARTH administrator told her that the entertainment for their holiday party had cancelled at the last minute. Cheryl stepped in and offered to bring in the show choir, the 40-member singing and dancing troupe of the chorus, to perform.
“From there it just kept getting better and better,” Cheryl says. Indeed it has. The volunteer effort has grown to twice-yearly show choir performances at HEARTH (one at Christmas and an “unbirthday” party each spring, a joint celebration of the children’s birthdays at HEARTH), Christmas stockings personalized by one of the former show choir mothers, and gifts for HEARTH kids that this year include hats, scarves hand-knitted by a friend of Cheryl’s, gloves, blankets, a $100 gift card and a personal gift from each show choir member. A former show choir mother works at Kohl’s and enlisted the store’s help to donate books and stuffed animals. Every year, the bus driver for the group reprises his role of Santa for the evening, which he’s been doing since that first show choir performance at HEARTH in 1998.
The volunteer effort now extends beyond the holidays and stretches across communities.
One of the show choir mothers is a 2nd grade teacher in McKeesport who, together with her students, friends and family, made and donated 50 blankets to HEARTH and other charities in honor of her 50th birthday.
Tragically, a young man from the show choir passed away and his parents requested donations to HEARTH in lieu of flowers. A special fund was created to cover expenses such as yearbooks and school photos for HEARTH children. The family is collecting donations again this year in his memory.
When two show choir alums got married they took up a collection for HEARTH during their church ceremony.
A perfect fit
“The best part of all of this was finding a charity that fit our choir so well,” Cheryl says. “In fact it’s a perfect fit. The choir kids love the HEARTH kids and vice versa. The highlight of the show choir’s year is doing the parties at HEARTH and caroling to raise money.”
“When the show choir performs the HEARTH kids are so attentive,” Cheryl adds. “For some of them it is the first live performance they’ve ever seen and their first exposure to the performing arts.”
The show choir is a two- to three-year commitment and the children are at HEARTH for up to two years, a continuity that allows friendships to develop. Photos of three show choir boys and three boys from HEARTH even appeared in the Norwin High yearbook.
On a personal level Cheryl says that HEARTH supports her philosophy of empowering women. “HEARTH does so much. Women who go there can change their lives. It’s not just a band aid; it’s a wonderful opportunity to become stronger women.”
When asked if there were any show choir experiences at HEARTH that stand out, Cheryl recalls that after one of their performances, a HEARTH resident told the choir that they were “jahara,” which she explained means “precious jewels.” “You are all precious jewels, all very different and multi-faceted,” she told the group. “You bring beauty and joy to people.”
Another year one little girl anxiously awaited the show choir’s arrival. When she saw them she started to cry and asked “Where’s Stephanie?” Stephanie had graduated and gone off to college, but a show choir member with red hair like the little girl’s quickly befriended her.
Continuing the good work
When Cheryl retired from Norwin High School in 2011 she hoped that the work with HEARTH would continue, and her successor has kept up the tradition. This year, chorus members went caroling to 28 different neighborhoods and collected $7,000.
These days Cheryl is devoting her time to her travel agency, Norwin Express Tours, and the Expressions in Harmony Foundation, which she created to support HEARTH. The foundation recently achieved 501C3 status, and it’s Cheryl’s vision that former students will continue their volunteer efforts and fund raising through the foundation.
“I’m always amazed when I look at how this has grown from one idea, one statement,” Cheryl says. “They were looking for someone to do Christmas stockings and here we are 15 years later. This effort has touched so many lives. The choir and the kids at HEARTH have good memories that will last a lifetime.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at HEARTH, contact Vicky Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out or Volunteer Contact Form here.
To learn more about the Expressions in Harmony Foundation, contact Cheryl Walter at email@example.com or visit the Foundation’s Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/express.harmony.
Jerry Flint didn’t have to go far to find his volunteer opportunity.
No stranger to helping others, Jerry had been very active in food and clothing drives when he was a member of the Key Club in high school. As an adult he wanted to resume volunteering but hadn’t found the right opportunity. That is until HEARTH moved to its new location right across the street from him on Mt. Royal Blvd. in Shaler Township.
“I went online to learn about HEARTH and its mission, and I liked what I read,” he recalls. “I wanted to help. And I also wanted to show HEARTH residents that there were people who welcomed them to the neighborhood.”
After speaking with the volunteer coordinator at HEARTH, Jerry learned that HEARTH residents needed transportation on Saturdays from the HEARTH property to McIntyre Square to shop or to get to their jobs because the bus line doesn’t run on Mt. Royal Blvd. on weekends.
Jerry quickly mobilized, enlisting his father, Chuck Flint, and friend Maggie Yaw to help him provide rides at 8:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
Jerry explains the logistics: “HEARTH residents sign up for their preferred times for Saturday rides by Thursday. On Thursday afternoon the HEARTH coordinator calls to tell me how many women have signed up and for what times. I then coordinate the shifts and send out an email to my fellow volunteers to confirm our times.” All told, he says that his volunteering takes just a few hours during the week and on the weekend, which doesn’t interfere with Jerry’s Monday-Friday job as a permanency specialist at a local social services agency. “It’s not difficult to fit the volunteering into my schedule. My weekend schedule is flexible, and I just make it work,” he says.
Those few hours make a big difference for the women and children who Jerry and his fellow volunteers transport. “They are so appreciative,” he says. “I’ve had many interesting conversations with the HEARTH residents, learning more about their lives and how they came to HEARTH.”
“The willingness and effort Jerry has demonstrated are extremely important for our families who don’t have vehicles,” says Vicky Gill, Communications & Community Outreach Manager at HEARTH. “It allows them to get shopping done on the weekends that they might otherwise not have the chance to do.”
Jerry downplays his role and is quick to recognize his father and friend Maggie for their volunteer efforts. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he says. “My father is always ready to help out, often on very short notice. There have been weekends when Maggie has happily driven all three time slots.”
Putting social media to good use, Jerry recently posted an item on Facebook asking for additional volunteers to help out on Saturdays, and he has a few more prospective volunteers lined up as a result.
“I’ve always felt that it’s important to help other people. It just feels good,” Jerry says. “If anyone is contemplating volunteering but is hesitating, I say ‘just do it.’ I like to think that what I do makes a difference.”
No doubt the families at HEARTH would agree.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at HEARTH, contact Vicky Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteering Runs in This Woman’s Family
For Anne Mlecko, volunteering at HEARTH is a family affair – one that spans three generations.
Anne’s mother, Judy Schreiber, began volunteering in 2007, lending her IT expertise as the outcomes database coordinator for HEARTH where she analyzes data for the organization’s reports and grants. And Anne has even enlisted her three young daughters as HEARTH volunteers.
Five years ago when Anne’s daughters were all in school she wanted to volunteer for a cause that she believed in and would fit into her busy schedule. HEARTH was the logical choice.
“I was looking for a way to give back, and I was familiar with HEARTH because of my mother’s work there,” Anne recalls. “I loved the fact that HEARTH helps women in every aspect of their lives, from housing to counseling to education. HEARTH helps the entire family. Children in school see their mothers in school so they’re good role models. I totally bought into HEARTH’s mission.”
For the past four years Anne and Eileen McGovern have coordinated activities around HEARTH’s Holiday donations. After getting a wish list of items from the women, Anne and Eileen contact the donors who provide the families’ gifts, Christmas trees, decorations, stockings and all the other items associated with the Holidays. Once she and Eileen receive the donations, they sort them and make sure they get to the appropriate families.
Spring Showers Bring New Volunteer Opportunities
Last year Anne helped to organize the Spring Shower, an annual event that provides HEARTH families with needed household items while giving donors the unique opportunity to tour the facility and chat with the families and hear about their challenges and successes firsthand. For that effort Anne contacted groups and individuals interested in participating in the shower, received and sorted the donations, and planned and supervised the actual event.
The 2013 Spring Shower was especially challenging because it was HEARTH’s first year in their new location, which was still under construction. That Spring Shower focused on providing new bedding items to outfit the new apartments, and Anne even coordinated volunteers to have the beds made up for the families when they arrived at their new homes.
This year, the Kitchen Odds n Ends Shower, http://hearth-bp.org/kitchenshower.html, which will be held on Wednesday, May 7 from 6:30 to 8 PM, is focusing on kitchen and household items to help stock the apartments for the HEARTH families. Anne is again coordinating the donors and donations and supervising the event.
Young Volunteers in Training
So how does a busy mother of three find the time to volunteer? “My work is done during school hours and HEARTH is very flexible with me,” Anne says. “And I bring my daughters with me. The girls get to see how HEARTH is helping other children. They’re training to be good volunteers.”
Anne’s daughters – Alexis, 14; Jenna, 11; and Maura, 10 — have sold raffle tickets at the Purses Luncheon, stocked shelves at the HEARTH store and babysat for HEARTH residents “My daughters love the kids!” Anne says. Her girls’ involvement has extended to school where they filled Easter eggs for the HEARTH Easter Egg Hunt and will sort and count them to get them ready for the festivities.
The Joy of Volunteering
Most of Anne’s work at HEARTH is done behind the scenes, coordinating logistics for events, and that’s OK with her. “When I do have the opportunity to meet the women and their children at the Spring Shower and when I gather the Christmas lists, everyone is so grateful,” Anne says. “It makes me feel good to know I’m giving back in some small way. I started out small, offering to do what I could and found more ways to help out.
“I feel a little self-conscious talking about my volunteering at HEARTH,” Anne adds. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight, but maybe someone reading this will be inspired to volunteer too.”
HEARTH is pleased to honor our Volunteers of the Year and all our volunteers.
“No one is more cherished in this world, than someone who lightens the burden of another.”
~ Author Unknown ~
We could not operate without our many volunteers.
We would like to give special thanks to these special volunteers.