The finalists are in!
In its second year, Direct Energy and Trib Total Media’s Pittsburgh Volunteer Citizen of the Year award program has named its five finalists: Teresa Amelio of North Hills Community Outreach, Maria Vondas of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania, Lutual and Sarah Love of A+ Schools, Roberta Hall of Naomi’s Way’s Wallace Avenue Soup Kitchen and Carol McCaskey of Deer Lakes School District’s Backpack Initiative to Fight Hunger. All five finalists have been invited to the Pittsburgh Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award Gala at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Saturday, March 30, where the winner will be announced. All proceeds from ticket sales to the gala will be donated among the four semi-finalists’ nonprofit organizations.
Teresa Amelio of McCandless, Pennsylvania has been a volunteer in many capacities for the North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO). One shining example of Teresa’s outstanding volunteerism is the establishment of NHCO’s garden two years ago. The garden, named the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden after Teresa’s mother, grows fresh fruits and vegetables to be distributed to families in need through local food pantries. Teresa inherited then donated the land and worked tirelessly for six years to raise money to create the garden, build fencing and a storage building, establish a water source and fund other tools necessary to maintain a successful garden for harvest. Due to Teresa’s example, she and the rest of the 300+ volunteers of the NHCO’s Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden have provided nearly 10,000 pounds of food to over 1,000 families.
Lutual and Sarah Love devote their lives to stopping bullying in A+ Schools’ districts. The Loves believe that the answer to anti-bullying isn’t to create harsh punishments, but to create an initiative by both parents and students to prevent bullying from occurring in the first place. Instead of removing their son from school after he was bullied, Sarah and Lutual sprung into action and with the help of fellow parents, community leaders in Hazelwood and the Parent Student Community Council (PCCC), created programs to help address the issues. Specifically, the Loves started a P.R.I.D.E program at Mifflin Elementary that rewards students for positive behavior and promotes a friendly and supportive environment. Sarah and Lutual have become leaders in the Mifflin community, as well as with other parents and A+ Schools because of their dedication to promoting a safe and educational culture for children of all ages.
After receiving the devastating news that her son, Christian, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Maria Vondas knew that her life would never be the same. Before his passing, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Christian and his family a trip to Walt Disney World. Determined to give back to the organization that helped her son smile, Maria wanted to ensure that all other children and families in her situation would be granted wishes as well. She created Christianpalooza, an annual fundraising event to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania that raised over $12,000 in its first year. Additionally, Maria also volunteers in local schools to provide children with fun activities that create memories, teaches them to cherish life and the importance of giving back. To Maria, volunteering isn’t just about the hours she gives to her community; it is about giving back the generosity to others that has been given to her family.
After she retired from the workforce, Roberta Hall wanted to do something to help others. Upon moving from Homestead to Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, she joined the Dunamis Baptist Church and volunteered in the Wallace Avenue Soup Kitchen, as part of the Naomi’s Way organization. Roberta felt that she had found her calling and eight years later, she is still helping feed those in need. She wakes up at 4:00 am four days a week to clean the soup kitchen and prepare food for the members of Wilkinsburg and surrounding communities so that they have hot meals and most importantly, to see them happy. Roberta also regularly assists in providing them with clothing and canned goods.
Carol McCaskey is a retired school teacher and as a part of the countless hours she devotes to many organizations within her community of Deer Lakes Township, Pennsylvania, she started the Backpack Initiative to Fight Hunger program. Adopted from an initiative that began at North Hills School District, the Backpack Initiative to Fight Hunger provides Deer Lake students with food for the weekends. Every Friday, Carol packs bags with enough non-perishable food to feed the student for the weekend and discreetly places them in the backpacks of students who are enrolled in the program before they go home for the day. Carol fundraises for the items included in the bags and her mission is to make sure that no child goes home hungry.
“All of these finalists are truly remarkable in what they do for others and it’s clear that they are a valuable asset to the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding communities,” said Sayed Khoja, commercial director for Direct Energy. “Choosing just one winner will be extremely difficult but being able to recognize these individuals and their nonprofit organizations is an honor for us.”
The Pittsburgh Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award Gala will be on Saturday, March 30. Tickets are open to the public and can be purchased online.