In June, Heather Chronis, Austin Avenue, received the Junior League of Pittsburgh’s highest award for volunteer service, the Anne D. Johnston Award. Chronis has donated time, energy and talent to many regional nonprofits, playing significant roles with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Easter Seals, The Denis Theatre Foundation, the Center for Creative Play, Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, the Red Cross, Pittsburgh Public Theater and Lidia’s Place. Earlier this year, she chaired the prestigious Cinderella Ball, which benefited the Heinz History Center, and she currently is chairing the popular Carnegie Trees, sponsored annually during the holidays by the Women’s Committee, Carnegie Museum of Art. She is employed in fund development at the University of Pittsburgh’s Eye & Ear Foundation, combining her love of philanthropy with her former career in biotech pharmaceutical sales.
What drives you to volunteer?
It was ingrained from an early age that you participate in your community. My mother volunteered as a rape counselor in the 1980s when people were just really starting to open the door on the discussion of sexual assault. My grandmother made quilts for the neonatal AIDS units of inner city Baltimore hospitals during the earliest days of the crisis. Neither shielded me from the reality of what more needed to be done to help in critical situations.
The Junior League trains volunteers. What skills do good volunteers need?
The number one thing is to understand the mission and vision of an organization. If you don’t understand what an organization is truly about, you can’t effectively help. Also, understanding why committee work is vital along with delegation of responsibilities. Finally, understanding the financial picture of an organization is vital, as it allows volunteers to help in a targeted, educated and thoughtful way.
How can volunteers help meet the needs of our region?
We are missing links between organizations that could help us prepare for the future. For example, how many individuals in Allegheny County are visually impaired? There is not a concrete answer. Volunteers can help by building bridges between organizations, so that we get to the root of a question, answer the question and move forward to make strides in building new infrastructure for our region.
Why volunteer when you could be completing your bucket list?
Who is to say that volunteer experiences can’t be on a bucket list? I have had the opportunity to meet world leaders, award winning thespians and Pulitzer Prize winning authors because of volunteering.
Please share a favorite moment from your volunteer career.
Legacy Day 2015 at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I was honored to take part in this inaugural event of the Carnegie Women’s Committee that gave 500 preteen and teenage girls memberships to the Carnegie. To know that so many girls will take their first steps into a life of loving arts and culture due to their memberships is one of the best things I have ever been involved in.
How do you get people to say yes to a volunteer job, an invitation to an event or request for a donation?
Know your victim, and know their weak areas! Seriously, though, know what people really like and appeal to that part of them. They will appreciate the cause and you so much more.
You meet so many people. Do you have a trick for remembering names?
That’s funny, because everyone in my family is great with names—it is just a family quirk. With a name that keeps escaping me, I tie the name to something they have told me that they like—foreign travel, books etc. When they start talking, it comes back to me.
Who inspires you?
Melinda Gates, rock star of 21st century philanthropy.