Compassion. Caring. Consultation. Credibility. These are the gifts Mt. Lebanon volunteers offer. Besides delivering services, volunteers help build a community of interconnected neighbors that benefits us all. April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week. It’s a good time to reflect on how volunteers enhance the quality of life in our town.
You may think volunteers are a given. Who hasn’t purchased booster tickets, attended fundraisers or helped at special events? But not every community can boast about its deep bench of volunteers. Volunteerism is nourished when, as in Mt. Lebanon, there is a strong helping culture, abundant opportunity, and municipal support.
Mt. Lebanon municipality utilizes volunteers, helps fund some community nonprofits, and celebrates nonprofit achievements through recognition by the Commission as well as in this magazine. The community relations board’s new Community Service Award, to be presented this month, is another opportunity for recognition.
More than 100 talented volunteers serve on Mt. Lebanon’s 17 boards, which range from B (board of appeals) to Z (zoning hearing board). These volunteers advise the Commission, often providing professional expertise the municipality could not afford to pay for. “Mt. Lebanon is very lucky to have residents who are active participants in the community and who are ready to serve when called on,” says Commission President Kelly Fraasch. “They are very important assets.”
Each board has a municipal staff liaison. Eric Milliron, Mt. Lebanon’s economic development officer/commercial districts manager, is liaison to both the economic development council (EDC) and the Mt. Lebanon Partnership, our nonprofit economic development agency. He applauds these boards: “If you don’t have volunteer energy, the community can’t think.”
EDC member Christopher Musuneggi, president of the Musuneggi Financial Group, brings strong business skills to the table and strongly believes the board structure promotes synergistic solutions. “You learn more than you ever imagine,” he says. Because the council includes representatives from the school board, Mt. Lebanon Partnership and the Uptown Business Association, “We can have a lot of input from other organizations to come up with a robust plan for Mt. Lebanon going forward.”
Mt. Lebanon partly funds the Partnership, which holds a nonvoting seat on the EDC. When residents talk about uptown Mt. Lebanon as a destination, they might well be referring to a visit to the Wesbanco Uptown Farmers’ Market, First Fridays or other Partnership-sponsored events that not only create a festive environment but also boost Washington Road’s retail, restaurant and professional offerings.
Steve Denenberg, owner of Create-a-Frame/Handworks Gallery on Washington Road, serves on the boards of both the Partnership and the Center for Theater Arts. “I have been in business for 40 years on the street and feel an obligation to give back to the community,” he says. Denenberg and his wife, Wendy, co-chair the Mt. Lebanon Artists’ Market held Uptown in September. It’s a yearlong planning effort, but the payoff is evident. Last year visitors viewed and purchased the work of 70 artists working in various media. Denenberg is quick to credit the corps of 40 to 50 volunteers who help make the event successful.
Another annual event that takes a full year of planning is Lebo Relay for Life. Several dozen volunteers serve on the event leadership team, chaired by Kate Truver and Teresa Donatelli, and 800-plus participant volunteers are expected to be involved in this year’s two-day event, scheduled for June 18 and 19 at Mt. Lebanon High School stadium. Individual teams hold fund-raising activities throughout the year for Relay, which has raised $1.2 million over the past six years to benefit the American Cancer Society.
Dedicated volunteers also support the go-to agencies and institutions we sometimes take for granted. Mt. Lebanon Public Library, St. Clair Hospital, the school district and the municipality’s recreation and fire department all depend on volunteers.
At the library, volunteers plan events, offer programs and help with publicity. The Friends of Mt. Lebanon Public Library raises funds for the Library’s extra needs. You may have encountered these volunteers at the Book Cellar (the used book store in the library’s lower level), the annual garden tour or the Beer Garden Bash. Why pick the library? Volunteers Ginger Boneysteele and Stacia Swanson agree: “[We]… think it’s wonderful,” says Boneysteele. “You get out, you meet the most interesting people, and of course we all love to talk about books.”
David McKibben is a library volunteer extraordinaire. A Friends board member and the primary coordinator of The Book Cellar and its Amazon Storefront, McKibben also is hands-on with the garden tour, selecting the gardens, handling publicity and staffing committee meetings. And that’s only some of the things that add up to his 3,000-plus service hours. Last year, McKibben received the Pennsylvania Citizens for Better Libraries (PCBL) Friend of the Year Award.
St. Clair Hospital boasts our community’s largest pool of volunteers. Some 600 senior (over age 18) and junior volunteers serve the hospital’s visitors and patients. Georgianne Williams, St. Clair’s director of volunteer services for almost two decades, says she tries to create a sense of family among volunteers and infuse their work with higher meaning. “I believe that you should leave your mark here on Earth by being kind to others and by providing help where it is needed,” she says.
St. Clair volunteer Margaret Conners started in 1985 and has shared more than 23,000 hours of her time. A past president of what formerly was known as the St. Clair Hospital Auxiliary, Conners currently provides the volunteer department with clerical services. Her flexibility and tenure helps explain why she is a past recipient of Mt. Lebanon’s “This Town Would Be Different Without…” award.
At the school district, The PTA Council, composed of PTA members from all 10 schools, provides training and support to individual PTAs, offers a district-wide parent education program and has a scholarship for high school seniors. The council president meets with the district superintendent, the Mt. Lebanon Education Association, the school board, and school administrators. Current president Julie Maselko came to this demanding position after holding leadership roles at Foster and Mellon Middle schools. What drew her to this volunteer career? “My goal is that when my kids graduate [they] would have received as good an education as possible.”
David Donnellan, Mt. Lebanon’s recreation director, says volunteers are embedded in our town’s array of leisure opportunities. Youth basketball, soccer, summer camps and the middle school ski club are just some of the places where volunteers pitch in as coaches, chaperones and aides to counselors. And volunteering is not just for grownups but also includes youth helpers and scout troops.
Volunteer efforts save tax dollars. Mt. Lebanon Fire Department has 45 volunteer firefighters who work alongside 17 full-time career professionals. These residents are a diverse group of men and women of different ages from many occupational backgrounds. Glenn Wallace, administrative deputy chief, credits the department’s Citizen Fire Academy as an exceptional outreach tool. Lasting 10 weeks, the academy offers a hands-on overview of fire, rescue and emergency equipment and techniques. A number of participants have gone on to join the volunteer company.
Some nonprofits’ missions focus on individuals with targeted needs and interests. Outreach Teen & Family Services, The Denis Theater Foundation, the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, and the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club (MLJWC) provide valuable services.
Outreach Teen & Family Services offers child, teen and family counseling services. Municipal underwriting enables Mt. Lebanon residents to have their first two sessions for free with reduced charges for subsequent sessions. Professional counselors staff the program, but Outreach relies on its board for legal advice, marketing and technical skills. Executive Director Mary Birks applauds these volunteers as one reason for Outreach’s 40-years of success.
Rekha Shukla, Outreach board president and self-proclaimed “serial volunteer” carefully researched Outreach before making her commitment and decided that her skills and interests and her passion for the cause made for a good fit: “Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always felt that volunteering enriched your experience. It’s something that I always want to be part of my life.”
Some nonprofits add cultural value to our community scene. Two such organizations are the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon and the Denis Theatre Foundation—repositories of our historic past and pathways to a recreated vibrant present set within walking distance of each other. Both are seeking capital funds to revitalize their facilities and attract regional audiences.
Located on Washington Road in an early 20th century Spanish colonial revival house, the society mounts exhibits, provides volunteer guides and organizes walking tours. Board president Jim Wojcik and volunteers Dave and Colette Frankowski illustrate why people help. For Wojcik, it is a lifelong love of history that he credits to his dad. An engineer, Wojcik pursued a master’s in history from Duquesne University as part of his pre-retirement planning. He’s following his passion today as a second career. The Frankowskis are longtime, ebullient historical re-enactors. They get dressed up for special tours at the history center but also enjoy working with inventory and as greeters. They agree that in sharing their interest in history, they also learn a lot.
The Denis Theatre, an iconic former movie house, opened in 1938 and closed in 2004. Before malls and multiplexes, it was cinema central. The Foundation’s vision of the updated Denis as “The Ultimate Coming Attraction” includes plans for two film auditoriums, a learning center and a visual arts display center.
Denis Theatre Board President Betty Jo Hirschfield Louik believes volunteers get more than they give. Making new friends, being part of the arts, and knowing that her mission takes her beyond her immediate spheres of life and work, all energize her. She is enthusiastic about the commercial district and believes the reopened Denis will make Uptown complete, becoming the cultural gem of Washington Road.
Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club (MLJWC) with more than 80 members, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017. Board President Dana Bloomburg says it well: “The idea of a women’s service organization is a long standing tradition of civic service; to give back to the community but also to respond to our needs as a whole person and to hold social events that help you to become more involved in Mt. Lebanon, and to get to know the people that you share the community with.” Members enjoy programs and networking events, but the defining activity is MLJWC’s gala, which raises thousands of dollars each year to benefit a designated regional charity that furthers the club’s mission—helping women and children.
Many of today’s families struggle to balance dual careers with kid time and “me time,” so finding time to volunteer can be challenging. And although most organizations are willing and able to help with the process, recent legal requirement that volunteers who work with children pass criminal records checks can serve as unintended barriers to volunteer service. That may make it even more important, however, to consider taking time out of our busy lives to help others and in doing so, help ourselves.
—Photography by George Mendel, Katelynn Metz, Elizabeth Hruby McCabe, Julie O’Hara, Sam Oshlag, Jacqueline Radin
Want to learn more? Visit the following to find out more about volunteering.
Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Boards and Authorities
Mt. Lebanon Partnership
710 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228-2018
Mt. Lebanon Public Library
16 Castle Shannon Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15228
St. Clair Hospital
1000 Bower Hill Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15243
Mt. Lebanon PTA Council
7 Horsman Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15228
Mt. Lebanon Recreation Department
900 Cedar Blvd. Second Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15228
Mt. Lebanon Fire Department
555 Washington Rd, Mt Lebanon, PA 15228
Outreach Teen & Family Services
666 Washington Rd, Mt Lebanon, PA 15228
The Denis Theatre Foundation
685 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228
The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon
200 Lebanon Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15228
Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club
Attn: Membership Chair
P.O. Box 13213, Pittsburgh, PA 15243