The youngest was two.
When she went back to work as a Registered Nurse, she worked full-time.
And gave us twelve years of Catholic education.
When it was Sunday, we went to church.
If the Mass was for my deceased father at 7:00 a.m. on a weekday, we were there.
When the neighborhood kids got hurt playing football in our yard, she was there.
With peroxide and band aids in-hand.
When we were sick, she knew if we had a fever with a kiss on the forehead.
And we felt loved.
When we graduated from high school, we knew we’d be continuing our education.
We had already learned how important it would be to one day provide for our families.
When her parents were aging and we were grown, she moved out of our house and into theirs.
And took care of them.
When she was 55, she was told she had stage 4 ovarian cancer.
And faced her treatments with dignity and grace.
When she had her fourth remission and recurrence of cancer, she went into surgery.
Four hours later the surgeon said, “There’s nothing more we can do.”
When my brother and his wife went to a place called Medjugorje to pray for her, we got a miracle.
Our family’s faith was strengthened and her tumor shrunk 10 times without treatment.
When she went back to work as an ICU nurse, she also went to Medjugorje to say “thank you”.
And welcomed another grandchild.
When the cancer returned and the disease progressed, our priest came to visit.
He told us, “Her hope is that you all make the right choices throughout your lives.”
My mom spoke kindly, but didn’t have to say a word to teach us. We learned everything we needed to know by her loving example.
It’s how she lived her 60 years.
When people and causes come together, good things can happen. At Connellsville Area Community Ministries where 100 volunteers give life-sustaining help and hope to people who have fallen on hard times, you might say goodness is overflowing.
Last year alone, through its Food Pantry, Crisis Ministry, Care and Share Boutique and other programs, 4,395 boxes of food were distributed; 306 pieces of medical equipment went to people in need; 212 families received clothing, food, furniture and household items; and 112 families received help paying utilities and rent. And that’s just for starters.
“The volunteers are our life blood. We couldn’t open up on a day without them,” said executive director, Chip Rowan.
To find out why these givers do what they do, let’s meet a few of them –
Shirley Peterson is placing price tags on toys to be sold in the Care and Share Boutique. She began volunteering here after losing her husband. That’s when she met Linda, another widow, and the two became fast friends. “I told her I think we have a lot in common!
I like the Christian atmosphere. It’s a nice place to work. Even the boss is nice!”
Ben is 14 years old and is here for the first time. While he’s volunteering to fulfill his role in his high school’s Junior Honor Society, he’s discovering his own role in making a difference. “I feel good that I’m doing something for someone and to know they are getting something they need.” Before his four hour shift ended, Ben helped to pack 70 boxes of food for the pantry.
Haley Moreland is a Penn State, Fayette Human Development and Family Studies major. As part of a class assignment, she’s sorting donations of clothes and items. “I feel self-satisfaction helping people who can’t help themselves. It feels good providing for others.”
And in this 21,000 square foot facility, there is plenty for him to do.
“God has blessed me with my job of 36 years at West Penn Power. When I retired, I wanted to give back. So I come here two or three days a week to help any way that I can.”
Maria Nascimben volunteers for The Salvation Army, one of CACM’s partner organizations. “I’m excited to be here to select items for a yard sale that will allow us provide help to the community all year long.
I’m financially stable with a roof over my head. I have a car and bills that are paid. Lots of people are less fortunate. This is the good that I can do.”
Craig Grimm picks up and delivers donated furniture, helps in the Food Pantry and wherever needed. “Connellsville Community Ministries changed my life. They took me in and changed me into the person I am today. You have to want to be changed for the better. It makes a person feel good to give back.”
Janie Fabian, who is pricing items for the Care and Share Boutique, has come here five days a week for the past three years. “It gets me out of the house and I’m helping people. It’s like family here. If I don’t come in, I feel like I’m letting people down.”
I sometimes help a customer find something in the Boutique, but mostly, I work behind the scenes.
The volunteers here do what we do to help others. That’s what life is about.”
“I’m starting my life over. I was in prison for two years and recently got out. The ministry is helping me. It makes me feel good to help others.”
Jack Love manages the Food Pantry and has been a volunteer here for 22 years. He’s in charge of the ordering and inventory of thousands of pounds of food that feeds more than 2,000 people each month. For his volunteer service, Jack was recently named a Jefferson Award winner.
“Once you start giving to other people, it does something to you and you want to keep giving. I used to be shy, but volunteering here has made me more outgoing and has improved my relationships. I enjoy working with people to make a difference.”
Cris McDonough was standing outside the downtown ministry building three years ago to watch a parade, when she said, “It was like God lifted me by the back of the neck and was pulling me to serve here.
She began volunteering, using her typing and organizational skills, and six months later was hired as Chip’s executive assistant. Now, Cris has a job she loves.
“There is ministry happening through the back door. We see healing in our volunteers,” said Chip. For those they are here to serve, he remarked, “We are an extension of the church in the community. Sometimes, we’re that last chance for people when they have nowhere else to go.”
To become part of the good happening at Connellsville Area Community Ministries, contact volunteer coordinator, Rita Smith at 724-626-1120.
Do you volunteer in any capacity for your church or community? If so, join us on Saturday, April 16th, at the Connellsville Volunteer Appreciation Reception, an open house being held from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Carnegie Free Library. This National Volunteer Week event is a celebration of you and all those who give selflessly to make our community stronger!
They were best friends in 1995 when the song, “I’ll be there for you” by The Rembrandts was a number one hit. The song about friendship is striking a chord this week as they each prepare to undergo kidney transplant surgery. It is Kelly who needs the kidney and it is Suzi who will be there for her as the donor.
“I was 33 years old when I was diagnosed with FGFS Kidney Disease nine years ago. With no symptoms, I went in for some routine blood work and was told, “Your kidney function is bad.” She learned she was at end Stage 5 of this disease that causes scarring damage to the kidneys.
While Kelly wasn’t expecting the news, she wasn’t surprised to receive it. “My dad passed away when I was 10 years old from kidney failure. Both of my brothers, a niece, cousin, and uncle all have it too.”
Up until that time, she was leading an active life working as a nail tech at Nemacolin Woodlands Spa, going out with friends and walking four or five miles a day the Yough River Trail in Connellsville, PA, that borders her home.
A New Routine
The Dialysis Kelly has been on for the past three years has changed all that.
“I have a port to my stomach that I hook up myself to a machine for ten hours every night. It kicks in and drains about 8 lbs of fluid out of me after removing toxins. I do also do a daytime exchange too that lasts for 30 minutes.
A lot of people don’t have pain from Dialysis. I do. I get this pain that feels like period cramps. I’m on medication for it so now, I only have that pain when I first hook up and in the morning when I wake up.”
She also experiences fatigue, nausea, lightheadedness and dizziness. It’s the muscle cramps she gets during the night, though, that are the most difficult to endure. “They wake you up and are twenty times worse than the pain of a Charlie Horse. It’s so bad. ”
Going the Distance
Suzi Love just wants to take all that pain away from Kelly. So she’s driving 10 hours today from North Augusta, SC, to Pittsburgh, PA, to donate her kidney in a three-hour surgery that will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd at UPMC Montefiore.
Her preparation for the big day has been two years in the making. That’s when she tried to be tested as a match, but was denied and told her excess weight would prevent her from being a donor.
“I knew I was the right blood type and started losing weight. I had just divorced and was starting nursing school then. All that time I wanted to get healthy enough to be a match. After losing 40 pounds, Suzi was cleared to move forward and flew to Pittsburgh in November for two days of testing.
She was a match and was accepted as the donor.
“I’m still in shock that we were a one in a million match. To me, this is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I do this? She is my best friend. I’ve never see anything affect her like this in our 25 years of friendship.”
Suzi, who is an LPN, will be on short term disability for eight weeks as she recovers from surgery. Since her benefits won’t take effect until 30 days after surgery, she’s been working these last few months 80 hours a week in a skilled nursing center and part time in medical spa, where she is a licensed esthetician to “build a nest egg.”
She has also been going to school to become a Registered Nurse, but that is on hold now until summer.
It’s all worth it, she said.
Paying it Forward
“So many times I have struggled in my life and have been miraculously saved. I remember one time during my divorce when I was struggling financially. One of my clients at the spa gave me money for rent and refused my attempt to repay her. She said, ‘Just pay it forward.’ That’s what I’ve been doing and I am doing now.”
I am so happy and am chomping at the bit. I can’t wait to come up there. My kids are so excited too, saying, ‘You’re going to help save Kelly! I’m hoping I will get my best friend back. How many times I wanted her to visit and travel and she couldn’t because she was confined to her home with this illness.
Maybe it’s selfish on my part to want to keep my best friend. All I worry about is if the kidney will work. I know I’ll be fine.”
What it Means
What does it mean to Kelly to receive this gift from Suzi? “It means life. She’s saving my life. Suzi is an angel sent from Heaven. The love that she is showing me is so overwhelming. I don’t know how to thank her enough.”
Now, Kelly gets to plan for the future – while appreciating the things that are so easy to take for granted.
“I’m excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. After the transplant, I get to eat almonds! I’m looking forward to being free with food choices and getting back to an active life style. “
She’ll continue with, “Nails by Kelly”, the home-based business she started. I am so close to these clients and I love working for myself.
I try to stay positive and still walk on the trail. People ask me, ‘How are you feeling?’ I just want them to say, ‘Hi!’” I don’t want to feel like a sick person. I don’t want this to define me.”
And it won’t. It will be a bond so strong and faith so bold, that will instead.
The Road Ahead
Both Kelly and Suzi will remain in the hospital after the transplant surgery for one week. Kelly and her husband, Geno, will then have a room at Family House so that she can go into the hospital every day for monitoring and treatment.
Someday, she may need another kidney transplant. “FSGS is in my genes. It will attack my new kidney.”
What makes her strong? “My faith in God,” she said. I pray and I know. Not too long ago, I gave my life to the Lord. Since then, I have a different way of looking at things and know they will work out.”
Last week a surprise party was held in Kelly’s honor. “I’m overwhelmed by all the love and support, not only from Geno, but from family and friends.”
How You Can Help
And there’s more love and support on the way.
On Saturday, February 20th, the community is invited to attend “Kelly and Suzi’s Benefit Party” being held at the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport across from the Laurel Mall in Lemont Furnace, PA. Donations, that will help defray the associated costs of care, will be accepted at the door. The event will last from 5 pm – 10 pm and will include food, 50/50 and DJ.
A newly created GoFundMe page, Kelly and Suzi’s Kidney Exchange, is another great way to support the cause.
As they look forward to Tuesday’s kidney transplant surgery, these two Strong Women will be at the party enjoying friendship, saying thank you and most especially – celebrating life.
Tammy Burkey’s #1 goal was to be more productive and confident. The General Manager of Lynn’s DQ Grill & Chill in Connellsville, PA, wanted to be healthy too. But at 150 pounds overweight, her blood pressure was on the rise and her lower back and hip were in pain. Her weight was taking its toll. And she wasn’t alone.
That’s the idea behind the “People Who Inspire” series at MaryMotivates.com. I’m pleased to announce that a collection of these stories has become a book!
Drawing a circle on southwestern Pennsylvania, I set out to find the stories of ordinary people who are living extraordinary lives. The 27 people you’ll meet in this book all have ties to a 50 mile radius of Pittsburgh, PA. Some were born and raised in Connellsville while others reside nearby.
From eight year old Emily Ruggieri who honors her deceased father by collecting Girl Scout cookies to brighten the lives of patients and their families at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to 101 Eunice Arthur who simply lives to be happy – each one offers hope and inspiration.
Their lives are intertwined by geography, but their stories capture the unique challenges and triumphs people everywhere face each day. It is the choices they have made that will inspire you to live a life filled with passion and purpose.