To honor some of its most caring and hardworking community members, the Triboro Ecodistrict asked residents to nominate someone they saw within Millvale-Etna-Sharpsburg going above and beyond to provide essential services to their communities during this pandemic.
From volunteer firefighters and postal workers, to restaurant owners and professional distillers, these are the individuals working and living in the Triboro Ecodistrict, and chosen by their community, to be recognized for their continued commitment to helping others.
Aisha Al-Zahrani, Registered Nurse
Aisha Al-Zahrani chose to become a Labor and Delivery Nurse because she wanted to advocate for women’s health and “support patients during one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.”
“It has been a scary and unsettling time for parents to be bringing life into the world during a pandemic,” Al-Zahrani said. “Just taking the time to make them feel safe and comfortable while also taking extra precautions that the hospital has set in place has been helpful in reducing their anxiety.”
Al-Zahrani lives in Millvale and said the borough has been amazing and has given residents some kind of stability during uncertain times. Specifically, the Millvale Community Share Table, New Sun Rising’s free produce box distributions through Farmers to Families, and the collaboration between Sprezzatura and Tupelo Honey Teas has been “incredible” to see.
“You can tell the sense of community we have here. Everyone has come together and supported each other.”
Jacqlyn Boggs, Outreach Manager at North Hills Community Outreach, Millvale Satellite
For Jacqlyn Boggs, being able to make a difference in someone’s life, whether that be tangible help, providing resources, or just an ear to listen, was her inspiration to become involved in community outreach.
The person who nominated Boggs to be honored as a Triboro Ecodistrict Essential Worker said Boggs “and her team have gone above and beyond to make sure the citizens of Millvale area have access to food, emergency assistance, etc. You won’t find a harder working individual serving Millvale right now.”
When Boggs looks around the Millvale community, she applauds and is in awe of others who stepped up to take care of their neighbors.
“I watched Boys & Girls Club with Shaler School District work together to provide lunches for students, local businesses donating to make sure anyone hungry could get a meal, local churches provide gift cards/bags of food to those in need, residence stepping up to be buddies to each other, [New Sun Rising] setting up produce distributions, and Shaler High School Seniors holding a food drive to support local food pantries. It makes me proud to be working in Millvale,” Boggs said.
Gabe Cetra, Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service
Gabe Cetra said he was never meant to sit behind a desk, and his decision to work as a letter carrier for the USPS was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
The most rewarding part of the job?
“Without a doubt, it’s the people that I serve,” Centra said. “Being able to connect them with each other, and with family and friends all over the world, is kind of mind blowing when you think about it. Birthday cards, letters, holiday greetings, Christmas gifts, and so much more are trusted to me every single day. I’m honored to serve a community like Millvale and grateful for the kindness that they show me day in and day out.”
During this pandemic, Centra said he has been inspired by how Triboro residents have supported one another and he is proud to be contributing to the sustainability of small businesses as they continue to expand “their mail order opportunities.”
James Machajewski, Assistant Chief of Millvale Volunteer Fire Department, Emergency Management Coordinator of the Borough of Millvale, Borough of Millvale Council President, Electrophysiology Nurse at UPMC Shadyside Hospital
There are two things that inspired James Machajewski’s professional and volunteer endeavors: the urge to help others and the pride he has for Millvale. He has been with the Millvale Volunteer Fire Department since 1989, a registered nurse since 1994, served as the Borough’s Emergency Management Coordinator since 2007, and he was elected to council in 2009 and has served as president since 2013.
“Knowing that I can make a difference is the most rewarding part of my jobs,” Machajewski said. “Whether it is physically helping out, providing information, or just lending an ear to listen, you know you can make a difference that can mean a lot to someone in need.”
This pandemic has sparked familiar feelings for Machajewski, similar to those felt when Millvale has gone through other difficult times.
“It may sound strange to some, but my experience in Millvale during this pandemic has once again made me feel Humbled, Honored and Proud to be a part of our town. Just like some other unfortunate events that have disrupted our normal daily lives in the past, the residents and businesses in Millvale have found ways to come together to protect and help each other in a time of need.”
Millvale Community Share Table
The Community Share Table in Millvale is a partnership between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania’s Northern Area Clubhouse and Shaler Area School District to provide youths ages 18 and younger grab-and-go meals for breakfast and lunch. With volunteers from Northern Area Boys & Girls Club, Millvale Community Library, and Millvale Youth Dance, the table also holds free food and other items for all ages. These are the four volunteers associated with the Share Table that were nominated as Triboro Ecodistrict Essential Workers.
Roman Benty, Youth Program Director at Millvale Community Library, Millvale Youth Dance Chaperone, Celebrated Talent Show Judge
“I think it was a great way to get to know people I’d always seen around town, but never got the chance to talk to. COVID has forced us all to slow down and reexamine different practices and processes in our lives,” Benty said.
“The share table ended up being a space where folks could come together over food and share their hopes, gripes, fears, and reflections. Millvale is the kind of town where people like to talk, and we saw that in full effect. In some ways, I think people gained as much from the social interactions with neighbors and friends as they did from what was actually on the table. I will forever have a very special place in my heart for my fellow lunch ladies from the Boys & Girls Club and Millvale Youth Dance.”
Kate Davis, Program Manager at Northern Area Boys & Girls Club, Volunteer at Millvale Youth Dance, Borough Christmas Carnival and Bingo at Lloyd McBride Court
“I feel the share table was a great way to bring so many different organizations together to help out the community. I met many amazing people that I call friends now,” Davis said.
“Not only was it the [Millvale Community Library], Northern Area [Boys & Girls Club], and [Millvale] Youth Dance, but we worked with a few of the churches, borough, [Millvale Community Development Corporation], 412 Food Rescue, and many of the local establishments such as Cousins Lounge, Sprezzatura, and Jean Marc Chatellier’s.
It also gave many people a chance to meet people in the community they could go to for outreach if they need help. Sometimes it is hard to make those connections on our own.”
Sue Goetz, Branch Director at Northern Area Boys & Girls Club, Volunteer at events for Millvale Volunteer Fire Department, Millvale Music Fest, Millvale Days, and the VFW
“[The most rewarding part of my job is] how great our community comes together. They always want to help each other in times of need and are very generous. They even made sure, many times, that we were OK and offered to help volunteer if we needed them,” Goetz said.
Jenny Mendak, Director of Family and Youth Development at Millvale Community Development Corporation, Body Piercer at Three River Tattoos, Volunteer at numerous Millvale events
“I believe the share table brought the community closer in ways of allowing us to help each other and also meet [people in] the community we never met before. My experience was rewarding and sometimes I felt guilty for enjoying the Share Table, because it was a thing of [need] for people, but I always tried to make it fun, kind, and as uplifting as possible,” Mendak said.
Lucky Sign Spirits: Matt Brudnok and Christian Kahle, Professional Distillers
The satisfaction of developing new spirits and perfecting others is one of the reasons Matt Brudnok and Christians Kahle decided to build a business around their love for strong drink.
They said anytimes they’ve needed assistance during the pandemic, someone in the community has been able to lend a helping hand. In return, Brudnok and Kahle used their distillery to create sanitizer for essential workers and keep helping hands clean.
“We both realized during the beginning of the pandemic that we had the technical ability and access to make Hand Sanitizer. Even though it nearly bankrupted us we went ahead as it was more important to help those on the front line,” Kahle said.
Lucky Sign Spirits made and distributed 2,500 bottles of hand sanitizer for free to first responders throughout the region.
Carl Funtal, Retired Shaler Police Officer, Current Chief Pierogi Officer at Cop Out Pierogies
It’s his love for good Polish food, and people, that led Carl Funtal to open Cop Out Pierogies. The joy he’s able to bring his customers by providing a quality product and customer service, as well as giving back to the community, is the most rewarding part of his job.
Funtal said he, along with “many groups and individuals” that helped him with these endeavors, provide meals for Emanuel Lutheran Church and have donated a portion of Cop Out Pierogies Lenten Fish Dinners to the Etna Volunteer Fire Department and Shaler Hampton EMS. Funtal is also a board member of the Etna Economic Development Corporation (EEDC).
During this pandemic, Funtal said the support he’s received from the Etna community, including the Borough of Etna and organizations like the EEDC and Etna Community Organization “has been outstanding.”
“As well as the love and support of so many loyal customers and friends.”
Rev. Jonathan “JJ” Lynn, Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Etna
Rev. JJ Lynn said it’s impossible for him to pick out one aspect of his work being more valuable than another, but it is clear to him that all of the work he does is “based on good relationships.”
“The gift to witness the miracle of relationships built on respect and love for one another overcome obstacles and bridge cultural divisions to empower unity; the gift to be a part of the realization of the abundance of life that is around us and see us harness our individual gifts and skills to work for the common good of the community and world; these are probably the top three aspects that bring me the most gratitude,” Rev. JJ said.
The person who nominated Rev. JJ Lynn to be honored as a Triboro Ecodistrict Essential Worker said from the very beginning, Rev. JJ jumped into action to ensure both children and adults in the community did not go hungry. He opened the doors of Emmanuel Lutheran Church to serve lunches and joined others in the Borough to assure the Bread of Life Food Pantry had enough food and volunteers.
“He made himself and Emmanuel available in whatever capacity was needed.”
Tina Olzak, Staffing Manager at Harmar Village Care Center
At the end of the day, Tina Olzak said the most rewarding part of her job is knowing that she has helped care for the residents at Harmar Village Care Center “by providing them with them with the best staff.”
Olzak was nominated as a Triboro Ecodistrict Essential Worker by someone in her community due to her 25 years in the healthcare industry and “risking her life every single day” to take care of her residents.
Scott Bailey, School Police Officer for Fox Chapel Area School District
As a fifth generation Law Enforcement Officer, police work is a family tradition for Scott Bailey. He feels an immense amount of gratification helping others and takes pride in the lessons he learns from his son’s who are both autistic, and he looks to them for inspiration on how to educate the law enforcement community about proper procedures when interacting with autistic citizens.
Throughout this pandemic, Bailey said it’s been difficult not having contact with some of the students who teachers and other administrators haven’t heard from. “But in Police work, you have to adapt, overcome and re-evaluate the situations. That is exactly what I did,” Bailey said.
Bailey has helped facilitate weekly meal distributions, connected with teachers and staff about students that need to be checked on and if they need food, technology, clothing, etc. For families with unreliable transportation, Bailey has been able to deliver what the students need to their homes and was involved in distributing laptops to students at the start of the shutdown.
“Working with the students and providing for their needs, to be a mentor and be there to listen without judgment, and to just be that friendly face that any student can depend and count on. To make all students feel safe while obtaining a quality education, these are the most rewarding parts of my job.”
Lauren Broyles, Second Harvest Board Member + Representative to the Triboro Ecodistrict Advisory Council, Roots of Faith, Market Garden, and S. Vincent de Paul Volunteer, Professional Grant Consultant
To allow her more time and energy to get involved within the community, Lauren Broyles made some lifestyle changes several years ago that have enabled her to bridge her hobbies with her professional life. Then in 2019, her “doorway into Sharpsburg” opened when Bonnie DeMotte, executive director of Second Harvest, “reached out looking for folks to help with a new thrift store.”
“The most rewarding aspects of volunteering in Sharpsburg have been making new friendships and the opportunity to connect with other people around growing new things — food, gardens, programs, and a new store and community asset in Second Harvest.”
The time she has spent volunteering during the pandemic has led her to find innovative ways to engage with the community, like her work coordinating the Bloom Where You Are Planted container garden program, which gave Triboro residents a tomato or strawberry plant, soil, and five-gallon bucket to grow their own food over the summer.
“My experience has overwhelmingly been watching people stepping up to the plate, and finding practical and creative ways to help and connect during the economic stresses and isolation,” Broyles said.
Bonnie Demott, President and Executive Director of Second Harvest
Bonnie DeMotte said from its inception, Second Harvest’s desire was to make an impact on the community. Therefore, when the shutdown began, it was inevitable that the organization would step in to meet the needs of the borough.
“When we saw that the pandemic was greatly exacerbating the existing food insecurity problem, the Board agreed that we should help in any way that we could. We partnered with Roots of Faith, Fox Families Care, Backpacks For Hunger and The Sharpsburg Neighborhood organization to deliver bags of groceries to seniors and other vulnerable populations within our community. We also created the Dinners For Friends program to support local restaurants and residents with prepared dinners for pick up. Overall, we distributed over $120,000 worth of groceries, and close to $30,000 to local restaurants.”
The gratitude expressed by the people served through these programs has been heartwarming for DeMotte, and she has been grateful for the volunteers that “come out religiously for months every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday” to transport groceries from Butler to Sharpsburg, pack, and deliver the food. She is also thankful for the donations Second Harvest received to support their pandemic work.
“The way everyone rallied in their own way to make sure our neighbors were fed was truly moving. It was a privilege to be a part of it.”
Father Michael Decowicz, Senior Parochial Vicar of the Lower Allegheny Valley parish grouping and Director of Addiction Recovery Ministry in Pittsburgh
For 41 years, Father Michael has been a Catholic priest, a profession he was inspired to pursue unsurprisingly by his faith, but also his commitment to serving others.
To bring comfort to individuals during the pandemic, he has been posting weekly video presentations on Facebook and on the Addiction Recovery Ministry Pittsburgh website that cover a variety of topics “to help those in need during this time of isolation” and “to those struggling with the disease of addiction.”
“I have discovered once again a real sense of neighborhood and community in Sharpsburg that makes this town a very special place,” Father Michael said. “Walking through Sharpsburg, I have been able to talk with the wonderful people that live here and hopefully have been a source of comfort and hope.”
Rosemarie Haas, Administrative Assistant for Saint Juan Diego Parish of the Lower Allegheny Valley parish grouping and for the Addiction Recovery Ministry
Rosemarie Haas has lived in Sharpsburg all her life, and she considers it “an honor and a privilege” to help those within her community. Whether it be the smiles, tears, or words of thanks from those she assists, she said it fills her “heart with joy.”
When Haas saw how individuals and families were impacted by the pandemic, especially by food insecurity, she knew that she had to step in and help in some way.
“I saw people in Sharpsburg and throughout our nation lining up to receive free food, and after our food pantry donated all they had, I knew I had to help restock their shelves,” Haas said. “Since I am a little familiar with social media, I thought reaching out and asking for donations of food and money was a small way to help restock the shelves. I am so grateful to all those who responded so generously with their donations.”
Douglas Lane, Electrician, Volunteer Firefighter for the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department
Douglas Lane’s grandfather was a firefighter and president of the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department from the 1950s to the 1980s. A few years ago, Lane said his brother Dennis joined the department and he decided to follow suit.
“Being a part of the solution to any problems that arise [is the most rewarding part of volunteering],” Lane said. “I’ve volunteered in the past in a few capacities for a few different Sharpsburg organizations. I like helping people and serving the community.
Since the pandemic began, Lane said there have been a lot of new regulations that keep first responder safe, which he has been following closely to keep himself, his family, and his community safe from spreading the virus.
Lane said it’s been difficult to see Sharpsburg businesses closing their doors due to the pandemic, but he knows it’s a temporary setback.
“The Borough has shown strong leadership and I’m proud to be able to continue to serve the community despite everything.”
Kathleen Stanley, Director of Outreach at Faith United Methodist Church/Roots of Faith
Kathleen Stanley said Sharpsburg feels like her second home and getting to know the people and their stories, anad be part of the great things happening in the borough, is part of what keeps her coming back day after day.
“It sounds silly, but I get great joy when I’m out in the community and someone recognizes me and they say, ‘Hey Kathleen, how are ya, how’s the kids?” It makes me feel like part of the community.”
When asked about her experience working in Sharpsburg during the pandemic, community was also the first word that came to her mind.
“People from all walks of life pulled together to help each other, no one cared about race, ethnicity, religion, social status, or our economic differences. For a brief moment in time, we were all united, we each brought our unique gifts to the project and we got it done.”
Stanley said Roots of Faith created a project called “Sharing the Harvest” where they and about 30 volunteers gathered, cleaned, packaged and delivered or handed out almost 500 bags of groceries every week for three months. Roots of Faith also kept its social services open to assist people with paying utilities, filing for unemployment, connecting to medical professionals, and provided COVID-19 resources.