Produced and written by Andrea Bosco Stehle | Special thanks to Connie George of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Discover whose hearts of gold are giving rise to the city’s charitable narrative
By definition, philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. Many Pittsburghers know the actions and rewards of that fervent, four-syllable word, including the 11 power couples we are highlighting as our 2016 Couples Who Make A Difference. They are steadfast, humble, striking, and honorable, and the work they do and the time they volunteer is truly inspiring.
Theodora + Troy Polamalu
Our team met Troy and Theodora Polamalu at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens on a cold and surprisingly sunny morning in January. They arrived, wardrobes in-hand, with warm hugs to give. We ventured from the vibrant Orchid Room to the luminous Desert Room, taking in the gorgeous sights, smells, and sounds as Phipps’ staff prepped for its Spring Flower Show.
The Polamalus continue to support Phipps, one of their favorite places to take their sons, Paisios, 7, and Ephraim, 5. Between takes, we talked skiing, school, and family, and during takes — well, their love for each other was radiant. Like their partnership, they remain loyal to organizations bettering our community.
“The best part of supporting so many great causes is being able to experience the fruits of our labor through the smiles and gratitude of those who are impacted,” Theodora says. “It is an exercise of compassion for mankind to give your time, energy, talents, and resources. When you have the opportunity (as we do) to physically experience the joy your energy brings, it becomes infectious. Giving is a major part of our life because we want to be able to make the community and world around us more hopeful for a better now and a brighter future.”
Their kindness is evident, even through small gestures like offering to drive us to the other side of the Conservatory during our photo shoot — the temperature was frigid!
“Troy and I believe every person, regardless of status, can make a positive impact in the community around them,” Theodora says with a smile. “We have been fortunate enough to reside in one of the most philanthropic cities in the country and have been motivated by the generosity of Pittsburgh to continue the cycle of giving with purpose.” The following pages are a true testament to that trend of giving.
The Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation Fund supports The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, Community Living and Support Services (CLASS), FOCUSNA, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, The Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, The Harry Panos Fund for Veterans, Veteran Leadership Program, Operation Once in a Lifetime, Canyon Heroes, Journey to Normal, and The Bartko Foundation.
Troy and Theodora recently took up snowboarding. “Naturally, only after a few times, Troy has mastered it and is basically a professional,” Theodora says. “We still have a lot of fun despite me being a novice. He motivates me to get better so we can have more fun on the mountain together.” This winter, they are hitting the slopes at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, then ducking inside for pizza and hot chocolate!
Gary Kline + David Highfield
David is a Reporter for KDKA-TV and co-hosts “Your Pittsburgh” with Susan Koeppen. Gary is a Professor and Assistant Head of Acting/Musical Theater at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. The couple was married at The National Aviary on Pittsburgh’s North Side in October 2015 after being together for 10 years.
David serves on the board of the PERSAD Center. He supports ARC of Armstrong County, the Progressive Workshop of Armstrong County, Hair Peace Charities, and the KD Turkey Fund.
Gary has given his time and talent toward fundraising events including Carnegie Mellon University’s Capital Campaign and the American Ireland Fund Gala in honor of retired CMU President Dr. Jared Cohon. He also volunteers to direct music for CMU’s annual observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The couple enjoys hosting dinner parties for friends (Gary loves cooking), playing tennis together, and traveling.
This year’s American Ireland Fund Gala is on March 17. On April 30 and May 1, Hair Peace Charities will partner with the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon for the Run for a Reason Charity Program. On May 2, support the PERSAD Center at its 28th Annual Art Auction.
Cathy + Rich Fitzgerald
Rich is the Chief Executive of Allegheny County. Cathy is a Pharmacist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Chief Biscotti Baker for the Fitzgerald Administration.
Rich supports the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Remake Learning Council, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, Vibrant Pittsburgh, VisitPittsburgh, and World Affairs Council. Cathy serves on the board of the Y of Greater Pittsburgh and is especially excited about her involvement in the re-imagination of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.
After 30 years spent raising eight kids and working on political campaigns with the kids in tow, the “very recent empty-nesters” enjoy quiet time in their home when they’re not working or attending events.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to Marvin Hamlisch on February 13 with A Musical Valentine: The Love Songs of Marvin Hamlisch. On February 19, the Senator John Heinz History Center will host History Uncorked. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 120th Anniversary Celebration, which marks the anniversary of its first concert, is on February 27.
“One of our basic principles in all facets of life is that you try to leave things better than when you found them. Twenty-five years ago, our community involvement started by working to get a new playground built at Liberty School in Shadyside, where our kids attended. That playground is still getting lots of use, and that sense of helping to improve the community is what drives us every day.” — Rich
“When Rich suggested running for public office after we had just had our eighth child, we may have had a spirited discussion that began with ‘Are you crazy?’ But at the end of the day, this was a way to truly have an impact on the quality of life of our expanding community. There may not be quick or easy solutions for every issue, but you keep working, keep moving in the right direction. And the best part of all that is when the playground opens, when we can find permanent homes for homeless veterans, when a company chooses Allegheny County, when quality afterschool programs are available to children in our community, when public transit is strengthened, when our county gets healthier, or when a new flight or airline chooses Pittsburgh International Airport, you think: This is why we do what we do.” — Cathy
Dr. Stanley + Nikol Marks
Stanley is Chairman and Chief Medical Officer of UPMC CancerCenter; Director of Hematology Oncology at UMPC Shadyside Hospital; and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He also serves on the board of Via Oncology and is Chairman of Cancer Treatment Services International (CTSI). Additionally, he was the founding Medical Director of Allegheny Hospice. Nikol is a Physician Assistant at UPMC CancerCenter in the Hillman Cancer Center’s Division of Hematology Oncology.
The couple supports the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, where they are Circle of Hope members; the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Animal Friends; Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center; The Humane Society; American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; New York Bully Crew; YMCA; Lending Hearts; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (Stanley is a co-founder of the Western PA Chapter); Ladies Hospital Aid Society; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh; Coaches Versus Cancer; American Cancer Society; United Jewish Federation; Hillel Academy; Friendship Circle; Cancer Caring Center (Stanley is a co-founder); and the Stanley M. Marks Endowed Research Fund, which has close to $3 million donated in part by grateful patients, families, and supporters of the CancerCenter.
Nikol and Stanley stay active together; they love working out and staying fit. They also enjoy dining at Pittsburgh’s hottest new restaurants as well as staying in for home-cooked meals with the family. They travel to their South Florida home as often as possible and are obsessed with their rescue pit bull, Karma.
Support Lending Hearts at its 2016 Gala on February 25. The 5th Annual B*tches Ball to benefit the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center is on March 10. On April 9,
attend the 24th Annual JDRF Gala. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man & Woman of the Year event is on May 13.
“Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Stanley and I have such a great love and respect for the city — especially the people. He was an integral part in developing and growing the oncology delivery system throughout the region, and although the Cancer Center Network has become vast, it is still very personal to us. Together, we treat countless patients daily — many of whom have become friends and hold special places in our hearts. We are involved in so many activities that truly define our roles in the community, from numerous charitable functions, to helping someone in need who is in search of medical advice — Stanley receives calls day and night, and is always happy to go above and beyond to help. We try to instill these values in Josh and Jordan (Stan’s children; my step-children), and we are happy to say they definitely follow their dad’s example when it comes to kindness and giving.”
“It feels amazing and rewarding to give back. We both feel that it is simply a way of life to do so. We are so fortunate to have so much love, health, and happiness in our lives — it is just natural to want to share that with others.” — Nikol
Jimmy + Dilya Wan
Jimmy and Dilya are the Owners of Jimmy Wan’s Restaurant and Lounge in Fox Chapel and Cranberry. The couple supports their local schools and churches, the American Heart Association, HEARTH, Autism Speaks, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, and The Woodlands Foundation.
When they’re not spending time with their three children, Jimmy and Dilya enjoy supporting Pittsburgh’s culinary Renaissance. “The continuing evolution of Pittsburgh dining is remarkable.”
The 2016 Pittsburgh Heart Ball, which benefits the American Heart Association, is on February 20. Support Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Greater Pittsburgh at the 7th Annual Fashion for Kids’ Sake on April 12. This year’s Hops for HEARTH: A Beer Tasting is on April 16. On May 17 and 23, grab your clubs and get to the Start Something Golf Classic to benefit BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh and the 2016 Woodlands Golf Classic in support of The Woodlands Foundation, respectively. Walk for Autism Speaks on June 12 in Schenley Park. And, save the date for this year’s Fall Festival at The Woodlands on October 15.
“We are truly blessed to be able to raise our family in Pittsburgh, exposing our children to the many great experiences that make the city truly deserving of its recognition as the most livable city.”
“We all have the opportunity to be a catalyst for positive change in our community by supporting great causes, local schools, churches, and charities. Modest contributions add up quickly to make very real differences in people’s lives. It is wonderfully gratifying to be part of a group of socially conscious people wanting to make Pittsburgh a better place not only today, but also for the future.” — Jimmy
Gary + Melissa Dellovade
Melissa is the Owner of the Pure Barre studios in Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, and Murrysville. Gary is the Owner of Del Metro, Inc., and Managing Partner of ICON EBS, Inc. The couple supports Casey’s Clubhouse and Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh, among others. Melissa participated in Dancing for a Cause 2015 to benefit Watchful Shepherd USA, and she is serving as a co-chair for the Wine Women & Shoes event to benefit the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and Institute for Sports Performance and Innovative Research (InSPIRe) on June 7. She is also a planning committee member for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southwestern PA’s Green Tie Gala, to be held on December 1.
Melissa and Gary love to travel, especially to New York City. But their favorite thing to do together is make homemade pizza and go for long walks with their dogs, Ruby, Sam, and Winston.
“As part of a larger Pure Barre family, we focus heavily on creating a community atmosphere within our studios. Our concept is really not something where you stop in, get your exercise knocked out for the day, walk out, and check the box that you exercised. We are a reflection of the respective communities in which we reside. We have created a valued and unique environment inside each Pure Barre location — that’s what makes us special. Annually, Pure Barre Headquarters invites all studios nationwide to participate in the Pure Give challenge. It’s a competition where each studio chooses a charity they are passionate about and competes to see which can raise the most money. Pure Barre provides a donation match for the top three studios and other fun incentives along the way. The studios and clients have a friendly, but competitive spirit amongst them. Last year, the company raised over $180,000, which supported over 100 different charities across the country! Locally, we work with the community to align with local charities allowing Pure Barre staff and clients to affect change through the studio.”
“My goal in opening Pure Barre in the Pittsburgh area was to not only provide a unique fitness experience, but also to provide an environment where people feel very much a part of everything we are doing — something bigger than themselves, bigger than a brand name, bigger than their name, and something that we can all look back on and be proud of. Hopefully there’s something here that lives well beyond all of us and not so much for the exercise and the wellness on its own, but more so the impact it can have on someone’s life as the whole.”
“Venture into the studio and you will find a warm, inviting atmosphere where people from all walks of life feel welcome. You keep coming back, not only because it delivers results, but because it’s your spot. Your hangout. A place where you feel your most confident. We are a family at each of my Pure Barre locations — we laugh, achieve goals, and even cry together. Many clients in their sticky socks have made new friendships that they will have for the rest of their lives. We offer pop-up classes outside of the studio as well to further broaden our community and Pure Barre experience. Ultimately, Pure Barre is more than just a workout; its a lifestyle, where women share a sense of community in which they are empowered by each other’s fitness and lifestyle goals.” — Melissa
Adam Kunes + Julie Abramovic Kunes
Julie is the Public Relations Manager at Fairmont Pittsburgh. Adam is the Owner and Founder of Have Fun. Do Good. (HFDG), and That’s Crisp. The couple supports Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (Julie is a member of the Thrive Young Professionals Advisory Board), Grow Pittsburgh, Animal Friends, Light of Life Ministries, Circle Tail, Inc., Semester at Sea, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, and an ongoing list of charities and causes through HFDG.
Adam’s company, HFDG, facilitates immersive volunteer experiences such as “Weekend Warrior” trips, corporate programs, and local one-day service projects that allow volunteers to come together and help those in need. Part of the mission of the organization is to highlight the important work of the many nonprofits with which they partner and offer its participants a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. HFDG continues to partner with Pittsburgh’s ever-growing volunteer community, and local and national nonprofits including Habitat for Humanity, Operation Helping Hands in New Orleans and City Blossoms in Washington, D.C.
Much of Julie’s volunteer work began through her role at Fairmont Pittsburgh where she manages the charitable partnerships and community outreach for the hotel. She got involved with Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (GPLC) and Grow Pittsburgh through Fairmont, and quickly increased her involvement once learning about the organizations. Julie served on the steering committee for GPLC’s new young professionals board, Thrive, and is a current board member. She has also been a member of the Leaders for Literacy Luncheon planning committee since 2011 and has helped to secure numerous grants for Grow Pittsburgh through Fairmont’s corporate giving program.
Both Adam and Julie are passionate about animal adoption and welfare, and support many of the animal shelters in the area. They also support Circle Tail, a nonprofit in Pleasant Plain, Ohio, which provides service dogs to people with disabilities. Both of the couple’s dogs were adopted from Circle Tail, and they even incorporated a donation to the organization at their wedding in lieu of favors.
When they’re not helping others, Julie and Adam enjoy traveling, exploring Pittsburgh’s growing dining scene (aka eating and drinking!), and spending time with their dogs, Edie (Fairmont Pittsburgh’s Canine Ambassador) and Huck.
Have Fun. Do Good. has coordinated the “Shake ‘n Break” alternative spring break March 7-11 with the University of Pittsburgh, where students will travel to Asheville, N.C., and volunteer with a variety of nonprofits. The Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council’s annual Trivia Bowl is on April 3.
“Obviously, we’re all doing these things to ultimately help others, and that’s the biggest focus. But there’s also a personal benefit. Giving back keeps you grounded. It forces you to look at things with a different perspective and reflect on how much we have to be thankful for. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to create these experiences for others and see firsthand how service changes people’s perspective and attitudes.” — Adam
“For me, it’s easy to get lost in the event planning and fundraiser efforts, and sometimes forget the larger mission that you’re doing all of that for. When you step back and see how your efforts, although maybe not directly, helped someone get their GED or secure a great job, that’s powerful. I recently attended an event at GPLC and had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the students (something I don’t often get to do, despite working very closely with the organization for many years). I met a refugee family from Iran and learned how GPLC is helping to change their lives for the better here in the U.S. That really reignited my passion and reminded me of why we’re doing the work.” — Julie
Harris + Janet Ferris
Harris is the Executive Director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Janet is the Fiscal Assistant of Sojourner House Inc. The couple supports Animal Friends, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Sewickley Hunt. Additionally, Harris represents Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on the board of Dance USA and is a Gubernatorial Appointee to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.
“We both are passionate about the places we work and the causes they represent — Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for the inspiration and art it brings to the community and Sojourner House for the vital support it provides women and children in need. We spend a lot of our time representing Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and advocating for the arts and other nonprofits throughout the city — whether it’s attending events or taking in a show. We also feel strongly connected to our home and neighborhood in East Liberty. After moving to Pittsburgh, it was important to us to invest in a neighborhood that we saw was revitalizing and reinventing itself. We did this by purchasing the first net-zero, rehabbed home in Pittsburgh, later adding on a rain garden and other eco-friendly features. We feel strongly about preserving open spaces and the environment, and spend a lot of our free time outdoors riding or just being around our horses.”
“Working for Sojourner House, which provides alcohol and drug rehabilitation for single moms along with housing for them and their children, I have witnessed the dynamic life-changing work of my colleagues in the nonprofit sector. I have lived in many cities around the country, from Buffalo and Princeton to Seattle, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. I have found Pittsburgh to be one of the most generous in the philanthropic category. In my early days at Sojourner House, I remember opening a pledge card written in crayon and filled with $7 in cash. It was from a little boy who decided to send in his own money for someone else’s good.” — Janet
“I believe the arts empower people to make the ultimate expression of human potential and vitality. They also bind and strengthen communities. I’m passionate about opening an avenue for people to unleash their creativity and reach this level of artistic expression. You really never know where that can lead; the potential is limitless. As I network with people from other arts and nonprofit organizations throughout Pittsburgh, it’s inspiring to consider the countless hours they dedicate to the things they believe in — whether it’s their art or a social cause.” — Harris
Janet and Harris both enjoy equestrian hobbies — she as a recreational rider, and he as an avid rider and member of the Sewickley Hunt. They also spend time biking, enjoying the open space around the city, and traveling together — most recently to Puerto Rico, Ecuador, London, and Venice. The pair likes to be out and about in Pittsburgh, attending the theater, visiting galleries, and staying closely connected to the arts, humanities, and nonprofit organizations that make the city so vibrant.
Taste wine with your pup at W(h)ine! to benefit Animal Friends on February 12. Support Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force at its 30th Annual Benefit on April 14. February 12–21, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will perform Peter Pan. Tickets are also available for PBT’s Man in Black, Eternal Idol, Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden), and A Fellow Feeling, March 10-13.
“Regardless of age or income level, I feel that everyone in Pittsburgh feels they have an obligation to give back to someone who doesn’t have as much as themselves. I find that incredibly inspiring. Giving back just feels good; it enriches your life and your outlook on it.” — Janet
“I have immense respect and admiration for my peers who are driven by the causes they represent just as I am by ballet. They all have one thing in common: a powerful drive to make a difference. I find it very energizing to be around people who share that value.” — Harris
Tom + Patter Birsic
Patter is the co-founder of the National Pancreas Foundation (NPF). Tom is a partner at K&L Gates and serves as the Practice Area Leader for Global Disputes and Litigation. They are both on the executive committee and are board members of the NPF, which just launched National Pancreas Foundation Centers in 30 locations.
Patter co-founded the NPF 20 years ago together with Jane Holt of Boston in the Birsics’ home study as a result of the death of Tom’s sister from pancreatic cancer and disease. There are now 21 chapters nationwide (Western PA’s is the most robust), which continue to grow with the help of its national director. NPF has raised nearly $4 million for research, and given out at least $300,000 to grants for research projects annually. The Birsics serve on the board of the Collaborative Alliance for Pancreatic Education and Research, founded by Dr. David Whitcomb, which sponsors PancreasFest — to be held this year on July 27-29. The couple supports United Way of Allegheny County (Tom and Patter have been Tocqueville Society members for 25 years), Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sisters of Divine Providence, and Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
Patter and Tom enjoy retreating to their home in Park City, Utah, to ski, hike, and bike with their kids. “It’s rated as one of the friendliest cities in the country, and when we go out there, we tell them we come from the friendliest place in the country — Pittsburgh!”
On February 27, NPF is hosting PancreasFair 2016. On May 5, NPF is hosting the 2016 Gala VIP Cocktail Party at Hotel Monaco’s Rialto Suite for major corporate sponsors of the annual “Courage for a Cure” Gala — to be held on June 24. Learn more at pancreasfoundation.org.
Katie + Corey O’Connor
Katie works in the Section 8 department of the Allegheny County Housing Authority as a Housing Counselor. Corey is the Councilman of City Council District 5.
The couple supports The Bob O’Connor Foundation, American Liver Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (Katie is running for LLS in this year’s DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon on May 1!), Toys for Tots, Highmark Caring Place, ALCOSAN, Children’s Home of Pittsburgh and the Lemieux Family Center, Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh, First Tee of Pittsburgh, VisitPittsburgh, and Cancer Caring Center.
Fun fact: The couple had their first date at a Pittsburgh Pirates game! When they’re not working or attending events, Katie and Corey love to cook up new recipes in their kitchen, do brunch on the weekends, entertain at their home, and spend time with their dog, Tippy.
On February 27, support The Bob O’Connor Foundation at its St. Patrick’s Day Fundraiser. On April 2, put on your dancing shoes for Disco Booties! Celebrating 15 years of Shake Your Booties for The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh and the Lemieux Family Center. On May 5, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh will host a Holocaust Remembrance Day program. On June 15, First Tee of Pittsburgh will hold Tee It Forward. On August 27, join the festivities on the Gateway Clipper Fleet for the 24th Annual Cookie Cruise to benefit The Bob O’Connor Foundation.
“Myself and my other colleagues, who are also housing counselors, have 700 tenants each that we are responsible for throughout the entire county. We help them and the landlords, and we help provide subsidies to low-income families throughout the county — veterans, elderly, families, and single parents.” — Katie
“Over the years, we’ve helped different charities that have connected to our lives. We always try to keep something that’s close to our hearts in the family and support those charities, and the Foundation does a good job of giving back to seniors. It’s rewarding how you can help so many people in the fields that Katie and I work in. At the end of the day, we get the same great fulfillment and it’s a good partnership because we both care about people. As a councilman, the people of Pittsburgh are my No. 1 customers, so I have to ensure that they get a good, quality city, and for my family, giving back is something that we felt we needed to do because we got so much support for my Dad from people we had never met. The people of Pittsburgh really supported my family all the way through.” — Corey
Christy & Joey Porter
Joey is the Outside Linebacker Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Christy is the Founder of the Jasmine Nyree Day Center in Bakersfield, Calif. The couple is co-chairing the Pittsburgh International Auto Show Red CARpet Premiere benefiting Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Charities on February 11. To join Joey and Christy, visit RedCARpetPremiere.org.
The high school sweethearts spend much of their time with their kids, Jayla, 18; Jasmine, 16; Joey Jr., 15; Jacob, 12; and Christy’s nephew, Willie, 15. When they’re not attending family sporting events and scholastic activities, Joey and Christy enjoy vacationing somewhere tropical.
“Our second child, Jasmine, is autistic. We wanted something a little more private and exclusive for her. We first started an afterschool program and saw great success with that. One thing led to another and we ended up opening a school for special needs children.”
“I also have a program called, ‘It’s A Girl Thing,’ which mentors young girls. We have an event where we give back to young girls, talk about everyday life, and get them ready for college. Annually, we have the Joey and Christy Porter Turkey Giveaway, which benefits the Center. The biggest part about giving back is being in the position to help others who are probably not able to help themselves.” — Christy