Looking Sideways – The quiet work of ordinary angels

Mark Leutke

We are entering the season of love and kindness. For some, this means God’s gifts to us while others take a more personal and humanistic approach. But a common factor seems to be an emphasis on providing the gift of good deeds to others.

There are dozens of examples of “Ordinary Angels” who quietly provide simple acts of goodness in Sylvania. This happens throughout the year, of course, but deserves special recognition during the holidays.

Take the 20 women who have gathered in small groups twice every week for the past 14 years at the Sylvania Senior Center. They knit and crochet an ingenious array of items for donation to adult patients as well as babies in neonatal intensive care at Mercy Health-St. Vincent Medical Center. Their work for St. V’s also includes an octopus toy designed to distract infants from pulling on the cords that hook them up to monitors and medicine.

“In addition, we knit and crochet shawls, which go to breast cancer patients through the non-profit group Baskets of Care” said Rita McCormick. “And we make a cuddly moose toy that is distributed to children undergoing cancer treatment at many area hospitals through the organization Alexis’ Tears.”

Rita was one of the five women I met a few weeks ago, wordlessly working at a round table during a four-hour shift. They included Thea Sawicki, Sherry Kozlowski, Eloise Peterson and Rajinder Garcha. That day they were working on mittens and blankets for Sylvania Area Family Services. Occasionally they also produce red, white and blue blankets for retired veterans preparing to take Honor Flights. Overall, they create thousands of items each year.

“We do this because it’s a good way to give back to the community,” said Rajinder. “It’s a therapy for us in many ways, too; I think seniors need some kind of interaction with other people the same age.”

“Mercy Health is grateful for our committed volunteer knitters who have for years provided our hospital with those items. They not only help these infants keep warm, they are also a welcomed and cherished item for the families to bring home with them,” said nursing director Donna Ruedisueli.

Across town and at the other end of the age spectrum, an Arbor Hills Junior High student named Nicholas talked about the first act of charity he organized when in fifth grade: collecting money to buy food for patients and medical staff at ProMedica Flower Hospital. He still keeps the card they sent him afterwards that read, “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. What you did was so thoughtful and very selfless.”

Now a seventh grader, Nicholas joined others in the Youth-to-Youth service group at Arbor Hills spending a Saturday cleaning up the playroom, outside playground and other public areas at Ronald McDonald House. “I like organizing things,” he told me, “And if I can help other people at the same time, it’s a win-win. When I cleaned the Ronald McDonald House, I felt happy … and they got a clean House!”
This youthful expression from Nicholas about the joy that acts of service bring gets a more refined perspective from Liz Peltz, campus minister at St. Ursula Academy. “Service is one of the Ursuline core values. We really want to have our girls act on service and instill the importance of giving back to the community. Our expectation is that when they leave here, they will continue to carry that through their lives.”

Three SUA students who live in Sylvania are proof. Senior Sydney Gill has already exceeded by 25 percent the 60 service hours her school requires for graduation. Last year she was part of a campaign that raised more than $7,000 for research and treatment for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Also, because of her tenacity, she was able to engage with the Toledo Museum of Art which permitted her to shadow its marketing and communications staff as a volunteer all of last summer.

Caroline Fawcett, another senior, volunteers with the Youth Advisory Board for the city of Toledo’s parks and recreation department. For two years she put together a fall festival pumpkin patch pickup at Ottawa Park that attracted 300 people. She also recruited students to clean up three city parks in different parts of Toledo. She coaches youth volleyball at Saint Joseph Parish School, as well.

Junior Jordan Mizerek uses her love of acting to introduce younger kids to the fundamentals of theater through Sylvania Arts. This has included teaching character development, singing, dancing and staging at a two-week camp last summer, directing a play last year and the junior production of “Elf” this year.


If the SUA students have a philosophy, it’s that they will do well by doing good. Said Jordan, “I value the service experience because I am teaching younger kids something that I am very passionate about. Not only are they learning something new, but maybe they will fall in love with it …just like I did.”

“I made small contributions in my service experience, but the people I worked with were extremely generous to me; they showed me a different world,” said Sydney. Added Caroline, “The volunteer work makes me happy by doing something beyond what a normal high schooler does.” It adds meaning to my life.”

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