Jefferson Award: Bobby Catley's go-getter attitude fuels his hard work
April 16, 2013 8:00 AM
By Noel Um Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Learn to help others." It's a hackneyed phrase that most parents tell their growing child, but few end up taking that motto to heart to the extent that Bobby Catley has.
At just 19, Mr. Catley -- a Hopewell native, a business major at Robert Morris University and a recipient of five community service grants -- has volunteered for more than 45 service projects.
"From a young age my parents always reinforced the fact that I should help others," he said recently. "At first, I volunteered because it made me feel good, but I soon saw how much of a difference I was making in the community, and I wanted to keep on doing it by serving as a leader."
Mr. Catley's youthful spirit and entrepreneurial drive spurred him to start several volunteer ventures. For his leadership, Mr. Catley has been named one of six finalists for Most Outstanding Volunteer among 47 Jefferson Awards for Public Service winners for 2012.
The awards presentation will be held 7 to 8:30 p.m. April 29 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. The winning finalist will be announced at the award ceremony, and that person will represent Western Pennsylvania at the national Jefferson Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., this summer.
The Jefferson program is administered locally by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with sponsorship by Highmark, BNY Mellon, The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.
This past year, Mr. Catley founded the Caring Cafe at his alma mater, Hopewell High School. The proceeds from the business benefit the Highmark Caring Place, an organization based in Downtown Pittsburgh that supports grieving families.
After it opened last fall, it didn't take long to catch on. "It was unbelievable; we had kids lined up down the hallway for coffee," he said. "A lot of kids stopped going to their regular places for coffee and started coming to school early because they knew they were supporting a good cause."
Mr. Catley also coordinated the "What's on Your Plate?" Healthy Foods & Wellness Expo last April, which offered participants resources on how to be more active about their health through screenings, healthy food samples and dozens of presenters.
"I believe in leading a healthy lifestyle, and I know that these days, it's really hard for people to do this with time constraints and the abundance of fast-food chains. I wanted to show people how many resources are actually available to us," he said.
Held at Hopewell High School, the event drew hundreds of Pittsburgh residents, many of whom left with a renewed drive to make a positive change in their eating habits, he said. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who attended the event, called it "remarkable" and unlike anything he had seen before.
Due to its success, Mr. Catley plans to host the exposition again in the fall, this time at Robert Morris University.
As part of the Jefferson Award program, PG Charities will donate $1,000 to Robert Morris University for this wellness exposition on Mr. Catley's behalf.
Mr. Catley also has volunteered and led service projects at the Salvation Army's food assistance program, Chick-fil-A, the Beaver County Festival of Trees, Empty Bowls Dinner and The Souper Bowl of Caring.
To start many of his initiatives, he sought service grants from Get Ur Good on Grants from Youth Serving America, State Farm Service Learning Grant, Sam's Club Community Grant and the National Gardening Association.
Well-known in his community for his service work, Mr. Catley seems beyond his years in maturity and leadership.
"I think when I meet people, they usually think I'm 25 or 26. When I'm talking business on the phone, some people even think I'm 30," Mr. Catley said with a chuckle.
"People usually have no idea how old I actually am, which is great because they treat me with respect," he continued.
Janice Dreshman, a guidance counselor at Hopewell High School who nominated Mr. Catley for the award, echoed that sentiment. "His maturity is really beyond his years. He's more reliable than most adults, and his follow-through is better than most adults."
Mr. Catley estimates he puts in hundreds of hours of service per year. "I'm an all-the-time volunteer. Every day I do at least one thing to help someone else."
The time he invested in community service during his early adolescent years began to set Mr. Catley apart from his peers. "Earlier in high school, when I was really getting involved in service, people picked on me and bullied me," he said. "They didn't understand why I was doing what I was doing."
But despite that treatment, Mr. Catley continued to spearhead projects with his passion for service, and, eventually, his peers came around.
"The coolest thing was that by my senior year, my peers really started to understand what I was doing. Those same kids that bullied me, by my senior year, I was working with them on these service projects so that they could better understand me and I could better understand them.
"Once we related to each other through the projects, we became friendly, and the bullying and misunderstanding stopped. They were blown away -- they finally understood what I was doing, and they respected me for it," Mr. Catley recalls.
Mr. Catley attributes his passion for service to Marge Meehan, a woman at his church, Our Lady of Fatima in Hopewell, who first got him involved with service projects. "Her excitement for service and spirit of community really led me to want to give back and help others out," he said.
He now generates his own excitement in event planning and managing. "I have always liked the buzz of event planning. I like to be constantly engaged, constantly learning; I don't like being complacent or bored. You could have a solid plan and some unexpected thing could come in your way. I love being able to think, 'How can we solve this efficiently?' "
Ms. Dreshman praised Mr. Catley's persistence and motivated attitude.
"Anything Bobby sets his mind to, he accomplishes -- he is highly active, very energetic and very sincere," she said. "He pours his all into every project, but at the same time, he stays very humble."