Shaler woman receives top volunteer honor from Catholic Charities USA

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It started 20 years ago when Alexis Weber saw a classified ad in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, calling for volunteer nurses at St. Joseph House of Hospitality, a 60-bed single-room-occupancy home for men 50 and over at risk of homelessness.

She wasn’t sure her specialty as a psychiatric nurse was best suited to the job. But “it kept bothering me, and I called,” she said. Soon she got a call back saying, “You’re the perfect person we’re looking for.”

After 20 years of volunteering once a week, providing health assessments, blood pressure screenings and other personal care to more than 1,600 men, Ms. Weber has been named 2014 Volunteer of the Year by Catholic Charities USA. The organization’s local Catholic Charities affiliate oversees the St. Joseph home.

“It was quite a surprise,” Ms. Weber said Friday. “I’m a very quiet person and like to go about my stuff and do it. It’s just part of my life.”

Ms. Weber, director of the School of Nursing at UPMC Mercy Hospital, has volunteered to work with the men on everything from cardiac problems to caring for feet damaged by diabetes, and she has often drawn on her experience with the mentally ill.

She recalls one man who would say little to people and refused to bathe. She began slowly by talking with him and over the weeks he eventually agreed to let her help him to bathe, and later to get his nails trimmed and other help.

It shows “what one person can do by talking to people and being vocal with them,” she said. “It sounds like a cliche, but you see the face of Christ (in the needy). You know you’ve got to help some way.” Often a blood pressure check will take only three minutes, but “it’s like 20 minutes before I leave because they want to talk.”

The Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said in a statement: “Alexis Weber’s big-hearted generosity is an inspiration and reminder to us all to give back to our brothers and sisters in need. ... Our local agencies would be hard-pressed to serve so many without the tireless support that volunteers like Alexis and hundreds of thousands of others provide every day.”

Ms. Weber, 65, of Shaler, said she plans to retire soon from UPMC and hopes to expand her volunteer work, holding sessions to educate the men about common, chronic problems such as hypertension and diabetes.

“I can spend time here doing more — because more needs to be done,” she said.

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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