Newsmakers you should know: Second-grade students' initiative to assist homeless creates warmth in O'Hara

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They may be young, but already Griffin Kerstetter and Annie Yonas are making a difference in other people's lives.

The two second-grade students at O'Hara Elementary School in the Fox Chapel Area School District will receive the Youth Ally Award on May 24 at the Third Annual Community Human Services Community Ally Benefit Dinner.

The girls are being recognized by Community Human Services for their creation of the Home Lost project.

"We read a book about people walking on the street and we started thinking about people who walk on the street all of the time. We decided we wanted to do something to help them," Griffin said.

Her mother, Jessica Burke, and Annie's father, Michal Yonas, went to graduate school together, so the girls have known each other since birth. When they decided to help the homeless, they came up with a quilting project to make blankets for those in shelters and on the streets. Because Mr. Yonas had worked with the Community Human Services on a professional and volunteer basis, the two youths decided to donate the quilts to the organization.

"We decided to collect T-shirts and use them to sew into the quilts," Griffin said.

Griffin and Annie enlisted the help of their classmates, but not until after they met with Adrienne Walnoha, Community Human Services chief executive officer, to discuss the project.

"I was immediately impressed by these two," Ms. Walnoha said. "Griffin is surprisingly poised for someone so young. She came with a list and started cataloging my answers in her notebook. And Annie is just so kind and warm."

Next on their list was a presentation to Mike Rowe, principal at O'Hara.

"They told me what they wanted to do and, of course, we were excited to help them," he said.

The girls then gave presentations to their classrooms and the school started collecting T-shirts to help them with the project.

Ms. Burke and Mr. Yonas also collected shirts at the University of Pittsburgh, where they both work.

Before they knew it, the girls had plenty of T-shirts and enlisted the assistance of Griffin's grandmother, "MeMaw" as the girls call Jane Burke.

"My grandma is a very good sewer, so she sewed them all together for us," Griffin said.

The girls helped in cutting the material and chose the squares that would make up the quilts. Mrs. Burke sewed three large quilts out of the donated T-shirts.

The girls were selected for the Youth Ally Award, said Ms. Walnoha, because they exemplify model behavior for other young people.

"This is an incredible project and these two young girls have not only come up with it, but taken it on full-force with such care and concern," she said.

The girls still have hundreds of T-shirts and are still collecting them to continue their quilt project. Mr. Yonas said they are seeking donations and volunteers to help sew the quilts. Ms. Walnoha said the quilts will be distributed through their programs.

Griffin and Annie are excited about the award, but more excited about continuing with the Home Lost project.

"We are happy that we are helping people. We want everybody to have the things they need," Annie said.

Two of the quilts are currently on display at their school.

"The entire school community is just so proud of these girls," Mr. Rowe said.

"We wanted everyone to share in their work and see what you can do for others."

To donate T-shirts or to help sew the quilts, visit


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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