Kiwanis flags fly high over Sheraden


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"Flags Over Sheraden" will feature 40 large flags flying from poles on Memorial Day along Chartiers Avenue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood.

The display will be courtesy of the Kiwanis Club of Sheraden, which flies flags for five other patriotic holidays, including 4th of July and Labor Day.

This year's Memorial Day flag display will have some new features, thanks to Kiwanis volunteers working to implement a $1,000 "Love Your Neighborhood" grant from Pittsburgh.

The flag display is just one of the projects sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, whose goals are leadership and service to children and the community.

Members meet weekly, and last week they awarded a $1,000 scholarship to Heidi Murr, 18, a senior at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts 6-12, Downtown.

The Kiwanians sponsor at least one major service project every month, in an era when many volunteer organizations have trouble building and maintaining a strong membership.

When the Sheraden club was chartered in 1951, membership was strong with more than 60 members, and the west Pittsburgh neighborhood was filled with thriving businesses and "productive middle class, blue collar workers," according to the club's literature.

By 2005, many neighborhood businesses had closed, the community and residents had suffered socio-economic setbacks, and the Kiwanis Club was down to 15 members. They embarked on a one-year revitalization program and now the club has 39 active members, including some who don't live in Sheraden. Two new members recently joined after their Kiwanis in Coraopolis was de-chartered.

Marianne Muraska was born and raised in Sheraden and has lived there for much of her life. She joined Kiwanis in 2005 and after retiring last year as a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, she stepped up her volunteer efforts. She is now the Kiwanis secretary.

"I'm never home," she joked. The current project is sprucing up the World War I and II memorial located near the former Langley High School, which has been converted into a school for students in grades K-8.

Member Maureen Reynolds wrote the application to Pittsburgh for the $1,000 grant. When the money was awarded, Kiwanis members rolled up their sleeves. They're cleaning the monument and repairing old cement around it. Pittsburgh workers are helping to install 19 permanent flower planters, which is where longtime Kiwanis member John Roell comes in.

Mr. Roell, also a retired Pittsburgh teacher, has been planting flowers around the monument for about 10 years. He starts petunias in pots in his own yard, and takes them to the monument for Memorial Day. He then carries gallon bottles of water to the monument to keep the flowers watered.

Even with the permanent pots, Mr. Roell said he'll still start the petunias at his home.

He says the Sheraden Kiwanis "is a very dynamic group of people. Our little club is one of the most active Kiwanis in Pennsylvania. We are well known. We want to keep Sheraden alive."

Sarah Tonski doesn't live in Sheraden, but she volunteers with Kiwanis. She joined when she was principal of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton school in Sheraden. When the Catholic school closed, she became principal at St. Rosalia in Greenfield, where she has been for four years. Ms. Tonski stayed with the club because "it's such a great club and they do a lot for Sheraden."

Just a few of the many projects include Easter Egg hunts, Halloween parades, backpacks filled with a full year's supply of student supplies, an annual Health and Safety Fair, story-tellers and books collected and distributed to children. "We collect can tabs for the Ronald McDonald House," Ms. Tonski said, and she has students in her school contributing to that effort.

Mr. Roell has gone around to local bars, asking them to save the tops for Kiwanis. "In three years we've probably collected 500,000 tabs," she said. They are recycled at salvage yards.

Ms. Muraska mentioned other projects, including pancake breakfasts in March and October, rose sales in September and October, helping to fill the local food pantry, and co-sponsoring a community picnic in early August with the Sheraden Community Council.

Even animals get an assist from Kiwanis. The club works with students in grades K-12, and the younger children make dog and cat toys for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

"They take T-shirts, cut strips and braid them," Ms. Muraska said.

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Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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