A newsmaker you should know: From fundraising parent to charity's executive director

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Debra Panei was an office manager when she had her first taste of fundraising activities, but it wasn't at work. Like many parents, it was through her two children and their school's efforts to raise money.

"I found I really liked it," she laughed. "I was probably an unusual parent that way."

She liked it so much that when she read about a position as a development assistant at St. Barnabas Charities, she thought that might be a good avenue to explore.

"It spiked my interest, and I applied. After I got the position, I found out there is a lot more to fundraising," she said.

Turns out, fundraising is a good career choice for Mrs. Panei. She worked her way up to director of development and was recently promoted to the executive director of the St. Barnabas Charities. She has worked with St. Barnabas for 13 years.

St. Barnabas Charities is the fundraising arm of the St. Barnabas Health System in Richland. Through St. Barnabas Charities, $5.2 million in free health care was provided in 2011.

"We don't turn anyone away because they can't afford care," Mrs. Panei said.

Obviously, raising that amount of money involves much planning and hard work, Mrs. Panei said.

The organization sponsors a golf tournament, its major fundraising event, and the Founder's Day Event where they feature a celebrity to honor the legacy of St. Barnabas.

In her new role, Mrs. Panei will oversee all fundraising activities.

"There are many avenues we use to raise funds including special events, planned gifts and campaigns," she said.

Those efforts also include the operations at Kean Theatre, a venue for live plays and productions plus movies at the theater located in Washington Place at St. Barnabas. They also feature the popular Kean Idol Talent Competition, an amateur talent show held every year. Funds raised through Kean Theatre benefits the Free Care Fund.

"I don't have any theater background, so that has been interesting, to learn the ins and out of a theater," she said.

Kean Theatre will celebrate its 10th anniversary Oct. 13.

Fortunately, Mrs. Panei has the help of a theater director and excellent staff, she said.

The total St. Barnabas Charities staff includes six full-time workers and one part-time worker.

"We are very hands-on here, and everyone does a little bit of everything," she said.

St. Barnabas Charities also sponsors Presents for Patients, a well-known program that links members of the community with nursing home residents to provide holiday gifts and visits for those residents.

"There are over 30,000 patients in six states. We coordinate with 350 other facilities for this program," Mrs. Panei said.

The program is in its 29th year.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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