A newsmaker you should know: Penn Hills retiree using extra time to continue helping others
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Gwen Watkins might be retired, but that doesn't mean she's done working.
Ms. Watkins recently retired as the events coordinator for community service in the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Community and Governmental Relations, but she will continue to work -- as a volunteer, a mother, a grandmother, a Christian and a student.
In June, Ms. Watkins was named the Champion of Greater Pittsburgh by the Dignity & Respect Campaign, "an awareness initiative designed to join individuals, community leaders, community organizations, educational institutions, businesses and corporations under the common notion that everyone deserves dignity & respect," according to the campaign's website.
Ms. Watkins, 65, grew up in the St. Clair Village housing project and graduated from Carrick High School. She raised her two children on the South Side before moving to Penn Hills.
She worked at Pitt for 42 years, and while she spent the latter part of her career organizing volunteer initiatives for university employees, she constantly finds ways to donate her time to helping others.
When asked how many volunteer activities she'd organized over the years, she just laughed.
At Pitt, she's mobilized university faculty, staff and students to volunteer for organizations all over the Pittsburgh area, including the United Way, senior citizens centers, food banks, community centers and women's and homeless shelters. She said there are more than 400 Pitt employees available to volunteer on any day, and she also organizes sock drives and winter coat drives for organizations like Project Bundle-Up.
Pitt also opens its doors on Christmas Day to feed more than 1,000 people. Pitt employees donate Christmas gifts for children, and between 150 and 180 show up in shifts on Christmas to work in the kitchen.
Ms. Watkins is there, of course, and she recruits her family to volunteer on Christmas, too. Her son, William Denson, who works for a bus company, had to work last Christmas, but he wasn't willing to skip volunteering.
He showed up for the 8 a.m. shift at Pitt then went to work.
Her most recent volunteer effort at Pitt was the People for Pets campaign, a pet food drive that ran alongside a drive for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Ms. Watkins doesn't have pets herself -- "We don't stay home long enough to have a pet." -- but she said that for some people, especially the elderly and the homeless, a cat or dog might be all they have.
"That pet may be their only companion ... and source of protection," she said. "When people run into hard times, they run into hard times. Food is food."
Although she's retired, she plans to continue to do volunteer work as a Pitt student. Ms. Watkins will be taking classes full time in the fall and plans to graduate with a bachelor's degree in community service next year.
Because of her experience coordinating Pitt volunteers, Ms. Watkins also manages volunteer projects at her church, Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church in East Liberty.
In addition to all of her volunteer efforts at home, she goes on annual mission trips with her church, and she says caring for other people is central to her Christian beliefs.
"God didn't put us here just to sit," she said. "He put us here to do things for other people.
"We have so much to be thankful for, so we should be in the business of helping each other."
First Published August 9, 2012 4:57 am