New foundation president writes about rebuilding her life
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In 1995, 36-year-old Mary Lee Gannon was getting a divorce and looking for ways to transform herself from a stay-at-home mom to a full-time professional, able to support her four young children.
Fourteen years later, she is the new president of the St. Margaret Foundation and has published a book about her experiences during the difficult years of rebuilding. "Starting Over: 25 Rules When You've Bottomed Out" was recently released by New Horizons Books.
As president of the St. Margaret Foundation, she oversees an organization that, in 2009, collected and gave away nearly $800,000 to those in need in the local community, which includes Aspinwall, Blawnox and Sharpsburg.
Projects include running a free bus service along Freeport Road for senior citizens and supporting the UPMC St. Margaret Family Health Centers in Lawrenceville, Garfield/Bloomfield and New Kensington.
The group also works with North Hills Community Outreach in Millvale and has taken on smaller projects, such as helping to pay the hotel bills of out-of-towners who are visiting family in the hospital here and buying washers and dryers for local residents whose basements have flooded.
"The foundation is really there to fill the gap where hope doesn't exist," she said. "The stories will bring you to tears. The joy comes from being able to ease their burden."
While the economic downturn has caused a drop in charitable giving to the foundation, she said, people have not turned their backs on the organization, which has more than $15 million in assets.
"Giving is down for the first time in a very long time," she said. "But people are still giving because they realize that it's needed now more than ever. They are still giving, just not as much."
Ms. Gannon said one reason she enjoys her new job is because the foundation helps her neighbors.
"St. Margaret is the hospital in my community and I was attracted to the fact that [the foundation] serves an underserved community," she said, noting that many of the residents there are senior citizens. "You see such good work, it's very rewarding."
In her book, Ms. Gannon shares what she learned as she re-entered the workforce, including working for a time as a freelance writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Within seven years, she become the CEO and president of Forbes Health Foundation.
"You have to move quickly when you're in that position," she recalled of starting over as a single parent. "But you have to be fearless, not reckless."
Part of not being reckless, she said, is to seek out those who are able to help you and then ask lots of questions.
"The successful among us admit they need help and ask for it. They find a mentor," said Ms. Gannon, who regularly visits employment and networking groups to share her knowledge of navigating the work world. "I know I had many angels along the way, those beacons of hope."
Ms. Gannon decided to write the book after realizing her experiences might help others facing what she had faced. Her goal was to give hope and sound advice to those meeting the trials of life.
"I'd gone through the process [of starting over] and had time to reflect on the process," she said. "I had a sense of peace and I wanted to share the wisdom I had gained from it."
First Published November 12, 2009 5:52 am