Hello Neighbor | Gwenn Mascioli, Everyday Hero

Tredyffrin resident Gwenn Mascioli gives back to our community in many ways.  She's worked with several local volunteer organizations, personally befriended people she met on the street, and she made the time to talk with me one recent afternoon about the organizations and people she cares about.  Gwenn is a T&E Care Everyday Hero because she cares and because she takes action when she sees a need.  Through Social FUNdraising & Gathering she helped create a library  for the students at Richard Wright Elementary School in Philadelphia.  By following her heart, Gwenn finds the inspiration to help the people and communities around us.

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I am from Bear Creek Village, a small community in Northeast Pennsylvania.  Ironically my elementary school did not have a library.  I remember one shelf of books above a desk in the Principal’s office. Growing up I thought that twenty-five was old.  Now, at the young age of fifty-four, I know that our brains aren’t even fully developed until we’re twenty-six.  I learned that from my work for ARCH (Area Residents Caring & Helping) another of my volunteer organizations.  I love being 54.  I’ve grown in so many ways and feel so much more secure with myself. After college I worked in the trade association business in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia.  Trade associations function a lot like PTO’s.  So I had more than a decade of experience managing volunteers, budgets, meetings, newsletters, and committees.  When my oldest daughter started kindergarten I stopped working “outside the home.” 

My first volunteer gig came when my kids got to Hillside Elementary.  Back then I was new to the area, shy, and slowly feeling my way.  I offered to help with the school newsletter.  Over the years that became “my thing.”  When the girls moved up to TE Middle my role of newsletter editor moved too.  I created paper newsletters and blast emails for the schools, ARCH, and BPALL.  I even did a few for Surrey Services.  More than a decade of volunteer work introduced me to a lot of people – other moms and dads, community leaders, school administrators, even the police.  Those connections definitely help fuel Social FUNdraising & Gathering collections and projects.

Social FUNdraising & Gathering (SFG) is officially “a bunch of do gooders with huge hearts, sharp minds, and thoughtful consciences.”  We exist on Facebook and have more than 1,200 members.  The creator, Bonnie Koss, and I met way before SFG – in 2004 when my youngest and her oldest were both in Mrs. Braun’s kindergarten class at Hillside.  Our lives went in different directions, she moved from the district, and we lost touch.  Fast forward more than a dozen years and we reconnected in a Body Pump class at UMLY.  We became Facebook friends (of course ;) and I saw a post announcing that she was collecting books for a school in North Philly.  With little more than the goal of helping MY friends with older kids clear out THEIR bookshelves I put out a call for gently used books.  Dozens of boxes started piling up.  That was four years ago.  Today, along with Bonnie and several other volunteers, I’m happily enmeshed in the fabric of Richard Wright Elementary (RWE) well beyond the school library. 

Note that Social FUNdraising and Gathering embraces a “TOGETHER we are stronger” approach. The ripple effect of what started in the library at Richard Wright has gone not only throughout that building but also spread to other schools in these food insecure neighborhoods. 

I’m noticing an intersection of two of my volunteering passions.  A decade of work with ARCH educated me on the disease of addiction.  The stigmas.  The family chaos it creates.  The pervasiveness of the disease.  The last few years at Richard Wright in Strawberry Mansion has educated me on some of the realities of poverty.  The stigmas.  The family chaos it creates.  The pervasiveness of poverty and specifically how it impacts the schools in those communities.  I’m passionate about both topics and meditating on how best to use what I’m learning for a greater good. A lot of people think that people who live in North Philadelphia are lazy and need to stop expecting handouts.  That’s not what I see.  Over the past four years I have learned to appreciate what it means to truly be “in need” of things.  Things that I and many of my peers probably take for granted and would never dream of labeling as a luxury.  Volunteering in the schools has taught me a lot about the bigger world.  You know that I could have shared a very similar sentiment about drug addicts.  I’m probably a little too consumed with how both communities are often misunderstood. The biggest challenge we face is moving outside our bubble, vacuum, echo chamber.  One of my favorite phrases is that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  

I hope that there is snow for Christmas.  I have to actively change the subject and lighten things up.  I’m really not much fun to talk to at a cocktail party. My family is pretty cool.  We have two daughters in college and I’m constantly amazed by how aware and engaged they are in current events.  They are so much more informed than I was that their age.  I’m very optimistic about our youth.  My friends are pretty cool too.  And, very generous.  I always have fresh piles of donated items… college t-shirts, ties, Legos, books (hundreds of books!)… stacked in my garage, basement, family room, yadda yadda.  My friends are creative as well.  A few weeks ago a friend dropped off pumpkins that she made to look like Clifford the Big Red Dog and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  She offered them for display in the RWE library.  After seeing similar pumpkins at TEMS she decided that the RWE kids would, could, should enjoy them too.  A lot of people in my world have Richard Wright on their radar.  I just adore my family and friends.  

When I have a free minute I’ll work on a jigsaw puzzle.  I’ve become a little obsessed with them and now have opinions about the shapes of puzzle pieces, the degree of difficulty, and lighting, blah blah blah.  More proof that I can quickly kill a conversation at a cocktail party. If I could have any photo taken it would be at Richard Wright Elementary in Strawberry Mansion.  Those kids and the school and the activity at the school… all so beautiful and full of photo opps. The last photo I took was of my dog who was sitting in the back seat of the car resting her head on the center console between our front seats.  Millie is so cute.  I’m constantly grabbing the camera.  You have to love that we always have a camera in our “phone.”  Don’t get me started on how phones are not phones – but devices that house cameras and the internet and oh my gosh… seriously – I’m really not fun to talk to at a cocktail party.

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Photography and interview by Emily Brunner Photography

To find out how you can help Social FUNdraising & Gathering visit their Facebook group here.
To find out more about T&E Care visit www.tecare.org

Emily BrunnerComment