Martha Pituch talks to people many would rather avoid.
The 81-year-old nurse who founded a health clinic nearly three decades ago at a Toledo homeless shelter still helps people at that clinic, now at the Cherry Street Mission.
“Thousands of people,” Mrs. Pituch said when asked how many she and her staff have helped. “What they receive from us is sensitive caring, because most people have misconceptions about homeless people … and some of them have gone weeks without even talking to anyone.”
The local volunteer was announced Thursday as one of four winners for the local Jefferson Awards.
The American Institute for Public Service has awarded the Jefferson Awards for Public Service nationally since 1972. Nicknamed the Nobel Prize for community service, the Jefferson Awards honors and recognizes volunteerism and public service.
The winners — four volunteers selected from a list of 42 nominees and 14 finalists — were lauded at the annual Jefferson Awards celebration and breakfast at Premier Banquet Hall in South Toledo.
Marcy McMahon, founder of the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation; Jay Mirrow, who started a Toledo Public Schools volunteer tutoring and mentoring program, and Phyllis Morton, founding director of a senior housing development Abundant Life who is a nursing home ombudsman for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc., also received the local Jefferson Award.
“We should all be proud of the fine work done by these volunteers,” said Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president and general manager of The Blade, which co-sponsored the event.
“Through their hard work, they have made our community a better place to live, and I am happy that we can take part in recognizing them today.”
Mrs. McMahon was nominated by her husband, Brian McMahon. She established the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 1984. It merged with the Foundation’s regional chapter. The Northwest Ohio Regional Chapter of the Foundation is now known as one of the largest charitable organizations in Northwest Ohio.
“It’s laughter through tears,” Mrs. McMahon said of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has granted about 3,000 wishes since its creation locally.
She added: “For a short time, a family can go on a wish and forget about hospitals, doctors, shots, and tests and just have fun.”
Mr. Mirrow was nominated by Janet Rogolsky. He developed a mentoring program and plan to promote literacy in Toledo Public Schools. He paired trained tutors and mentors with students at McKinley Elementary School. The program was expanded this year to include Toledo’s Larchmont and Sherman elementary schools.
“The key thing about this program is that it is an in-school program, while school is operating,” Mr. Mirrow said.
He also developed a database to track tutor and student meetings, student behavior, material reviewed during each session, and how the students performed.
Mr. Mirrow received the Global Volunteer of the Year award in 2013 from Owens Corning, where he worked before retiring.
Mrs. Morton was nominated by Jennifer Teschner. Mrs. Morton, 86, spearheaded formation of the Perrysburg Area Historic Museum in 2002; is a member of the Citizen Review Board; volunteers as a nursing home ombudsman for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc., and volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate.
She was founding director of Abundant Life, a senior housing development project, where she worked for 30 years.
Mrs. Morton said she was humbled by the nomination.
“We just do what we do,” she said. “We don’t even think about this kind of thing.”
Mrs. Pituch was nominated by Shirley Shea. She has volunteered at the Cherry Street Mission health clinic for homeless men for the past 23 years.
She started a health clinic at St. Paul’s Community Center shelter in 1985, and it moved to the Cherry Street Mission in 1990.
Ken Leslie, a homeless advocate and former member of the Toledo Area homelessness board, called Mrs. Pituch a hero.
“She is one of the most compassionate, incredible souls I have ever met,” Mr. Leslie said.
Mrs. Pituch was named to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991; received the Milestones Award in 1997, and was recognized in 2004 as one of only 200 women who were said to have made “significant contributions in the State of Ohio and the nation over the last 200 years.”
In 2012, Mrs. Pituch was named an Outstanding Senior Volunteer by Medical Mutual of Northwest Ohio and received the regional and national Compassionate Hero awards.
The names and nomination packets of these four will be sent to a panel in Washington, D.C. That panel will then select one of the four to attend a ceremony there later in the spring.
Recipients of the Youth Jefferson Awards by Leadership Toledo were Lindsey Smith, Daniel Ostberg and Ashlee Balcerzak of Maumee High School, Gold Banner/2014 Outstanding Service by a High School; Constance Baumgartner and Megan Wheeler of St. Ursula Academy, Silver Banner; Joseph Wood of Springfield, Ambassador Banner; Maddy Cook, of Anthony Wayne, Noah Tye of Perrysburg, Thomas Rubuano of Anthony Wayne; David Henninger of Lake Bronze Banner; and Cigdem Kahyaoglu of Perrysburg; Reid Sanders of Springfield, and Katie Swartz of Lake.
The local Jefferson Awards were sponsored by The Blade, WTVG-TV Channel 13, and Buckeye CableSystem. The award sponsor was Leadership Toledo, and the breakfast sponsors were The Andersons and Waterford Bank.