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Open Hearts For All fundraises, advocates for social issues

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Open Hearts for All held a fundraiser on Feb. 26, 2018, at Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.
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Haley Potter, Evan Markowitz and Santino DeCesare, all Slippery Rock University students, plus Aaron Bartifay and Connor Warwick, who attend the University of Pittsburgh, are shown at Slippery Rock.

A group of college coeds from six Western Pennsylvania universities have united for a common cause — helping others.

The nonprofit Open Hearts For All was co-founded last December by Slippery Rock University students and friends Haley Potter and Evan Markowitz.

The goal is to extend a helping hand to those who are less fortunate, Potter said.

A recent fundraiser was held at Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

The nonprofit has earned “hundreds” of dollars, Potter said. Sponsor information may be found on their website, openheartsforall.org.

Open Hearts’ most recent donation included gifts for some of the student victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the scene of a mass school shooting that left 17 dead. Open Hearts mailed letters to the families who lost loved ones, donated more than $300 to the established GoFundMe account and mailed care packages to students.

The students gather at various Pittsburgh locations to sell their T-shirts, inspirational wrist bands and, hopefully, recruit more students as they raise funds for causes such as mental health disorders, homeless shelters, food banks and hospitals.

Last fall, Potter received a Snapchat message on her phone from Markowitz, imploring her to discuss how they could start a nonprofit together. Potter didn’t hesitate.

“We didn’t know a single thing other than that we are both people that want to make a difference in the world,” said Potter, a Kiski Area High School alumnus. “Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are very relevant among college students, so that is one of our main causes that we want to help with.”

Open Hearts is run by 12 students from IUP, Slippery Rock, Pitt, Seton Hill, Shippensburg and Robert Morris.

Students from any university or college are encouraged to join their efforts.

“We are blessed enough to get a college education and have a roof over our heads,” said Potter, a sophomore journalism major. “We understand that isn’t the case for all. We want to reach out and open our hearts up to others in order to make a difference, not only in our community but others as well.”

A Valentine’s Day card-making event in February at Slippery Rock resulted in more than 200 handmade Valentine’s cards created by students, all destined for patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of the seven board members serving the nonprofit has selected a campaign that is close to their heart.

“The cause I am most passionate about is mental illness, such as depression,” Markowitz said. “I am determined for us to bring more awareness to it and make sure that no one thinks that they have to go through it alone.”

Connor Warwick, a sophomore at Pitt and Franklin Regional High School alumnus, said he joined because he enjoys helping others and wants to be an advocate.

Warwick has endured the unthinkable.

He was one of the 20 high school students stabbed by Alex Hribal in 2014 at Franklin Regional High School. Warwick was hospitalized for 33 days and since has made a full recovery.

Although Warwick is hesitant to discuss the stabbing event, he was inspired after his recovery to open his heart for others.

“My main cause I’m advocating for is mental health services,” Warwick said. “It’s something that I see a lot of people dealing with, and it isn’t really talked about like it should be. I really feel like it’s the elephant in the room for a lot of young people.

“With the constant school shootings and other tragedies happening, it feels like mental health needs to be talked about more to try to prevent some of these awful events.”

Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer.

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