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Irwin mother uses hobby to promote breast cancer awareness

Lynn Smarra of Irwin believes in helping others and giving back, whether it’s making burp cloths for newborns, collecting backpacks and school supplies for kids after Hurricane Katrina, or simply being kind and courteous to those she meets. This year Smarra chose “Stitching for Pink,” a breast cancer awareness project, as her random act of kindness.

For Smarra, a clerk in the medical information management department at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, the project has special significance.

“After talking with a co-worker and breast cancer survivor who was very open and honest about her experience and learning that two other co-workers are also survivors, I knew I had to take an active role in this campaign,” she said.

“Stitching for Pink” is a global online campaign to raise awareness and funds through embroidery. For a small donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the home embroider is given 10 designs to be stitched on T-shirts provided by others for a $1 donation. A white shirt is for supporters and a pink shirt for survivors. The campaign culminated the final day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which was held in October.

This project was perfect for Smarra, an avid needleworker, who was excited to use her hobby for the greater good. Response from her department was overwhelming with 40 co-workers purchasing shirts for Smarra to embroider. The more than 30 hours of stitchery is evident in team photos prominently displayed in their work area and uploaded to the “Stitching for Pink” website and Excela Health’s Facebook page for all to see.

“So many co-workers and family members have been touched by this life-changing disease. I am proud to be a part of a department of such caring workers that jumped in without hesitation and donated their $1 and shirt,” she said. “Every dollar raised or donated helps fight for a cure. Also, you can’t put a price on the awareness aspect. I hope to see a cure sometime in my lifetime and see the color pink just as that, a color. This may be an additional ongoing cause for me each year now. I just never realized how many of us have been touched.”

Over the years, Smarra has involved her entire family in many projects to instill her philosophy of giving back. Her children — Jedidiah, 16, Caitlyn, 21, and Bethany, 23 — have embraced their mom’s ideals as has husband, John.

The idea for the Hurricane Katrina project was Bethany’s, whose community service now involves working with elementary school kids who need extra help. A 2009 graduate of St. Vincent College, she is a substitute teacher for both Hempfield and Southmoreland school districts and plans to return to St. Vincent for her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

As an undergrad, she was involved in the STEP UP Enrichment Program’s Preschool and assisted in teaching home-schooled children every Friday for three years. She also volunteered at the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve for children events, the Barbara Thompson Early Literacy Center in Derry, served two years as a camp counselor for the college Challenge Program for gifted students, and was an assistant teacher for the Challenge Program’s Preschool in the summer of 2009.

Caitlyn, a certified pastry chef and a college senior studying food service management at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., is involved with RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) serving as an officer for three years. She has participated in walks for the American Diabetes Association, Relay for Life, Autism Speaks and American Heart Association. Every year, she’s participated in the “Trunk or Treat” Halloween event where students of RAK dress up in costumes and pass out safe candy to neighborhood kids from the trunk of their cars in a well-lit place.

Caitlyn’s volunteer work also includes helping teachers with arts and crafts, reading and tutoring students for the Central Avenue Bilingual Preschool; putting together Easter baskets for Charlotte’s Children’s Hospital; using her pastry chef skills to make desserts for charity organizations; and more.

Jedidiah, a junior at Hempfield High School, is an avid hunter and fisherman. He never thinks twice about getting a door for someone or helping with groceries for elderly people and jumps in to help with any project or event that his mother chooses. He can easily bring a smile to any face. Jedidiah is an honor student with aspirations of becoming an engineer.

Even husband, John, gets into the act, supporting his family’s many community-service activities from creating props for a school play to donating carpet samples to Bethany’s cause, the Barbara Thompson Center for Early Literacy.

“My husband is awesome. He never complains of missed dinners, pays for most of the things I get into and jumps in and helps me whenever he can, Smarra said. “We are a very close family that really loves to spend time together. It’s actually a family thing that I hope passes on to my children’s families.”


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