"It's hard to watch a girl reject the help and choose to stay in a life of hardship and sorrow."
Marietta Montalvo, 62, of Pottsville, PA, started a faith-based resident home for pregnant teens and teenage mothers in order to provide them a safe environment to pursue their education and develop parental and life skills.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Marci: I lost my younger brother, Peter R. Rinner, to a heroin overdose in 1999 while he was a student at Ohio State University. Pete was one of my best friends and my family was devastated. In 2001, at the request of a teacher, I began telling “my side” of Pete's story in order to make students realize that drug use or self-destructive behavior is not just about the person doing it. I share my heartache with them in a very personal and emotional way in order to make them see the reality of drug use and death. I talk with them about decisions that they face each day and how to overcome the peer pressure surrounding drugs and alcohol. I have dedicated my life to sharing our story in hopes of making a difference in our community. I volunteer on a Heroin Prevention Steering Committee through the City of Norwalk, and I also share my story with church youth groups and employers throughout our community. I currently have my story published on the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s Web site at www.drugfree.org, and I also created a website with Pete's story, helpful resources and an outline of the public speaking that I do.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Marci: The For Pete's Sake Foundation, Norwalk, Ohio, USA.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Marci: Since 2001, I have spoken to over 15 different middle and high schools, numerous church youth groups, drug awareness sessions for local police departments, local employers through a local hospital’s Drug-Free Workplace Training program. I just began speaking to adult-only groups through the workplace training. I have mostly spoken to middle and high school students, and I have received thousands of letters from students conveying their appreciation and telling me how my story has changed their attitudes about drug use. I have also been featured in two newspapers detailing the talks that I do and featuring some of the students’ letters.
What inspired you to get involved?
Marci: I was heartbroken after I lost my brother. I was pregnant with my first child when he died. I spent two years of my life trying to deal with the depression and my parents' depression. After the teacher/friend asked me to come to her school and speak to her students, I thought that maybe I could make a difference with this drug problem. I wasn't prepared for the positive response that I received from the teachers and students. I felt empowered to tell my story to as many people as I could to make a difference with this deadly drug problem. I couldn’t stand to think that my brother's death was for nothing. If I could share my story and save ONE student from trying heroin, then I was doing something positive in my brother's honor, and his death wouldn't be in vain.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Marci: The teacher/friend, Kim Lawrence is a teacher at Norwalk Middle School and she invited me to come and share my story with her class. I thought about doing this for about six months before I finally decided to try it. I asked my parents for their blessing, and they felt the same way that I did, that if we could spare one family from the heartbreak that we deal with every day, then it would be worth it.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Marci: It is very difficult to stand up in front of a group of people and open up your heart. But I feel that by doing this, I can really get my message across. If they can see the heartache, then they will remember it. I have kids come up to me all the time, whom I spoke to a few years ago, and they still remember me and Pete's story. That makes me feel good that I am making a difference. I am not naive enough to think that I will save the world, but if I can make a small difference for my brother's sake, then I am happy with that.
What is/was the hardest part?
Marci: I prepare myself the night before by going over the events that took place the day Pete died. I share most of these memories with the kids. I feel that they need to know. It is hard to go to this emotional level and not cry, but I haven't lost it yet.
What was the biggest surprise?
Marci: I hadn't ever done anything like this before. I had never spoken to a group of people before. I didn't know what to expect the first time that I gave my talk. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of satisfaction. I spoke to over 250 kids the first time that I did this, and I left the school feeling that I was there for a reason. The kids' responses were awesome! They seemed to appreciate that someone would share this personal story with them to help them out, even though I didn't know them.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Marci: I have realized that anyone can make a difference in this world. I could have kept my feelings to myself and continued to feel sorry for myself. Instead, I decided to make it a positive situation and turn it around. Pete was a great person, and I have never been more proud of him. He made a bad choice, but it will never make him a bad person. I do this for him, for my parents and for the kids that I talk to. I have come a long way in my grief, and I have a new understanding of what it means to “help people”.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Marci: I had volunteered before but never like this. I take a very deep and personal approach to helping these kids. If I can reach just one of these kids to steer away from drugs, then I have succeeded. I will never know the outcome of these talks that I do, but just knowing in my heart that I did the best that I could, is enough for me. I would recommend that anyone who has a story to TELL IT. You never know how it may affect someone else until you do it.
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