Richie Hrivnak knows even the smallest act can help spread kindness.
That doesn’t stop him from doing some big things as well.
“Even the slightest thing can make a difference in the community,” says Richie, 14, who just finished up his eighth-grade year at Oblock Junior High School in Plum. He will attend Central Catholic High School in the fall.
Richie, son of Charlene and Plum Mayor Richard Hrivnak, decides where to focus his energy simply by looking at the world around him.
“It makes me upset to know someone is living on the street or there is a veteran who was hurt and can’t pay bills,” Richie says. “Whenever I hear about those things, it makes me want to make an impact.”
In 2014, Richie presented his plan to honor veterans by hanging military banners in the community to Plum Borough Council, which enthusiastically endorsed the program. The following year, he helped establish a community parade to give back to those who serve. He is on the committee for the upcoming third annual parade.
“Richie has been an example to everyone in Plum — not just the younger generations, but all ages,” says Mike Thomas, Plum Borough manager. “All of the projects Richie has been involved with in Plum have been truly community-focused. Each event or project has helped to create new relationships and strengthens the existing community bonds.
“Richie is truly a generous person,” Thomas says. “It is his compassion and genuine concern for others that make him a great young man.”
Richie collects donations to support the Plum Food Pantry, too, and regularly raises funds for the Sarah Hrivnak Memorial Fund, established in honor of his sister who died at age 13 months in a car accident. The fund supports organizations such as the local fire department, Toys for Tots, and veterans causes.
Five years ago, Richie started a Black Friday family tradition of visiting homeless people in Oakland and Downtown Pittsburgh to distribute care packages with soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets, snacks and McDonald’s gift cards. He carries the packages with him anytime he visits the city.
“He definitely has a very kind heart,” says Charlene Hrivnak. “Sometimes I will be walking with Richie when he gives these packages. I may not have even noticed the person, but Richie gives one of the best gifts by actually seeing people who, unfortunately, may be invisible to many passersby.”
Richie served as president of Reach Out, a community service club at Oblock Junior High. The club has hosted activities such as a food drive, bracelet sale, and Easter egg hunt to support nonprofit organizations, including the food pantry; Military Connections, which provides care packages for troops overseas; and Girl Up, which supports women in developing countries.
Ron Sakolsky, Reach Out Club faculty sponsor, says Richie is willing to take on any task if it helps someone else.
“Through my nearly 25 years of teaching, I have come across many students,” Sakolsky says. “None have been as active as Richie in community activities. He finds a way to touch anyone he comes in contact with and adapts well to any environment with a soft-spoken, patient sense of intensity.”
In 2016, Richie was awarded a Jefferson Foundation Award for his community service and philanthropic work. He was named one of the five finalists from the Pittsburgh area to represent the region at the national Jefferson Awards in Washington, D.C. Winning the award made him realize he could use his experience to help others understand the importance of giving back.
To do so, Hrivnak wrote and illustrated a children’s book, “You Can Change the World” (Xlibris, $24.99) about one teen’s effort to challenge his peers to look beyond their smartphone screens and do something to help each other and the greater world. All proceeds from the book benefit the Sarah Hrivnak Memorial Fund.
“I hope kids learn they can make a difference, no matter what it is,” he says.