Photo: Vianna and Colton Shiry with their friend Sally.
Vianna and Colton Shiry were born after the final episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” aired in 2001, but they’re carrying on his legacy.
Typical kids, Vianna, 17, and Colton, 15, are busy with friends, school and extracurricular activities, but they still fit humanitarianism into their busy schedules.
Through United Way’s Open Your Heart to a Senior, a program that matches older adults with compassionate volunteers, the Shirys regularly accompany their elderly friend Sally on errands and recreational outings, providing her with companionship and an extra helping hand — or two.
During the holidays, they spread cheer to other senior neighbors. They credit the strong bond they have with their grandparents for making them want to reach out to this often isolated and vulnerable population.
“I like anything that has to do with helping out senior citizens,” Colton says. “We play different board games and ‘Name That Tune.’ It’s a fun way to get them in the holiday spirit.”
Kids also get special treatment from the Shirys. The pair offered encouragement to children with disabilities at the United Way’s Sensory Picnic at Schenley Park and teamed up with the Pittsburgh Steelers to promote healthy living at the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club’s Hometown Huddle.
At Upper St. Clair High School, Vianna, a junior, runs track and cross country, helps train young swim team members and serves as a Junior Mentor to incoming freshmen. She also leads different initiatives through Natural Helpers, the school’s peer-to-peer support program. She’s just now starting the college application process and hopes to study business or accounting.
Colton, a ninth grader, is a member of the school’s hockey team. When he’s not leading the Panthers to victory, he’s teaching younger players how to power skate. Off the ice, he enjoys making brown bag lunches for the homeless and collecting, donation and presenting food to the South Hills Interfaith Movement.
Last month, the United Way of Southwestern PA presented the Upper St. Clair siblings with the Fred Rogers “I Do What I Can” award for their volunteerism. Each year, the organization bestows “Good Neighbor” accolades on community members and corporations that serve local children, seniors and struggling families.
“These awards recognize companies and individuals who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to give back through volunteerism this year,” says Gretchen Haggerty, a member of United Way’s board of directors and co-chair of its Volunteerism Committee. “United Way would not be able to provide their ongoing support to the community without the thousands of volunteers who lend their time to impact the lives of people who need it most.”
The brother-sister duo says they learned the value of volunteerism from their parents, Dmitri and Anna Shiry, longtime advocates of the United Way’s mission of bettering communities through caring.
“I think no matter how busy you are it’s always so wonderful to volunteer because the experience is so rewarding,” Vianna says. “Find little opportunities to help at your church or school or local library. Look out for people in need. A simple gesture can brighten their day and brighten your day as well.”