By Maria Gurovich for The Island Connection
Editor’s Note: Volunteer Spotlight is a column in The Island Connection highlighting members of the community who give their time to help others. If you know of a volunteer who deserves the spotlight email email@example.com.
Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach relies heavily on volunteers to provide its services to people in need on James, Johns, and Wadmalaw Islands. In addition to many individual volunteers, some married couples also decide to get involved to make an impact on their community. One such couple is Tom and Jinny Fossi.
The Fossis have been married for 54 years and have four married children and 12 grandchildren. They both retired 12 years ago and, one year later, moved to beautiful Charleston to escape the cold Northeast winters.
Tom and Jinny grew up in a small town in Connecticut. Tom graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor’s in English. He then worked for three years at the Connecticut Department of Welfare. Later, the couple moved to State College, PA, for three years where Tom completed his Master’s degree in Sociology from Penn State while working in the Department of Community Development.
Afterwards, they moved to Harrisburg, PA where, for thirty two years, Tom worked in administration at a psychiatric facility where he was in charge of training for all multidisciplinary treatment teams.
Additionally, he served as director of a psychiatric unit and implemented one of the first client-rights programs in Pennsylvania.
Jinny graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Social Security Disability as a Claims Adjudicator for three years. For the next 20 years, she worked with the Department of Health’s WIC Program as a Program Policy and Planning Administrator.
Going to college while raising four children and working part time did not give them a lot of free time to volunteer.
However, for three years, Tom was active in a community organization in Harrisburg, operating under the same principles as The Charleston Area Justice Ministry, which addressed social and economic issues such as slum landlords, crime, and economic injustice. He also helped coach their sons’ baseball teams. In Harrisburg, PA, they both were facilitators in their church for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults into the Catholic Church, and mentors for engaged couples preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church. They continue to be mentors today for St John Catholic Church in North Charleston. Tom also served for six years as a school board member at their children’s parochial high school.
“When we moved to Charleston in 2004, we were looking for a volunteer opportunity when our neighbor told us about the Outreach and all of the wonderful things it does for the residents of Johns, James and Wadmalaw Islands. It seemed like a good fit for us and the rest is history!” remembers Jinny. For three years they volunteered with the “Yes, I Can” Summer Camp two days a week. During that time Tom became aware of the ESL Program and moved to teaching ESL two nights a week, and Jinny moved to the reception desk and is minimally involved with the annual fundraising event, the Auction.
What they most like about volunteering with the Outreach is “the graciousness of the clients and the caring staff. We believe that we receive more than we give through the gratitude received from the clients to such an extent that it is almost embarrassing to us.”
They believe that “positive change can only occur if we treat the clients with the respect and dignity they deserve by addressing the basic needs of the poor and those struggling to become a part of American society.
Through improved literacy, we can make the path to full acceptance less rigorous and by bolstering their strengths on the path to self‐sufficiency, we help them see how valuable they are to themselves, their families, and their communities.”
When asked if they feel like they have made a difference they reply with characteristic modesty, “We can only testify that the genuine gratitude voiced by the participants means that they know that some doors are open to them when much else of what they hear is often denigrating.”
To those who are thinking about getting involved they would say, “Share your time and talent with those less fortunate and the rewards you reap are by far greater than what you give. We are called to share our blessings with others.”