Theresa Orlando Honored as a Jefferson Award Winner

Written By Call To Action


May 31, 2017

Theresa Orlando, a Call To Action member for over 20 years and one of the original members of the CTA Anti-Racism team was named as a finalist for the 2016 Pittsburgh Jefferson Award winners for the Most Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award.

The Jefferson Awards, a national program begun in 1972, have been likened to the Nobel Prize for volunteering. In Pittsburgh, Theresa’s hometown, it’s administered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Theresa has received $1000 from the Forbes Fund and is donating this to the CTA Anti-Racism team.

Theresa is the executive director and founding member of the Pittsburgh North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition. She has been an activist her “whole adult life”. She and her late husband Harry, began supporting civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960’s.

In the mid-1990’s when some neighborhood children were discriminated against in school she and fellow members of the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace and justice organization asked, “How can we be good allies to people of color?”. In 1996, they founded the coalition. “We were already involved in the peace movement, it seemed a logical thing to do.”

Also in the mid-1990’s they were active in founding a local chapter of CTA.

Theresa is a Just Harvest board member, an OASIS inter­generational tutor for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, an organizing committee member for the North Hills International Day of Peace Picnic and the City of Pittsburgh International Day of Peace, and is active in the programs at her chosen parish, St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District.

She joined other members of NORTH (Neighboring Organizations Responding Together for Hope) at the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh in Richland in 2015 to ensure the safety of children in Sunday school classes after the mosque received threats following the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting.

She cites the establishment of the annual North Hills Interfaith Gathering as an important achievement of the coalition. “One of the things I discovered early on wat that there was so much fear and distrust of people of other faiths. We started the coalition to dispel fear and to break down barriers. We wanted to share faith traditions in a safe environment. Basically, getting to know one another, sharing the common experience of building faith traditions. We’re all alike. It’s all the same thing if we can take down our barriers and see ourselves through other people’s eyes and vice versa.”

“That’s the bottom line. Being open to others and being inviting. People sense that.”

Theresa attributes her tenacity to her faith with which she became more involved in her 20’s, “right on the heels of Vatican II. That has formed me. My motive has been to live up to what it means to be a true universal Catholic Christian.”

The significance of her work, she said, is that it “models a behavior that people need to witness. You’re trying to show people how to be a good neighbor, to be good friends. Being a good citizen means being a good neighbor.”

Theresa, who has three children and four grandchildren, said she is “hopeful” about the future. “Especially in the young people, there is so much more openness and acceptance. I think these young people are terrific, and they’re playing very significant roles in these activities.”

May 5, 2017 12:00 AM By M. Thomas / Pittsburgh Post­Gazette

Photo: Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette