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Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Ann Birsa

March 24, 2017

Mary Ann Birsa is a person with great compassion who understands the importance of putting a smile on someone’s face. Since August 2002, she has been brightening the days of the residents at Concordia. Not only is Mary Ann putting smiles on the beautiful faces that she comes across during her visits, but so is Pepper and Petey, her Bichon Frise Therapy Dogs. 

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Even though Mary Ann had a long history of volunteering in many capacities, the catalyst for visiting nursing homes with her therapy dogs was her daughter, Laura.  Mary Ann recalled, “As part of Girl Leaders of America, Laura was involved with a program that took pets into the local nursing home. In this case, it was Concordia at Ridgewood Place. They would visit every other Tuesday and interact with the residents.” 

Laura’s experience was so uplifting that Mary Ann decided to go along on a visit with her daughter. Mary Ann was hooked! She was so impressed with the caring environment at Concordia that this, along with her mother-in-law’s recent residency in an assisted living facility and missing her dog who had recently passed away, that further gave Mary Ann the inspiration to take on another volunteer calling. 

Pepper was the first therapy dog Mary Ann owned. Pepper wasn’t exactly enthusiastic at first; he was a rescue puppy and it took him awhile to train. As part of that training, Mary Ann was able to go to her mother-in-law’s nursing home for visits with Pepper by her side.  “I just recall how Pepper would bring smiles to everyone’s face,” Mary Ann said. “I really believe Pepper made their day better.”   

Once Pepper became a registered therapy dog, she remembered the great experience she had with Concordia at Ridgewood Place and asked to visit them.

“Pepper LOVED his job,” Mary Ann stated with great affection in her voice. “When I would get the scarf out, which he would wear on our visits, or mention where we were going, Pepper would run to the door!” She believes Pepper loved to see the smiles, too! Sadly, Pepper passed away in January 31, 2014.

By June 2014 Mary Ann adopted Petey, an 11-month-old rescue. To this day, Mary Ann visits Concordia with Petey, who is now a trained therapy dog, on a regular basis. She knows many of the residents by name, and they all look forward to seeing Petey and her for their regular visits. Mary Ann is grateful to spend time with them. 

Of all her visits over the years, her greatest memory, though she has so many, is of a time she took Pepper in for their usual rounds and there was a husband and wife that shared a room. The wife had some memory issues and the husband had a stroke. He was very nonverbal; however, during one of the visits as he was petting Pepper, he began to use words.  “As he interacted with Pepper he actually began to talk,” Mary Ann said. “It was such an amazing experience to witness how people interact with animals. I believe animals can see into your soul.”

A common theme is experienced by Mary Ann after each visit to Concordia; the one of feeling uplifted and happy, of having a flow of positivity, of being enriched. And odds are, if Mary Ann is feeling this way, then so are the people who call Concordia their home.   

Mary Ann, formerly a physical therapist, now teaches health education classes in Pittsburgh.  

Volunteers for the following:

  • Driver for local Meals on Wheels since 1998

  • Emergency Communication Network Volunteer – is a registered HAM (radio operator) in the event of an emergency – her and her husband are CPR certified

  • CPR instructor

  • Race for the Cure and The Pittsburgh Marathon

Passions also include:

  • Reading/Book club

  • Knits hats for women who are on chemo

  • Active promoter of how to become a registered therapy dog owner

  • Three grandkids, one on the way

”Become a volunteer,” Mary Ann said. “It’s really worthwhile and even the little things make such a difference. Go for it! It’s truly an awesome experience.”

If you are interested in volunteering at Concordia, call the Location of your choice and ask for volunteer opportunities, or message us through our Contact form here. To learn more about Concordia and our mission, visit the About section of our website.

Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a non-profit senior care specialist serving western PA, eastern OH and Pittsburgh seniors. We also offer multiple short-term and long-term in-home services. Reach out today to discuss the best ways we can serve you or the seniors in your family.

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