Local charity is just the ticket for O'Hara woman

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Running Tickets for Kids Charities is one part of Debra Alward's duties as chief operating officer of Longboat Group.

But the O'Hara woman puts her whole heart into the work she does for the non-profit organization based in Aspinwall.

The mission of the Tickets for Kids charity is to get children into sporting events, art shows and educational venues that disadvantaged youngsters might never otherwise have the opportunity to visit.

For example, Tickets for Kids has provided youngsters tickets to preseason Pittsburgh Steelers games.

Ticket for Kids works through intermediaries, such as United Way, ALL of Us Care, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, to match children and events.

Tickets for Kids regularly receives letters and notes about deserving children, Debra said, that are inspiring.

The goal is to then inspire the children.

“You need to feed (children) and their brains and imaginations. We want to inspire kids to do something with their dreams,” Debra said.

One child who went to a Robert Morris basketball game came away with the realization that there are students just like him going to college, Debra said.

Another girl became interested in costume design after getting tickets to go to a play.

“We don't change every kid's life,” Debra admits.

Sometimes the outing is just a chance for a family to have time together in a positive atmosphere.

Debra said she doesn't interact directly with the ticket-getters.

Her work is overseeing the ins and outs of the process, meeting all the marks to maintain the scrupulous overview required to prove the tickets are going to children who need these experiences.

She also works at getting organizations to donate tickets.

She said the charity works to obtain bulk discounts on tickets, which are then sent on to almost 1000 organizations that work with disadvantaged children.

Sharing tickets is often a benefit to the organization giving them, too.

Tickets for Kids puts enthusiastic fans in empty seats.

It is “elegant in its simplicity,” Debra said. “It's a win-win for everybody.”

The brainchild of Bruce and Susan Weiner of O'Hara, Tickets for Kids continues to grow, and the charity is funneling tickets nationally.

Cirque du Soleil, for example, uses Tickets for Kids to disburse tickets in other cities.

Debra said she foresees continued growth of this imaginative charity.

In fact, officials are looking for a full-time director.

“I'll still be involved,” Debra said. “They are never getting rid of me.”

The Florida native, who moved to Pittsburgh almost two decades ago, has adjusted and enjoys the changing seasons — even winter.

Eight years ago she moved to Woodshire Drive and her son became an integral part of Fox Chapel Area High School's basketball team.

As she looks toward the future, Debra said she has “no idea where the road will take me.”

But she does know that wherever she goes, advancing technology will help get her there.

Debra admits she has “geek” tendencies and loves every new gadget that comes out — especially those products that make communicating easier.

With a bachelors and a masters in journalism, communicating is important for her.

“My journalism degrees have served me well. There will always be a role for good journalism and communicating your ideas clearly,” Debra said.

And there will always be a place in her heart for helping disadvantaged youngsters discover new opportunities.

Sharon Drake is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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