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Group sending smiles to troops serving overseas

Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Howard Hanna employees meet at the Boyd Community Center to stock boxes for donations. From left are Bill Miller, Susan Myers, Jim Sarver and Travis McGuinigle.

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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

They were compiling SmileKits, a name surely fitting of the box brimming with cookies, candy, movies and more.

“We pray for the troops all the time,” said Susan Myers, one of 96 Howard Hanna employees who gathered last week to construct the care packages for U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

“We hope these make them smile and remind them we are thinking of them.”

The care packages, 19 in all, will be donated to Operation Troop Appreciation, a Pittsburgh-based group founded in 2004 to boost the morale of troops deployed overseas.

Pegged as a team-building seminar, employees from Barrister's Land Abstract Co. and Howard Hanna Mortgage attended the event at Boyd Community Center in O'Hara.

The group seemed to give as much as they got back.

“It's great to show support for the military,” said Myers, a closing coordinator for the real estate company. She and three acquaintances from the RIDC-based offices worked together to create a team name and then fill the care package with soap, toothpaste, gum and playing cards.

Kerry Fillmore, the facilitator from Team Builders Plus, said the event was meant to get people out of the office and learn about each other on a personal level.

“It helps ease mechanics back at work,” said Fillmore, who travels across the country from her New Jersey headquarters to coordinate similar morale-boosting events.

Last year, the organization hosted a program here called “Wheels for the World,” during which Howard Hanna employees built bikes for local needy children.

Employee Patty Knapp said the sessions are helpful because they give everyone a glimpse into what their peers do.

“It helps us learn how to work better together,” said Knapp, whose team this year called themselves “Hanna's Humvees.”

Names created by others included “Liberty Bells” and “Alpha Team.”

Fillmore said the workshop engaged participants in a series of team-building challenges as they filled the boxes with sunscreen, stationary, footballs and snack food.

Cathy Hopkins, a Barrister's employee, deemed the program a success — for the second year in a row.

“Work can be stressful and this gives us a chance to work together in a different environment,” she said. “We learn ways to interact and build communication.”

At the end of the day when the boxes were full, Staff Sgt. Matthew Claycomb of the state National Guard dropped in to collect the gifts and send them on their way.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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