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North Huntingdon couple honored by Lions Club

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 8:59 p.m.
The Lions Club recently honored Mike and Paul Ziemski with the club's Citizen of the Year award. From left are club president Eric Woods, Paula Ziemski, Mike Ziemski and Karen Piper, chairwoman of the club’s Citizen of the Year committee. Submitted photo

The Norwin Lions Club recognized a North Huntingdon couple for their efforts to help children discover their musical talents, despite their families' economic situations.

The Norwin Lions Club named Paula and Mike Ziemski as the Citizens of the Year for 2012 for their work as the founders of the Norwin Play It Forward Fund, which provides subsidies for private music lessons and musical instruments for Norwin students in grades five through 12, with priority given to those with financial need.

Otis DiCerbo, the Lions Club's first vice president, said the Ziemskis' work in helping children succeed in music made them the ideal candidates for the club's annual award.

The foundation's mission to help children in music at a young age could have a positive impact throughout the Norwin region in the future, DiCerbo said.

Paula Ziemski said the couple created the Play it Forward Fund after an anonymous person helped pay the balance of their children's tuition at Good Shepherd School in Braddock several years ago, after Mike Ziemski had been laid off.

“Someone knew we were struggling and never said anything to us, but made sure tuition was taken care of,” Paula Ziemski said.

“We knew we wouldn't be able to pay them back, so we hoped to have an opportunity to do something for somebody else.”

They began the Play it Forward Fund in 2009 and set a $15,000 annual budget, made possible with two annual fundraisers and several private donations, Paula said. The money helps pay for music lessons for approximately 20 students each year, she said.

Mike Ziemski said he thinks music and arts are an essential part of the educational process, which should not be hindered for financial reasons.

While the Ziemskis were happy to win the award, they plan to continue working to expand the Play it Forward Fund and help more children, Mike said.

“We're humbled, but we're not doing this for recognition,” Mike Ziemski said. “We do this because we're in difficult economic times, where families and schools look to cut back and only do the most essential things.

“Usually, arts and music are the first things to go, and we want to make sure that's something that doesn't have to happen.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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