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Fundraiser in Sewickley Heights to raise money for wheelchairs

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Dan Gallagher decided to take a year off after college to think about his options, he came away with a life-changing experience.

After taking five trips to Jamaica to help care for children with disabilities living in a Mustard Seed Communities home in Kingston, Jamaica, he now is heading his own fundraising effort to provide 30 wheelchairs for the children there who touched his heart.

The Mustard Seed Music Festival will be held April 6 at the BarN, owned by Bill and Jody Welge at the corner of Scaife and Glen Mitchell roads, Sewickley Heights, to raise money for the wheelchairs.

Slim Forsythe, a country singer from Lawrenceville, will perform along with Gallagher's father, Mike, and brother, John, who will play Irish music. The Guaranteed Irish, consisting of three band members, Bruce Foley, Jim Lamb and Pat Folan, also will perform. Those attending are encouraged to bring a side dish or dessert to share.

Dan Gallagher, 29, of Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood, said that in addition to his family, Ray Werner of the city's Point Breeze neighborhood and the Rev. Christopher Donley, parochial vicar at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Ross Township, helped with the event.

Gallagher said after his work in Jamaica, he is striving to be a better man.

“There is so much poverty (in Kingston) but a spirit of great gratitude permeates the whole place. They turn everything back to God and give thanks. Now, I try to be grateful for whatever I get. I'm trying to develop gratitude.”

Gallagher said he also was challenged to love all the children he met there.

“Some of the kids have pretty severe disabilities and abnormalities. It would be so easy to turn away, and you try to challenge yourself to love them as they are. It was such a blessing.”

Gallagher said he feels fortunate to come from a loving family after learning that many of the Mustard Seed children are abandoned in the streets by families who don't have the means or who don't want to deal with a child with a disability.

One child with whom Gallagher played soccer had been found in a pigsty, he said.

“He is such a beautiful kid. There are a number of stories like that,” he said.

While in Jamaica, Gallagher also helped run a Sunday school with and organized activities for American high school and college students who came to Mustard Seed on mission trips.

He worked with children with AIDS and also helped the physical therapist there to show children various rehabilitation stretches they can do in their wheelchairs.

Gallagher lived with the nephew of the founder, the Rev. Gregory Ramkisson, and became a godfather to one of the children, Brandon Thompson, who will receive one of the 30 wheelchairs.

“He came into Mustard Seed about the same time I started there. Whenever they bring in new children that don't have an affiliation with another faith and aren't baptized, they baptize the kid. So, I was there when they did that, and they asked me to be his godfather,” Gallagher said. “Brandon writes me letters and sends me pictures of him, and I do the same.”

Gallagher said although the Mustard Seed staff tries to be self-sufficient by having a fish farm and selling eggs from the chickens they raise, most of the funding comes strictly from fundraisers.

He is working with Wheels for Humanity, based in California, which collects and refurbishes wheelchairs. It costs $250 to refurbish and ship one wheelchair. Some of the funds also will help provide room and board for volunteer physical therapists who are sent to the area by Wheels for Humanity to help fit the children to the wheelchairs.

Gallagher's journey started after receiving information and advice from his aunt, Janice Givens of Georgia, who frequently travels to Mustard Seed in Jamaica.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in biology at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and deciding he wanted to take some time off to experience another culture, Gallagher decided to spend five months in Jamaica during the summer of 2007.

When he returned, he lived at St. Paul's Seminary until 2009 while studying philosophy at Duquesne University, went to Rome to study theology at Pontifical Gregorian University and now teaches religion at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

He said he tries to return to Jamaica every year. His last trip there was in 2011, and he plans to go back this year in August.

For more information about Mustard Seed Communities, visit

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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