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Longtime New Ken-Arnold educator who co-founded Project SEED remembered for her compassion

| Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016, 11:45 p.m.
Ruth Carson
Ruth Carson

Meeting Ruth Carson meant walking away with a gift.

Not only did she have a unique way of connecting with people that left an impression on the heart of nearly all those she met, she made a habit of giving surprise gifts.

“She would say, ‘Here's your Wednesday surprise,' or ‘Here's your Monday surprise,' just to lift someone's spirits,” said Ann Palmer of New Kensington, Ms. Carson's close friend. “She shined with the light of her personality. She loved people and treated them with kindness, generosity and concern.”

Ruth E. Carson of Springdale died Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. She was 71.

Ms. Carson was a reading specialist for the New Kensington-Arnold School District, where she worked for 42 years before retiring in 2008.

She was co-founder of Project SEED, which distributes nonperishable food to elementary school students on Fridays to make sure they don't go hungry over the weekend. She and fellow retired teacher and administrator Joanne Cecchi founded the program in partnership with the Alle-Kiski Valley Senior Citizens Center.

“Her goal was if we could just sustain it for four years, then the kids we served as preschoolers (the first year) would have had a strong foundation through their most formative years and they would move to the upper elementary ready to go,” said Cecchi of Allegheny Township. “These kids we're going to serve this year are going to be sort of our first graduating class coming through Project SEED,” Cecchi said.

“She was an elementary teacher and had a compassion for kids from the very first day,” she said. “She herself struggled with reading and she had a soft spot in her heart for kids who struggled with that. That's why she became a reading specialist.”

Compassion was also part of Ms. Carson's deep-rooted Christian faith.

She served as an elder at Springdale United Presbyterian Church, where she taught Bible study and was part of several Christian community outreach ministries.

About two years ago, she wrote a grant proposal to the Pittsburgh Presbytery that got the church $15,000 to begin the Open Art Studio, which is open to children and adults in the community.

“She was a wonderful artist, very creative and very supportive of the program,” said Janet Carlisle, director of the Open Art Studio and wife of the Rev. David Carlisle, the church's pastor.

The two women grew up together in the church but only really got to know each other over the past two years as they worked together on various church projects.

“She was my mentor,” Carlisle said. “I looked at her and saw how she was so active and vibrant in her retirement and being there for people in the community.”

Kelli Leahy, 35, of Springdale Township met Ms. Carson through Bible study about seven years ago and it wasn't long before she became part of the Leahy family.

“Ruth was a very important part of our lives,” Leahy said. “I have three young children (ages 5, 7 and 9) and she was a sort of grandmother figure to them.”

Her dedication to others and her community did not go unnoticed.

She received a number of awards for her service, including being named 2015 Volunteer of the Year by the Alle-Kiski chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees and being inducted into the Allegheny Valley School District Alumni Hall of Fame for outstanding community service and humanitarian efforts.

Ms. Carson also received service recognition awards from Rotary International, the Allegheny-Kiski Valley NAACP and the United Way of Westmoreland County.

“She really was a wonderful woman and lived life to the fullest,” Palmer said.

Survivors include her brother, Charles Carson, and nieces and nephews.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Charles B. Jarvie Funeral Home, 801 Pittsburgh St., Cheswick. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Springdale United Presbyterian Church 859 Pittsburgh St., with the Rev. David Carlisle officiating. Burial to follow in Dorseyville Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Project SEED c/o Alle-Kiski Valley Senior Citizens, 1039 Third Ave., New Kensington, PA 15068.

Jodi Weigand is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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