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Leechburg man helps needy, who must pay it forward

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Monday, Feb. 22, 2010

Hank Commodore of Leechburg knows the benefits of paying it forward. Now he wants others to experience the peace it has brought him.

For decades, the former New Kensington-Arnold School District administrator has helped children and families in need: fostering students, providing meals and clothing, donating furniture.

Commodore had to back off his charitable efforts in recent years because he suffers from polymyositis, a chronic disease that attacks the body's connective tissues and weakens muscles.

With the support of many friends and like-minded community members, Commodore is helping others again -- and he's expanding his reach.

He has launched an initiative he calls "Help the Needy, Not the Greedy."

Tractor-trailer loads of furniture are arriving at a New Kensington warehouse, ready for distribution to those who need it.

Some of the mattresses, living room furniture and bedroom sets were donated by companies and stores; some were bought by Commodore and others.

It all will be given away to anyone who demonstrates a need.

There's only one caveat: Recipients have to help others in some way.

Perhaps they can suggest someone else in need of furniture. Or they can help with distribution.

"They have to help us help the next person," Commodore said. "You're never too big or too small you can't give to somebody."

Also, Commodore is planning an event March 6 to get children and the community more involved with his efforts.

"Everybody needs to get on board," he said.

Commodore plans to include New Kensington-Arnold students, showcasing their talents and offering prizes to participating youngsters along with lessons on becoming a good citizen.

Superintendent George Batterson said students in second through 12th grades will be writing essays on helping others. Teachers will choose the best in each grade to be presented during the event at Valley High School.

"He's doing a nice thing for the community," Batterson said. "It's great for our kids."

"It makes them feel like they're part of something," Commodore said. "It sends a message to these kids that we're all linked together."

Commodore said people often don't realize the impact the smallest gesture can have on someone's life.

He remembers nearly quitting the high school basketball team because he wasn't getting much playing time. A teacher spoke up for him, and the varsity coach gave him a chance.

Commodore went on to a stellar career at Ford City High School in the 1960s and set scoring records at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. He played in the NBA before he was drafted into the Army.

Commodore can name dozens of people who impacted his life, from childhood to adulthood.

He, in turn, spent a career helping students at New Kensington-Arnold School District, where he was a guidance counselor and dean of students.

"It motivated those kids because they knew you cared about them," he said.

Commodore said helping others has brought him peace and enthusiasm despite his painful condition. He hopes expanding his efforts will bring others the same sense of well-being and ensure his efforts outlive him.

"When I'm gone," Commodore said, "I believe this will continue."

Additional Information:

Coming up

What: 'Help the Needy, Not the Greedy' event

When: 12:30 to 4 p.m. March 6

Where: Valley High School, 701 Stevenson Blvd., New Kensington

Cost: Free

Details: Hank Commodore, 724-217-3866



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