Dreliszak launches motivational assembly business Stand Up and Choose!
In high school, Mary Dreliszak thought she had found her niche following a secretarial track. As it turns out, stage front and center suited her skill set better than being behind a desk.
After decades of working in health care and academic communications, Dreliszak last year launched a motivational assembly business, Stand Up and Choose!
She describes its message to middle-school students as one of leadership, anti-drugs and anti-bullying.
“In some ways it is to honor my mom (Mary Ann Ruggieri). She died in 1993. One of the last things she shared with our family pastor was that she hoped her children would make good choices,” she says.
Dreliszak, 55, of Connellsville works part time as director of advancement for Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School, her alma mater.
In her senior year, a teacher, Carl Rossi, suggested she try out for a Jaycees speaking contest.
“I saw the names of the valedictorian, the salutatorian and four other (top 10 students) on the list. I wanted to back out, but he encouraged me,” Dreliszak says.
And she won a $500 college scholarship.
“The fact that I could do that gave me a level of confidence I wouldn't have otherwise had,” she says.
Dreliszak earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Carlow College.
“I went to college because I didn't want to be a secretary, and my first job was as a secretary,” she says, laughing.
Despite a high-profile position, working for Pittsburgh Steelers President Dan Rooney, Dreliszak felt pulled in another direction. “I knew, after about a year, something was tugging in my heart to get into public relations,” she says.
After taking a position with Health First Medical Center in Connellsville, she started its community relations department. Following the birth of her first child, she ran a home-based communications consulting company.
“That gave me a lot of great experience,” she says.
Most recently, she worked with the Challenge Program, which matches high schools with business partners who contribute financial rewards to deserving students.
She is entrenched in her hometown, from working for her alma mater to civic engagement, including serving on the Fayette County Cultural Trust board.
She and her husband, Mark Dreliszak, have volunteered as mentors with Circles, a national outreach program, and part of Connellsville Area Community Ministries, that works to move people out of poverty.
Four years ago, she started her current business, MaryMotivates.com, as a blog.
“I started a ‘People Who Inspire' series. ... They are all around us,” she says.
Drawing from a 50-mile radius, she wrote about ordinary people, from a woman who handled cancer treatment through prayer and a therapy dog to a man whose delivery of “ho ho ho” landed him a role as a community Santa Claus.
“Everyone has a story. ... What they all have in common is the choices they made that made their lives extraordinary,” Dreliszak says.
The series became a book, “People Who Inspire,” published by Motivational Press.
Working with members of law enforcement, school administrators and social service professionals, she then put together her motivational tour. Last fall, “Stand Up and Choose!” hit the road.
“It was amazing how attentive our students were and how each of them took something away from the assembly — whether it be to remain drug-free, have a positive self-image, how to reach out for help, etc.,” says Jamie Bielecki-Quinn, Connellsville Area Middle School guidance counselor.
“I wouldn't mind doing it on an annual basis for the sixth-grade students,” middle school principal Charles Michael says.
Dreliszak took to heart a school administrator's advice to consider what a bully may go through at home before coming to school.
Students from local school districts performed in videos, and Dreliszak's brother, Paul Ruggieri, a WQED producer, lent his filming skills to the project. The students' visceral portrayals of both victims and bullies are painful, then inspiring, to watch.
Several speakers collaborate with Dreliszak on the assemblies, including Mary Sampey, who lost her sister to a heroin overdose, and Connellsville city council member Ethan Keedy, who lost his father to suicide.
Connellsville's Highlands Hospital is a program sponsor and partner.
“Her Stand Up and Choose! tour mirrors the goals and objectives of Highlands Hospital. We believe education is the key to empowering individuals to choose healthy behaviors. We see this collaboration as a way to communicate our message in an non-threatening manner that allows individuals to know that help and resources are here for them,” says Vicki Meier, hospital director of development.
Dreliszak hopes to carry her message beyond Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
“We might not be able to choose circumstances in our lives, but we can choose how we respond. Your past does not define your future. You can rise above any obstacle,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com