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Countless board volunteers give nonprofits a leg up

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 6:28 a.m.

Some stumble into it by chance. Others have a deep, personal connection to their chosen causes.

However they get involved, all have a desire to give.

They are volunteers who help charities and other nonprofit organizations by serving on boards of directors, offering training, raising money and performing other services. They do not get paid, but their services are invaluable.

And they are not alone: In Allegheny County, there are at least 3,000 nonprofits with more than 10,000 volunteer board positions, according to Scott Leff, associate director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University.

Take retired professor Albert Mastantuono, 69, of Ross.

Mastantuono always figured he'd help polio researchers. His sister was diagnosed with the crippling disease when he was 11.

Instead, Mastantuono is chairman of the American Cancer Society's Greater Pittsburgh Unit. He signed up in 2002 after retiring from his post as associate professor of management training in the School of Liberal Arts at Penn State University. He was named Volunteer of the Year in 2005-06.

"Volunteering is almost in my DNA," Mastantuono said. "My father was very much involved in the March of Dimes, up to his dying day. In essence I grew up with that."

At Penn State, Mastantuono organized management training seminars for the American Cancer Society.

"When people tell me, 'Oh, you're so wonderful for giving your time,' I tell them — and I mean it — that I get so much more back than I could ever give," Mastantuono said. "It's very rewarding."

Then there's Bill Friedlander.

Most days, Friedlander can be found running his scrap metal recycling company in Greensburg. But in his free time, he'll throw on a tuxedo and hold black-tie events and other fundraising parties for the Westmoreland Symphony.

Before joining the symphony's board, Friedlander said he "didn't know the difference between an oboe and a drum."

In time, though, he learned "it's about helping continue the organization and the arts. I just felt it's important. (The symphony) is a great asset to our community."

Friedlander is treasurer and chairman of the auction committee. He said his time on the board has helped forge relationships with people he otherwise never would have met.

Plus, it has given him a new appreciation for classical music.

"I've become somewhat of a fan," Friedlander said. "When I started, I thought, 'Who would want to go and sit and listen to that?' Now I look forward to our concerts."

Valerie Golik has made a career of working with charities and nonprofits.

Golik, 48, of Marshall has two decades of experience volunteering. She recently joined the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force board of directors and serves on the communications committee.

"There is such a level of satisfaction to feeling like you did something good in this world," Golik said. "This makes you feel like you really did something that mattered, something that makes a difference in people's lives."

Golik, an adjunct assistant professor at Point Park University, has served on several boards, most recently as the executive director of the Pittsburgh Philharmonic. She said she chose to help the AIDS Task Force because she has friends suffering from the disease.

Everyone has something to offer, she said.

"You lend expertise in whatever area of expertise you have," she said. "It varies widely."

The biggest reward is knowing that she has made a difference, Golik said.

Kevin Fitzgerald, 56, of Franklin Park agreed.

Fitzgerald is senior vice president of Koppers Inc., a Downtown-based maker of carbon compounds and treated wood products. Twelve years ago, a daughter of one of his best friends had heart transplant surgery, so he witnessed firsthand the strains such medical issues create.

That's why Fitzgerald volunteered to help Family House, a nonprofit that provides shelter and moral support to critically ill patients and their caregivers who travel to Pittsburgh for treatment. Fitzgerald is vice chairman of the board of directors. His wife is a house volunteer.

"We picked Family House because of their mission, which is to help families and not just individuals," Fitzgerald said. "It's not just about offering a lower-priced place to stay. It's about offering a place where they can commingle with people in the same situation."

Fitzgerald said he volunteers 10 to 15 hours a month.

"I get a lot of pride working with that organization," he said. "You get to see Family House help people who really need it, and it gives you a good feeling. There is a lot of self satisfaction and a sense of pride."

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