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From Beneficiary to Benefactor

"I understand how big of a help that was. I've been there. HHF came through for her."

Twenty-four years ago, Takisa joined the UPMC Hamot team as an Environmental Services (EVS) Associate. At the time, she was fresh out of high school and had four young children. Life was challenging. “Being young and having four kids and trying to work a full-time job, it was very hard,” Takisa shares. As the holidays neared, she signed up for the Wish Tree program, which helps employees of modest means acquire Christmas presents for their children.

UPMC Hamot staff purchase and wrap presents for the Wish Tree children. HHF provides a Walmart gift card to each family in addition to the gifts they receive. Takisa liked to use the Walmart gift card to purchase hot chocolate and baking supplies. Her children would help her make cookies, which became a treasured family memory. “It was so nice,” she says.

On Christmas morning, she would finish work at 7:00am and return home to children who would “light up, so excited” when they saw her. They would jump up and down, eager to open their Wish Tree gifts. The impact of the program - evident in their delight.

Now, Takisa serves as the Manager of the EVS department and sometimes sees her younger self in her employees. “We have a lot of people in our department struggling with different things,” she said. Recently, an employee in Takisa’s department was struggling to afford back-to-school supplies, including clothes and shoes for her child. Knowing who could help, Takisa spring into action, reaching out to Jaimee Black, VP Operations, at HHF.

A few days later, Takisa’s team presented the employee with a gift to help cover their family’s back-to-school expenses. The employee “fell to the floor crying and couldn’t believe it.” The staff member was so grateful that even weeks afterward, she would stop Takisa in the hallway to thank her. For Takisa, the struggle hit close to home. “I understand how big of a help that was. I’ve been there. HHF came through for her.”