Gere Weller Finds Home as Volunteer for Adoption Services
HOWLAND, Ohio – It’s been more than 30 years since Gere Weller began volunteering at Northeast Ohio Adoption Services in Howland. It’s been 25 since she started the group’s biggest fundraisers: flower sales each Mother’s Day and another in autumn. And it’s been a while since she took a break from serving on the agency’s board of directors.
But for Weller, recipient of the Mahoning-Shenango Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award, she often feels like it’s her first day on the job. She still radiates enthusiasm and excitement.
“Just to come to functions where every once in a while children who were adopted come in, it’s just heartwarming,” she says. “Every child needs a home and a loving parent.”
More than 4,000 children in the Buckeye State need to be adopted, Weller says, and her agency works with others across Ohio to find them suitable homes. That comes at no small cost, considering that Northeast Ohio Adoption Services charges families nothing. And that, Weller explains, is where the flower sales come in to play.
The most recent sale this fall brought in $20,000 for the organization over the course of 10 days. All flowers are purchased from area greenhouses for resale, Weller says.
“Gere has a knack for getting the prettiest flowers,” says Cheryl Tarantino, executive director of Northeast Ohio Adoption Services. “That’s why we’ve done so well with it.”
Weller responds with a laugh, “I just buy the best ones they have. People like to buy those ones.”
But it seems people are more than willing to help the agency, regardless of whether they have the best-looking flowers. Every holiday season, Weller organizes the Angel Tree. There, volunteers cut out paper angels and write on each the name of a child awaiting adoption and a brief description before hanging them on a Christmas tree. From there, people who visit the tree pick an angel and buy gifts. As many as 600 kids are selected and have a better Christmas.
“Many local businesses and churches, like [locals 1112 and 1714 of] the United Auto Workers and Millwood Inc., are still dedicated to Gere and this cause and anxiously await their shopping lists,” Tarantino says. “Gere greets all donors graciously and warmly with her infectious smile.”
Just as important as Christmas gifts, she is sure to point out, are birthdays.
“Everyone, of course, wants to donate for Christmas, which is good,” Weller says as she looks through the closet of donated clothes and toys. “But there are other days throughout the year, too. Even if we can just find someone to take a child out to eat and buy them a gift, we just want these kids to feel special.”
Even after 37 years volunteering with Northeast Ohio Adoption Services, Weller says she has never entertained the thought of slowing down. She does, however, know when she’ll cut back.
“I’ve said that as long as I can crawl in and out of that pickup truck and sell flowers, I’ll stay here,” she says. “Just to be here and doing good for kids is why I do this. My family is grown and I have time to do this. I love doing it.”
For Tarantino, Weller’s service to the group is indispensible.
“Gere’s leadership as a volunteer and donor has transformed thousands of children’s lives for the better. Her influence has helped shape the attitudes in her community regarding foster care and adoption,” Tarantino says. “She has brought awareness of the needs of Ohio’s 4,000 waiting children to thousands of people.”
Pictured: Gere Weller says she’ll keep volunteering at Northeast Ohio Adoption Services until she can’t load trucks during its annual flower sales.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.