Rachel Ruslavage is your typical teenager. The Canon-McMillan High School senior loves shopping for clothes and she enjoys the freedom a driver’s license permits.
The latter brought her back to God. The former spawned her philanthropic endeavors.
Noting she was baptized, made her first Holy Communion and was confirmed in the Roman Catholic faith, Ruslavage said that once she started participating in sports, there seemed to be “a lack of time” to go to church.
“I still felt a connection and I felt my faith was real close to who I am but once I could drive, I was drawn back. I love the freedom of driving,” she added. “Driving gets me there but my faith brought me back so I chose to go to church.”
While attending St. Benedict the Abbot in Peters Township, Ruslavage became involved in Family Promise, which provides housing for homeless families that want to stay together. According to Ruslavage, volunteers provide hospitality and entertainment for the family members.
“They are homeless people waiting to get their feet underneath them,” Ruslavage explained.
Ruslavage and her mother, Valerie, along with other seniors from her high school spent time recently with these families, especially the children. They engaged in sporting events and board games.
“It gave me a whole new outlook on life and a real appreciation for what I have and others don’t,” Ruslavage said. “I felt there is more to life than just living and I got a great satisfaction out of helping others that I didn’t know yet. After that, I gained a great sense of purpose.”
Because she was disappointed not to have had another opportunity yet to volunteer with Family Promise, Ruslavage sought another cause. Through her mother’s friend—Jeane Kish—Ruslavage discovered the St. Vincent De Paul Society and learned the organization had a “desperate” need for clothes, especially at its Monroeville location because recent flooding in the region shut that store and “destroyed” its supply of goods.
“It was a major loss for people who depended upon the Society for necessities,” Ruslavage explained. “They need so many donations.”
Hence, Ruslavage is conducting a clothing drive for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In addition to a districtwide collection throughout the schools this week, Society truck will be in the high school parking lot from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 12 to accept public donations. Items may also be dropped off at St. Patrick Church in Canonsburg on Oct. 13.
Ruslavage already has more than a dozen bags full of clothing to contribute.
“I love to wear clothes. I’m a big fan of clothes,” she admitted. “My mom tells me I need to clean out my closets. When I do, she says clean them out again,” she continued with a laugh.
Ruslavage added that she’s more of an “off-brand” person with a keen eye for “deals” as she shops primarily the outlets.
“If it’s too expensive, I will not buy it,” she said. “That’s why I love Tanger and Gabes.”
Kish loves Ruslavage, her enthusiasm and commitment to the St. Vincent De Paul Society.
“Rachel is an amazing girl. What she is doing will benefit us tremendously,” said Kish, who is the volunteer coordinator for the Society’s Pittsburgh District. “We have such a great need in this area and Rachel is doing so much. She’s demonstrated great initiative.”
After “formulating a structured plan,” Ruslavage approached school administrators, including the assistant superintendent and high school principal, and gained permission to hold an in-house clothing collection in addition to the public drive to be held Oct. 12. During first-period classes from Oct. 7-11, members of the National Honor Society, to which Ruslavage belongs, will collect donations.
“We figured school would be the best place to hold it first because we have had success in the past with other fundraising events,” explained Ruslavage. “We’ve made it a competition between the classes.”
Ruslavage also utilized her art talents in drumming up interest in the clothing drive. She designed the flyers that were distributed throughout the community and handed out to the students to take home to their parents. Ruslavage said this part of organizing the event was not difficult.
“Most of the images I use in my designs just pop into my head,” she said. “The hands to me seemed to be important so I used them in the flyer to show our partnership and lending a helping hand to those in need.”
Because she neither has a Facebook page nor a Twitter account, Ruslavage has relied upon “word of mouth” to reach out to others about her fund-raising endeavor. An insert has been published in the St. Benedict’s Sunday bulletin as well.
“I’m not on social media,” she said, “but the flyers all went home with all the students, including the elementary children. I hope to tap my friends, who do have a social media presence though.”
Because she plays outside back on the Beading Soccer Club’s U-17 team, that competes in the PA West region, and has competed on the high school squad for two seasons as a sophomore and a junior, Ruslavage’s reach goes beyond the borders of Canonsburg. She has friends and teammates that reside in Peters Township and Upper St. Clair, who are assisting and promoting the event. Plus, her older sister, Kayla, is a chemical engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh and her parents have contacts as a teacher and medical liaison respectively.
Valerie and Chuck Ruslavage have had a profound impact on their 17-year-old daughter, her world views and charitable causes.
“My parents really have left an imprint upon me. They have always taught me that there are more people than just me in the world and that I should share as much as I can with them.
Ruslavage added that she feels it is “very” important to do things such as the clothing drive.
“I feel like we are all connected and it’s our responsibility to take care of each other,” she said. “There are people who will pick me up when I fall down. Therefore I believe I should pick people up when they are down.”
Ruslavage plans to do just that long into the future. Her hopes are for the fundraiser to become an annual event and she is talking with younger students to continue the drive once she matriculates to college. Ruslavage’s ultimate desire is to become a surgeon. The dream school for the 4.46 honors student, who is the treasurer of NHS, a Student Council representative and member of the Future Medical Professional Club, is Vanderbilt.
Ruslavage said of the clothing drive, “This is just the beginning of my endeavors. I hope to implement many of my ideas in college where I know there will be a lot of support, especially with mission trips that are offered. “Wherever I go, I want to be next to a hospital and be able to volunteer.”
She added that she’s choosing to become a surgeon because “it is a nice blend” of the artistic and medicine. “Surgery is an art of its own,” she said.