Defining love’s serenity is often compared to romance, but it’s so much more. Within our serene mountain communities, many find the serenity of love as they hike, bike or simply breathe in the beauty of the mountains, wildlife and culture that surrounds us. Pets of all shapes and sizes, gardening, or crafting art creates serenity for many, as does serving our communities through volunteering.

While working with local and state nonprofits for over 27 years to reveal the help and hope they offer to people of all ages, as well as to pets and livestock, I recognized the sincere concern staff and volunteers alike had for the wellbeing of others. Their random acts of kindness created compassion, healing, love, and, for many, finding or regaining serenity. Mary Petrich, who is in her 19th year with EChO, proves that point.

“Our staff and volunteers love and accept people right where they are.”

Prior to moving to Evergreen, Mary, a former flight attendant, married Gary, who was a ski industry executive. Two well-meaning friends introduced the pair, certain they would be instantly smitten. Mary explains,“My roommate at the time was dating a guy who worked for Gary. Both strongly believed Gary and I were the perfect match. Initially, we sadly disappointed them. Neither of us was struck with ‘love at first sight,’ but as it turned out, their instincts were correct, and we just celebrated our 38th anniversary.”

While living in Vermont, Gary’s company incentivized him to move west, giving the couple freedom of choice to pick any state they wanted to call home. “We were drawn to the Pacific Northwest but discovered Evergreen while driving to Vail to ski,” shares Mary. “Our  realtor showed us a gorgeous vacant lot we couldn’t pass up in a neighborhood where everyone was friendly and welcoming. We couldn’t resist the land, the neighbors, and the opportunity to build our dream home.”

In her 18th year as a flight attendant, the airlines offered their long-term employees early-out retirement packages. Mary readily accepted. “Our only child, Bryan, was in elementary school at the time, and having the time, I wanted to volunteer. I reached out to EChO when they posted a need for volunteer help with their food pantry. It was a perfect fit for me. EChO was then located on the historic Bancroft property next door to Church of the Transfiguration. The front room of what originally was the Bancroft summer home was welcoming with a beautiful fireplace and buffet table where guests and their children could help themselves. To allow parents to shop, I loved nothing more than sitting with their kids, whom I often supplied with colorful markers, paper and encouragement to draw whatever they wanted. Their artwork always astounded me, especially when they took the initiative to craft thank-you cards for EChO,” Mary recalls.

When EChO posted a part-time job for a volunteer coordinator for the food pantry, Mary was the first to apply and was readily hired. “The job was 10 hours a week. The position transitioned to full time, and my current position is Volunteer Services Director. The volunteer numbers have grown to 300 in response to the ever-increasing demand for services. We see people at their lowest due to divorce, addiction and health issues, as well as finding themselves in need of housing. And, of course, our hearts go out to their children. Our staff and volunteers love and accept people right where they are. Never is there judgment or condemnation. It’s truly an honor to work with our volunteers because their devotion is inspirational. Often, we hear heartbreaking stories, like a family with three kids calling a two-car garage home. Many have been victimized, and the majority are living at or below the poverty level. Without a doubt, the love we give our clients comes back to us, especially through their children. This is evident when we partner with the Salvation Army on Back to School Shopping Day. Every child is given $75 and allowed to purchase clothing and other back to school needs—another event which inspires kids to create thank-you cards that overwhelm me.”

Mary creates cards from the EChO clients’ children’s thank-you notes.

One client in particular, rekindled memories of Mary’s own childhood. “Rarely do I share anything about my own childhood, but my situation resonated deeply with a particular family. As children, my siblings and I always felt secure until our security transitioned into tragedy that left us in need. At that time, agencies like EChO did not exist, or if they did, they were not easily accessible and certainly not prevalent in a middle-class community. My buried memories returned when a family I knew in the community divorced. The husband stopped supporting his family consisting of four children, the oldest being 10. He left his ex-wife with no other alternative than going to EChO to keep her family fed. She was beyond embarrassed when she saw me. I regret I never told her how readily I was able to identify with her circumstances.”

Mary’s truth was much like her friend’s. “I was the youngest of four children and always joked that I was raised by wolves because I had no supervision. My parents separated when I was six and later divorced. My mother had to get a job to support us, which was highly unusual in the sixties. I had the only single parent household that I knew of. My mother was a single parent for eight years and it was definitely difficult. My brother half-jokingly claims there were four kids and enough food for three. We lived in a fairly affluent neighborhood outside of Philadelphia. I know what it felt like to not have the same lifestyle as my friends who lived in beautiful homes. We moved several times and lived in a series of rentals. I don’t know if it was because I was so young or if it reflects my ostrich-like approach to life, but I don’t look back and feel that I had an unhappy childhood. I was fortunate enough to have a strong, loving mother who took control and did her best to take care of her family, which really made me pretty lucky in the whole scheme of things. If anything, I feel that whatever deprivation and hardship we faced made us all resilient and self-reliant. What makes me sad about those years was thinking about my mother and the challenges she faced raising four children on her own.”

Mary fully believes working or volunteering for EChO defines the serenity of love. She says, “Collectively, our volunteers are passionate and selflessly devoted to serving EChO’s clients. Many have volunteered for decades. Their combined talents, commitment and desire to help others is inspirational. I have done nothing to deserve the blessings I receive from working with our compassionate volunteers who go above and beyond in the selfless service they provide.”