A Conscious Commitment to Making the Best of Any Situation
Though Pat Nicely has supported a wide variety of causes over the years, her volunteerism has always been rooted in her faith and a conscious commitment to making the best of any situation.
As a teenager, she first started volunteering as an organist for her church in York, PA. She continued throughout high school before attending Northeast Christian Junior College in Villanova and Penn State Harrisburg, where she met her husband, Ed. They were living in Wilkes-Barre with their two children, a son and a daughter, and Pat was working as a territory sales manager for Hallmark when, as she puts it, “the bottom fell out.”
At only seven years old, Pat and Ed’s daughter Amber was diagnosed with bone cancer. Despite undergoing treatments and having her leg amputated, she sadly died at age eight. During the last year and a half of Amber’s life, the family planned positive activities. “We enjoyed that time by loving her as much as possible and teaching her to help others,” Pat explains. “Our church family and our strong faith in God helped us get through those dark days. It was not easy.”
Pat’s experience with losing a child led to a period of volunteering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northeastern PA. “I was a Wish Granter and a member of their Board of Directors,” she shares. “I liked organizing everything for the Wishes, but I gave it up after a few years because it was so sad to lose the children you grew to love.”
About a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area, Pat dipped her toe into demolition and construction as a volunteer on a church mission trip. “Samaritan’s Purse organized the trip. It was very well run, and they had all the tools and directions needed to get down there and start working. I learned how to do drywall during that trip; we were ripping out old, putting up new, hammering, and whatever else we needed to do.”
Three years ago, Pat went on another mission trip that hugely impacted her life. “My son and I went to Kyiv for a week to distribute food and clothing to refugees from Russia,” she says. “The interpreter for our group was a pastor named Volod. He knew English well and was the same age as my son, so they became good friends. About two months after we returned from Ukraine, Volod visited the U.S. He preached and sang at our church and stayed at our house for a weekend. We got to know him very well.”
Pat and Ed moved to UMC at Collingswood in 2021 after Pat had a stroke that left her left side partially paralyzed. Pat experienced many senior communities during her rehab process. She and Ed were drawn to Collingswood’s friendly staff, faith-based philosophy, and close proximity to her family. “Now I can ride my wheelchair straight down Haddon Avenue to watch my granddaughter’s karate lessons,” she smiles.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Nicelys were deeply concerned for the safety of Volod and his family. Pat’s son learned the family managed to escape to Germany by way of Poland before being accepted into a housing program for Ukrainian refugees in the Midwestern U.S. To help the family start over, Pat collected contributions from concerned residents and staff at Collingswood, and her son hosted a small benefit concert in his backyard that raised more funds. The family was so thankful, as they escaped with only the clothes they were wearing.
It should come as no surprise that Pat hasn’t let physical limitations from her stroke keep her from volunteering. Today, with the help of her husband and a dedicated group of their fellow residents, she runs UMC at Collingswood’s Gift Shop. “The best thing about the shop is that it’s run through donations,” she explains. My husband and I put so much work into it, and I would be bored otherwise! Plus, I like making people happy with their purchases.”
In addition to keeping her busy and productive, Pat credits her work in the Gift Shop with helping her acclimate to her new home. She feels that volunteering is one of the best ways to meet people and points out that she and Ed have gotten to know many residents and staff members by working in the shop.
When asked if she has any advice for engage! readers, Pat shares these words of wisdom: “If you need to get your mind off your own troubles, volunteer. I’ve learned through personal experience that when you think about others, you won’t think so much about yourself.”