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Jul 11, 201608:37 AMCity Beat

Warming Hearts, Hands and Heads

Jul 11, 2016 - 08:37 AM
Warming Hearts, Hands and Heads

Photography by Daulton J. Leonard

(Left) Emily Gochenaur and Kate Byerly (Right) pose under the mission statement at Messiah College.

Pennsylvania winters are harsh to say the least. Freezing temperatures and inclement weather plague Penn’s Woods December through March, and this can be violently hazardous for those who live on the streets of Harrisburg. That’s why Central Pennsylvania: Operation Warm Hearts was established less than a year ago by Emily Gochenaur.


“I volunteer at a local resident house, and I noticed that a lot of the people that came in did not have protective clothing for their hands or warm headwear. So, independently, I began to knit hats, scarves and gloves for them,” said Gochenaur.


While attending Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), Gochenaur met philanthropist Kate Byerly in class. The two quickly became friends and soon after Gochenaur informed Byerly of her project.


“I could not wait to help. I always want to help people, and this seemed like a great way to do so,” said Byerly.


Byerly was a Business Administration Major at HACC, and she utilized her HACC education to breathe life into Gochenaur’s dream.


“So, when I transferred into Messiah [College] there was a class we were required to take for my [Human Services] major called Macro Practice Social Work, where you create a company. I thought of turning my passion for helping others into my macro project in the form of a nonprofit. Kate really helped me to give life to my dream,” said Gochenaur, who graduated from Messiah in May.


Typical of college students, Operation Warm Hearts is the product of nocturnal sessions in Messiah College’s various study lounges. While maintaining healthy grade point averages, these two visionaries engineered an outreach organization that has maturity and sophistication beyond their years.


“We want to do more coat drives, missions work and help all the homeless people as well. We have a five, ten and twenty year plan for goals and objectives that we will meet to help the people,” said Byerly.


Helping people is what they are doing, but helpful people is what they need.


“We don’t just need knitters. If you don’t like to knit, that’s no problem. We need all kinds of people for everything. If you want to help, but don’t like to knit, there is still a place for you,” said Byerly.


Together Gochenaur and Byerly are threading the needle on issues many people do not want to discuss, and they are knitting a better future for the community for no reason other than they genuinely care about the people.


“I am a strong believer that everyone needs to feel as if they have someone that cares for them-cares about them. We care about the people living on the streets of Harrisburg, and we want to make a difference in their lives,” said Gochenaur.


For more information on how you can help, visit operationwarmhearts.org.

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