How would you like to donate to a charity that used every penny for good deeds and none for administration?
The Rev. Tim O'Neill, aka "Father Tim," in his 60s, his Irish red hair turned nearly white, heads such a group. While the Catholic Church defends itself against a slew of charges against its clergy, O'Neill -- fast talking, quick to laugh, small and fit -- continues to follow what he calls the servant model of priesthood.
"Our fathers were blue collar workers. The priests raised in Youngstown became priests to serve," he said. With the Difference Makers, O'Neill does just that.
One day recently, O'Neill, his two friends, and I sat at a table in Rockne's bar -- a priest, a former cop, a lawyer and a reporter, the setup for a movie if I ever heard one -- and talked about Difference Makers.
The father, who taught Boom Boom Mancini and Bobby Stoops at Cardinal Mooney, sat across from me, wearing a polo shirt and windbreaker, with several papers scattered in front of him.
Harry Wollet, ex-cop, sat next to him in a suit and tie, a big man with a big heart who found the "street" too much -- "I lost hope. If you lose hope, you have to leave."
After 15 years with the Youngstown police, he became a stockbroker and is now with Prudential Security. Wollet is the vice chairman of Difference Makers.
Across from Wollet was his old partner -- hair buzzed close to his head, round spectacles, and quiet -- William Blanchard, now an attorney and detective with YPD and dressed like one.
"We help the little guy who has nowhere else to turn," Wollet explained. "For example, yesterday. A woman whose 17-year-old son died playing basketball -- she had no money for the funeral. She called us."
"Another guy [was leaving work] on Albert Street; he gets off his shift at 3 a.m. He [doesn't have his car keys], so he walks home, is shot and robbed, and ends up in the hospital," Wollet said. "The immediate concern is money for groceries. We step in, trying to be as anonymous and unobtrusive as we can."
Trips to the lake
"Our biggest service project is taking kids to Geneva on the Lake," Wollet said. The park is leased to the Difference Makers for one day in September.
This September will be their 11th trip. "We pay for everything. Mostly inner-city kids, a lot who are HIV positive, many kids from group homes where there is no recreation budget."
O'Neill added, "And we take the Children from Chernobyl to Geneva on the Lake in July."
Aside from the trips to the lakefront resort town, Difference Makers give as they are called upon to give. "We try to support stuff that falls through the cracks," Wollet said.
The board of trustees is made up of people -- many of them with familiar names, like Edward DeBartolo Jr., Bob Stoops and Jim Tressel -- who appreciate the concept of having each dollar donated help someone.
"I call Father Tim, 'Father Eclectic,' " Wollet said, noting that a diverse group of people contribute. "I'm sitting downtown in a bar and a guy who calls himself Bernie the Jew is at the end of the bar. He donates $200." The next year, Wollet said, Bernie was in prison. The father still asked, "Did you get a donation from him?"
Keeping the touch
Difference Makers also hold two fund-raisers -- a May 19 barbecue and a golf tournament later in the year. But those are the only ones. "If you get into big time fund-raisers and paid staff, it loses the touch," Wollet said.
The mission statement Difference Makers created when it incorporated in 1995 is a clear description of what the group does: We make "a difference in other people's lives, especially those less fortunate, and most especially less fortunate children. Hopefully they may be positively affected educationally, culturally, socially and maybe even physically."
That year, Difference Makers donated $2,700. In 2001, they donated $50,000.