Berks County Givers
Berks County residents, communities and schools are thriving, thanks to givers who are leading the drive for change.
Hundreds of local individuals and organizations are committed to improving lives in the community by giving their time and talents — either through volunteerism or through their careers — for charitable, educational and other worthwhile causes.
These three Berks County philanthropists are among the many residents who are doing their part to make Reading a better place to live, work and raise a family.
General Manager, Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Reading
Pittsburgh native Craig Poole came to Reading in 2010 with a vision: to put a heartbeat and pulse back into the city.
During his first trip to the area, Craig visited downtown Reading. Although he witnessed despair, he also saw the small city’s potential. “If I can show people it’s a beautiful city and let the people recreate themselves and be what they’re supposed to be, then I can make a difference. I saw hope, and I thought I could be part of the momentum,” he recalls.
He had taken the general manager position at the Crowne Plaza – tasked with revitalizing the Wyomissing hotel. In just four years, he helped to nearly double the complex’s revenue.
Now, seven years after calling Reading his new home, he’s using his revival talents to help bring life and vitality back to downtown Reading in his new position as the president and COO of the Reading Hospitality Management Company, which manages the new DoubleTree by Hilton Reading on 701 Penn St.
Craig found his way to the new four-star hotel in December 2014 by way of DoubleTree chief developer Albert Boscov, the late chairman and CEO of Boscov’s department stores, whom he met a few years earlier.
“I was highly honored. He was my hero,” says Craig of being hand-picked by Albert to manage the DoubleTree, which officially opened in December 2015. “I got to learn from him every day, which is probably the best thing in the world. I thought it was a part of my mission. It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
The two philanthropists shared the same passion: to be successful and use it as a catalyst of change for the city of Reading.
“I care about the city and its people and want to make it the way it should be,” Craig adds.
With its prime location across from the Santander Arena, the DoubleTree is critical in helping to revive downtown Reading.
Craig is already seeing positive changes in the city and budding business relationships. Santander has created more venues. DoubleTree guests are supporting the Reading Symphony Orchestra and local restaurants through the hotel’s free transportation service. New pubs and restaurants are exploring downtown location options.
“We wanted to have an economic impact on our neighbors,” Craig says. “The city of Reading is becoming the place to be, and it wasn’t always that way. The people who live in Berks County have a desire to come to Reading.”
Craig credits the DoubleTree’s 209 hard-working employees for the hotel’s success and for making it “one of the cleanest hotels in the world with the best guest experience.”
“It shows you the people here are great, and they’re great workers with great working habits,” shares Craig, who manages his staff with unconditional love. “The DoubleTree is a beautiful building, but the spirit inside is what makes it beautiful.”
Craig will continue leading change in the downtown area. He already has a vision for what the future of the city looks like: outside dining with flowers, entertainment on the streets and the restoration of the city’s stunning homes.
“The DoubleTree puts me right at the point of impact,” explains Craig, who works at the hotel with his wife, Melissa. “It’s important that it was me [to manage the hotel]. I have a passion for the city and the people.”
Founder, Blankets of Hope (BOH)
Blankets of Hope (BOH) founder Marc J. Goldstein says a little act of kindness goes a long way.
The act of kindness – giving a plush fleece blanket to those in need – has made a significant impact in Berks County. BOH has donated blankets to more than 15,000 individuals of all ages.
“You can see the smiles,” shares Marc about the rare times he personally distributes his charity’s blankets. “Young, old, male, female – it doesn’t matter. Every person who gets a blanket hugs it and smiles. You see they are appreciative.”
Marc established BOH in 2011 to provide fleece blankets to individuals in need in Pennsylvania. With the tagline “Every person deserves to feel secure, to be warm and to have HOPE!,” Blankets of Hope has donated its signature soft navy blue blankets to dozens of local organizations, including Opportunity House, Hope Rescue Mission, Veterans Making a Difference, Berks Counseling Center, Children's Home of Reading, Olivet Boys & Girls Club and Berks Encore.
“I think every individual is different, but I want them to feel comfort,” says Marc of how he hopes individuals react when receiving a cozy blanket. “It's easy to take something as simple as a blanket for granted. I have the luxury of covering myself if I’m cold, but not everyone can do that.”
BOH relies on donations from individuals, service organizations and businesses to keep the mission alive. Every $5 donation covers the cost of one fleece blanket. “The people in the community can make a difference,” Marc says. “Five dollars can make a difference. We turn a $100 donation into 20 blankets. We’re able to make an immediate impact.”
And the nonprofit continues to operate with zero administrative costs.
“When someone donates, 100 percent of the profits go to charity,” explains Marc, who manages the charity in addition to working full-time at CBL Advertising, Sinking Spring, and part-time at Esterbrook Pharmacy, West Reading. “Our website was donated, and family and friends volunteer to help with flyers or promotional materials.”
BOH’s first financial donor was Marc’s late father, Martin J. Goldstein. “He really enjoyed watching the growth and seeing BOH in the news,” Marc recalls.
In early 2016, Marc donated 200 blankets to the Berks Visiting Nurses Association (BVNA) in honor of his father, who was in hospice care at the time.
When his father passed away in May 2016, Marc donated an additional 250 blankets to BVNA with funds raised in lieu of flowers at his father's funeral. “That was a really personal donation for me,” Marc shares.
Another donor left a lasting impression on Marc. Following a BOH presentation at the Wilson School District’s Shiloh Hills Elementary School in Sinking Spring, a young boy approached Marc and handed him a quarter. “The boy said, ‘I want to give this to you to get a blanket,’” Marc remembers. “I deposited those 25 cents. It was simply the best donation that we could ever receive for two reasons. One, it was from a child, and two, that child was taught compassion at the school and by his parents.”
Marc reflects on the growth of BOH with tremendous pride. “You sit back and dream about how it’s going to evolve,” he says. “To actually have it happen is really impressive. It’s reassuring that the efforts we’re doing keep that fire and passion for wanting to help others.”
Sister Anna Musi
Principal, St. Peter School, Reading
Through her compassion, generosity and desire to serve others, Sister Anna Musi is helping to shape the future leaders of Berks County.
Sister Anna has empowered hundreds of students at St. Peter School in downtown Reading – a K-8th grade Catholic school – during her eight years as principal. She was also a teacher at the 158-year-old school from 1993-2001.
“I truly believe that the welcoming Christian environment, as well as a strong academic formation, enables us to help form future leaders for our church and our society,” says Sister Anna, who belongs to the congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “I have seen students grow and develop so beautifully through the years.”
St. Peter School promotes a diverse and inclusive environment, stemming from the 19th century when the school welcomed Polish and Italian immigrants. Today, St. Peter continues to embrace the children of immigrants. The school population of 276 students represents children from various countries and four continents, many of them coming from Mexico, Central America and South America.
“The goal and mission is to give these students the academic tools they will need to succeed in the United States and to form good Catholic leaders,” Sister Anna explains.
Sister Anna’s adoration for the students, their families and her staff is undeniable. She speaks from the heart about the strong bonds and meaningful relationships that both she and the teachers have within the St. Peter School community.
“I’m surrounded by an incredible staff that sees the best in every child, always transmits a sense of hope when facing challenges, and maintains a sense of humor as we all help each other out,” Sister Anna describes.
Sister Anna and her staff support their students and celebrate their victories in academics, sports and the arts. She is proud of the students who have received awards in declamation, science, math and poetry. In 2015, the boys’ basketball team won the State Catholic Youth Organization Boys’ Grade School Basketball Championships. The coaches made T-shirts that said, “No gym – No problem.”
“In some ways, that truly captures how we are able to confront and overcome so many challenges as a school community,” says Sister Anna of the T-shirt’s slogan.
As principal, Sister Anna promotes the school’s mission to “provide each child with the opportunity of a Catholic education regardless of his/her socio-economic status.”
She credits the devoted staff and generous donors for carrying out the mission.