Mary A. Schmecker Turtle Shell Fund

Est. 2009 to benefit those seeking a career using their creative talents.

For 35 years, Mary A. Schmecker was a permanent fixture at The Boys and Girls Club of The Lower Naugatuck Valley. She managed to weave life lessons into her ceramics classes, teaching her students that they could be creative, not destructive. And that, if they tried hard enough, they could make a career out of their creativity. She provided her students with structure and more than just a place to paint something. The children learned to respect her and the ceramics room, as she listened to the, and laughed with them.

Mary always collected turtles - turtle pins, pendants, turtles of all different shapes and sizes. For her, they were a symbol of maternity and longevity. After her passing in 2008, when her family chose to honor Mary's life, they did so by creating the Mary A. Schmecker Turtle Shell Fund at the Valley Community Foundation, to remind all who knew Mary that she was still here, casting her protective turtle shell over those who needed it the most.

"She wasn't just my Grandmother, she was everyone's Gram," said granddaughter Michele Bialek. "Everyone came to those classes to see their Grandmother - that's how she treated them. She gave them a place to come and to be. She did it her whole life - and she said it kept her young."

Born and raised in the Valley, Mary traveled all over the world, and Michele was fortunate enough to go with her to Ireland twice. No matter how far Mary went, she always came back home to be with her friends and family. "She gave of herself - her time, her wisdom," said Michele. "We initially thought of starting our own foundation, but when she passed away, VCF Board Member Dave Grant talked to our family about different options, about how we could work with VCF and honor my Grandmother's memory by starting a Fund. We liked the idea of being able to work with a stable and permanent Valley organization. The more we talked to VCF, the more we realized that this was the place for us to accomplish our goals."

The Mary A. Schmecker Turtle Shell Fund will help those who are interested in learning how to make a career out of the arts. The Fund will also be used to support art classes at the Boys and Girls Club, just as Mary herself had done for all those years.

"It's important for people to know that they can choose paths in their lives that include creativity and the arts," said Michele. "It doesn't have to be just about academics or athletics - it can truly be something else. My Grandmother devoted her entire life to letting kids know that they could make another choice. By creating this Fund, her message will continue to live on for those who want to take that different path and find their true creative calling."