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Thorpe family collects for those with autism, cancer

Their name explains their mission. When someone is overwhelmed with an autism or cancer diagnosis and thinks, “I don’t know where to turn for help,” Turn to Us is there.

The Hartman family of Jim Thorpe has been involved with the nonprofit for the past two years. Within that time span, Mike Hartman’s wife, mother of Tyler and Sarah, was diagnosed with cancer.

“We found this out on Dec. 22,” said Mike, “and her surgery was scheduled for Jan. 10, so you can imagine that this was happening through the holidays.”

Hartman said that after all the tears and anguish and Erin’s successful surgery, they wanted to give something back after they were told she was cancer free.

Helping out

“First, my son got involved with Turn for Us and now it’s my daughter,” said Hartman. “What they do is place boxes inside of local stores and schools like L.B. Morris, Penn-Kidder, and Jim Thorpe high school and in area businesses. Our boxes have our logo and mission statement so they are very visible.”

Tyler and Sarah then go to the places of pick up and collect the gifts that include toys, gift cards, gas cards, jewelry, socks, lotions and candles.

“The gas cards have been really helpful, especially for family members who have to drive cancer patients frequently to Philadelphia for their treatments,” said Hartman. “It’s amazing that Tyler collected 500 gifts from people we don’t know and will never know. No one is looking for credit. It shows you how good-hearted our community can be.”

Sarah Hartman, a sophomore at Jim Thorpe High School, saw firsthand what Turn for Us has done.

“The year before the pandemic, they had a holiday banquet at Dean Anthony’s for those families with cancer and autism,” she explained. “There were 100 or so that attended and received the donated gifts and toys. It makes you feel good that you can help out these families.”

Turn to Us is a nonprofit organization serving Carbon County and the Tamaqua area. They are an advocate for individuals and their families who are living with autism or cancer. Turn to Us offers personal assistance and connection to available resources within a compassionate and hopeful environment.

The program, founded in 2015 by Executive Director Alicia Kline, is based in Nesquehoning. They depend upon donations and contributions from the residents of Carbon County so they can help families, friends and neighbors in the local community.

In the past six years, Turn to Us estimates they have served over 250 families who have had someone diagnosed with cancer or autism.

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. There is a wide range of severity of symptoms that those affected can experience. There is no cure for autism, but research has shown that early intervention can improve a child’s development.

According to the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute, 439 residents of Carbon County are diagnosed with cancer each year and 171 die from it. Locally, the most prevalent cases are lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and bladder cancer.

Over the past two years, Turn to Us has assisted 53 individuals diagnosed with cancer. In addition to gifts and toys, the program also provides free events for families to enjoy time together, a connection to resources, financial assistance and emotional support.

This year’s gift and toy drive will run until Dec. 15.

“My son had a very interesting experience at a time when he was emptying a collection box in the Giant food store,” said Hartman. “When he was leaving the store, a man shouted at him to wait. The man then ran back into the aisle and bought a couple of basketballs to give to the program.”

They have received gifts and toys sent from as far away as Maryland, and Hartman recalled when an entire room in his house was filled with gifts and toys from the collection boxes. Each present is wrapped by the volunteers in the program. This year, families will be able to pick up their gifts at the Turn for Us headquarters located at 46 W. Catawissa St. in Nesquehoning.

As an extended invitation, if any high school students would like to perform community service for Turn to Us, they can be reached at 570-732-4220.

Toys can be dropped off at Jim Thorpe Area High School, L.B. Morris Elementary School, Penn-Kidder Elementary School, Jim Thorpe Market and Mauch Chunk 5 & 10.

“There are a lot of good people in our community wanting to help,” Hartman said. “We can always use more volunteers.”

Sarah Hartman
Tyler Hartman