Former Teenagers Inc. director Marianne Dwyer on a recent trip to Guatemala, where the organization has been traveling to help build homes for the poor.

Former Teenagers Inc. director Marianne Dwyer on a recent trip to Guatemala, where the organization has been traveling to help build homes for the poor.

by Paula M. Riley

How much of an impact has Marianne Dwyer had on Teenagers Inc., the organization she spent nearly two decades directing? There is no clear way to count the number of people that Marianne Dwyer has affected in her work with Teenagers Inc., but most estimate it to be in the thousands.

“Her impact is almost immeasurable,” said her son Brendan Dwyer.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, at Teenagers Inc.’s “Taste of Chestnut Hill,” Marianne Dwyer will be honored for her years of service. Dwyer stepped down as director earlier this year and Arianna Neromiliotis, a past participant of Teenagers Inc. is the new director.

“I know I have big shoes to fill,” Neromiliotis said “She has given so much of herself for Teenagers Inc. I’m so happy to call her my mentor!”

Neromiliotis is one of the area teens who participated in the service and social activities of Teenagers Inc. in the group’s early days. Established by Jane and (the late) Dick Becker in 1996, Teenagers Inc. was organized to provide activities for area teenagers. Marianne became its first director and, in the course of 17 years, she built a thriving program whose service extends far beyond Chestnut Hill.

Dwyer started with a small group of local teenagers and expanded it to include students from other neighborhoods. She tirelessly organized events such as the Battle of the Bands, ski trips, whitewater rafting trips, dances, salsa lessons and many other activities.

“Seventeen years ago, when I became a member, I would have never dreamed that Teenagers Inc. would be the organization it is today,” said one of the organization’s early members, Kathy Currie. “We have Mrs. Dwyer to thank for that. I don’t know that there are enough words in the world to thank her for everything she has done for those of us who have been involved with this wonderful group.”

Asking those involved with Teenagers Inc. to share their memories of Marianne is akin to opening flood gates. The stories, infused with laughter to the point of tears, are colorful, funny and touching. Participants speak of Marianne’s warm welcome and invitation to participate in their activities. They use words like, “inspiring,” “hero,” “champion,” and many consider her “Mom to Chestnut Hill’s Teenagers.”

She is well known for her enthusiasm and passion. Neromiliotis recalls that no matter what the activity was, Marianne was the one leading the pack of kids.

“On the weekend ski trips, she was always the first one up (the mountain), so she could encourage the kids to, ‘Go! Go! Go!,’” said Neromiliotis. “If there was a dance, she was the first one up on the floor, ready to dance up a storm,”

Dwyer’s own seven children all participated in Teenagers Inc., and they laugh as they remember their crazy mom in many situations where she enthusiastically inspired kids to try something new. Marianne’s colleagues on the board of Teenagers Inc. also acknowledge that characteristic.

“She has the energy and ability to undertake many new tasks efficiently,” said Teenagers Inc. Anne Mirsch, who also recently retired after 10 years of service.

The Teen Center on Bethlehem Pike is now a fixture in the community, but years ago it was just an idea. Marianne, with the support of Richard Snowden, made that a reality. The Teen Center has provided a safe and welcoming place for teenagers to enjoy games of ping pong or cards, to listen to music, have parties or just be together on the weekend. Turning dreams into reality strengthened the organization, but the greatest impact is modeling this to the teenagers. Marianne’s lessons have changed lives.

“She made sure that we didn’t sit on a porch and just talk about our dreams, but that we could, and should, go out and pursue them,” said Neromiliotis.

“Teenagers Inc. helped me to realize what my purpose in life is – to help children. I knew early on that this was what I wanted to do, and Teenagers Inc. gave me so many opportunities to work with kids,” said Kathy Currie. “I developed a sense early on of serving others, and it is something I continue to do today in many facets of my life.”

Teenagers Inc.’s early service opportunities involved assisting the Chestnut Hill Community Association with activities such as Pastorius Park Concerts and fund-raisers. Teenagers also served meals at St. Francis Inn and helped Northwest Interfaith Hospitality Network host homeless families. Many local organizations, including the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, Chestnut Hill Historical Society, and Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment, called on Teenagers Inc. to serve food, move boxes, staff events, as well as countless other duties.

“The first people the community organizations think of are the Teenagers,” said Stewart Graham, former president of the Teenagers Inc. board. “They always tapped on Teenagers, and Marianne never said ‘no.’”

Teenagers Inc. also organized its own service events, such as recycling days and neighborhood clean-ups. Incorporating service as a regular aspect of their lives left lasting impacts on the teenagers.

“I have had many friends tell me that getting involved with Teenagers Inc. helped them discover their desire to help others through community outreach,” said Brendan Dwyer.

Teenagers learned the importance of supporting their community and the difference they could make. As the organization grew, and Marianne’s passion burned, the service stretched beyond Chestnut Hill into Mt. Airy, Germantown, Center City, and Camden. Five years ago, she crossed borders and began service trips to Guatemala.

For ten days in July, Marianne and other adult volunteer led trips to Antigua and Guatemala where they build homes, help at an orphanage, and provide aid at a medical clinic and elderly home. The teenagers fund-raise for the trip for months in advance and collect much needed personal, school and medical supplies to bring to the people of Guatemala.

“She has poured her heart and soul into planning and organizing those trips,” said Michael Dwyer.

“I can tell how truly passionate she is about helping others and bringing service to other parts of the world. They have been incredible, eye-opening experiences for me and the rest of the teenagers and chaperones who have gone the last five years. She loves every minute of her time spent down there and gets even greater joy out of seeing this trip’s tremendous impact on the teenagers.”

Students that participate in the service trips are moved by the experiences. Modeling Marianne’s grace and compassion for everyone she encounters, they learn to embrace with love and kindness the people they meet on their journeys.

“It’s so hard to express what happens in Guatemala – you can’t believe the difference you can make in someone’s life,” said Brennan O’Donnell. “To think that I built a house someone will live in for years to come is really amazing.”

Barbara Diaz’s three children participated with Teenagers Inc. and traveled to Guatemala with Marianne.

“She taught us all that anyone can make a difference in the world” Diaz said. “There are no borders or limitations to do good. There is a phrase that they used for the Guatemala trip this year that describes her very well. ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ She is that change.”

Long after the Teenagers return from Guatemala, they want to continue to make change in the world.

“My involvement with Teenagers Inc. has led me to think about possibly volunteering somewhere after college for a year,” said Brendan Dwyer. “My exposure to service has no doubt left a mark on my life.”

Throughout all the social and service activities, Marianne’s work with Teenagers Inc. has fostered hundreds of friendships.

“The group brings everyone together, which is one of my favorite parts about it,” said Mary Dwyer.

“I met so many kids from other schools that I never would have known if it weren’t for Teenagers Inc.”

Marianne’s ability to connect with the Teenagers on a personal level set the stage for Teenagers Inc. members to connect with each other.

“She models kindness and generosity,” said Graham. “She is just what you want children to learn.”

Those closest to her have witness this kindness all their lives. Tim Dwyer Sr. her husband of 35 years, recalled that his wife has always been willing to get involved.

“That’s one of the things I always admired about her,” Dwyer said. “She was president of Student Council at Cathedral High School in Camden and on the student government at Chestnut Hill College. What a great role model for all of my own kids.”

The children of Marianne’s sister Sue Lasek participated in Teenagers Inc. Lasek echoed Tim’s sentiments.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” (Winston Churchill) These are words that my sister lives by. As director of Teenagers Inc., I have witnessed the positive impact Marianne has had in so many young lives. Her “can do” attitude is a spark that ignites so many young people in this community and beyond to be socially conscious of others and to serve their needs with dignity and respect. She has made a difference in the lives of countless young people. I can’t imagine a better legacy than to know you have helped mold the future.”

“A Taste of Chestnut Hill” will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E, Chestnut Hill Ave. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by contacting Arianna Neromiliotis at 215-260-8013.