Charlie Schlegel Wins MCCC Community Service Award; Opens Door for Irish Youth

6/1/06


Community service is so much a part of Charlie Schlegel’s life that he really can’t tell where it begins and ends. So it was fitting that Schlegel was selected by his co-workers for the Mercer County Community College Annual Community Service Award at a ceremony on May 17. A member of the Hamilton Hibernians Irish Catholic Men’s Organization of Hamilton and the American Hungarian Civic Association, he spends countless hours arranging, promoting, coordinating, and in many instances opening his home – all for the purpose of helping those less fortunate.

His largest commitment has been to the Irish Political Children's Holiday, a program that brings children of Irish families to the United States for a four-week vacation each summer. The children, between the ages of eight and fourteen, are matched with host families in several areas of the country including the Delaware Valley.
Raising funds throughout the year to help pay for airfare and other costs, Schlegel has often played host to these visitors; one summer he had eight children living with him for a short time and has routinely made space for adults who chaperone the trips.

Charlie Schlegel is pictured during the ceremony with Board Vice Chair William Coleman, left, and Acting President Thomas Wilfrid.

Schlegel explained, “The kids get a reprieve from the violence in their lives. Coming to America is a vacation for them. It’s sad but that’s the way life is over there.” Last summer 17 youngsters visited with families in the Trenton area. “We find places for them to stay. My wife and I take in the adults. They learn from us; we learn from them.”

Schlegel recalls many great experiences the Irish kids have had while visiting America. One year, an executive from Yardville National Bank flew them to Atlanta to see the MLB All-Star game. “And we always go to Trenton Thunder for Irish Night in July. That’s a big night,” he said.

He still hears from some youngsters. “They let us know if they’re getting married. People who housed them get invited to the weddings. They appreciate what we did for them.”

Acknowledging that he is only one-quarter Irish – he is half Hungarian and another quarter German – Schlegel says, “That doesn’t make any difference anyway. Helping the kids out is my focus.”

To raise money for the program, Schlegel has assisted with various fund-raising events. “I arrange for bands to play free at functions.” With his encouragement, MCCC has been participating in the Trenton St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 1999. This year he was instrumental in establishing a new $1,000 MCCC scholarship, to be awarded annually to a recipient chosen by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Scholarship Committee.

Schlegel has also collected dry goods for St. Carmel Guild through Holy Cross Church in Trenton. His volunteer work has also benefited Angel’s Wings, which provides temporary shelter for homeless children, and Martin House, which works to improve the lives of low-income people through housing, education, clothing, and appliances.

Originally from Jersey City, Schlegel moved to Trenton 30 years ago. He made a second home at Mercer County Community College, where he was first a student, graduating in 1973 with a degree in Humanities and Social Science, and then earning a certificate in Refrigeration, Heating and Cooling in 1984. He has been the college’s locksmith since 1987 and previously worked in the facilities and maintenance department.

His own children, now in their thirties, loved the experience of meeting kids from Ireland. “They loved the idea of learning about another culture. They appreciate more about their own heritage,” Schlegel said.

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