Why You Should Know: Debi Wheeler
It’s impossible to keep track of all of the charities this community volunteer has supported with her time, input and financial support over the years.
About: Hers is a name you might not necessarily see highlighted on a host committee, and it’s not in her nature to make a beeline for the cameras or see her name in lights. Yet, it’s impossible to keep track of all of the charities Debi Wheeler (pictured on the left) has supported with her time, input and financial support over the years.
- You could describe her as a major underwriter, but she doesn’t let that get to her head. Ask for one of her business cards and notice she titles herself “Community Volunteer.” “You don’t have to be seen to be heard,” she says.
- When she does attend a charity event Downtown, she’s making a 73-mile drive from her home in Somerset. Stay at a posh hotel afterwards? Nope. She’ll drive home the same night.
- Philanthropy isn’t business; it’s personal. Although she’s been a champion of charities since she was a teen, her philanthropic efforts shifted into high gear after her only son, Pete Wheeler, died at the young age of 24 as a result of a traumatic brain injury while residing in Texas.
- She created the Pete Wheeler “Pay it Forward” Fund at the Pittsburgh Foundation and serves as its director. “Nobody should belong to the club I belong to. If there is anything I can do to prevent that from happening, I’m going to do it,” she says.
- The Pete Wheeler Pay It Forward Foundation’s mission is to support the emotionally injured, as well as those suffering from other mental health issues related to behavioral health and neurological disorders such as schizophrenia or ALS. “We’re focused on research and technology to stay on the front end instead of the tail end,” she says.
- Her involvement extends well beyond Pittsburgh with an eye on national charities whose missions focus on supporting veterans, the emotionally vulnerable and those suffering from addictions, abuse or traumatic brain injuries. “All I do is connect dots and open doors,” she says. “I create synergy where there wasn’t any.”