Debbie St. Onge “isn’t very good at watching TV.” Although the IBM engineer and mother of four enjoys unwinding with the Discovery Channel and episodes of The Big Bang Theory, she is more likely to spend her free time sorting through food drive donations at Dutchess Outreach or teaching Hyde Park elementary school students to play chess.
“Volunteerism has always been a part of my upbringing,” reflects the Illinois native and former Army brat. “The way I was brought up is that if you are blessed, you should share your blessings with others. We’re all in the same boat.”
Since graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology — where she met her husband, a fellow engineer — in 1988, St. Onge has called Poughkeepsie home. Here, she shares her benevolent ethos most prominently as a Girl Scout leader with the Heart of the Hudson council. “Young girls often get caught up in their own lives, and I try to open their eyes to other people’s experiences,” she explains.
Just before Valentine’s Day, for instance, St. Onge brought her troop to Castle Court at Concord Village in Poughkeepsie. The scouts helped the senior citizens residents make more than 300 heart-shaped pillows to give to patients at Saint Francis Hospital and Vassar Brothers Medical Center.
St. Onge is also a regular at Poughkeepsie’s Lunch Box, an initiative of Dutchess Outreach Center that supplies hot meals to local residents in need. She helps out at the kitchen every other Wednesday; on a recent visit, St. Onge and the large scout group she recruited managed to make everything from pasta to snickerdoodles to dog biscuits.
As a mentor for Girl Scout Gold and Silver Award projects, St. Onge guides her girls as they tackle tasks like weeding and trimming bushes; she says seeing them handle screwdrivers and power tools is empowering. “You’re helping kids realize their significant potential in an outdoor classroom,” she says.