WARREN, Pa. – In a community full of hard-working, selfless people, Piper VanOrd stands out.
VanOrd, the owner of Allegheny Outfitters in Warren, was honored at Thursday’s Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry annual Celebration of Excellence Gala with the 2022 Community Service Award.
“This makes me a little uncomfortable, to be honest,” VanOrd said. “I prefer to keep my head down and move forward. But my friends told me the day this was posted, you just need to say thank you and be proud.”
VanOrd’s efforts in the Warren community are well-documented and go far above and beyond the call of duty.
She is instrumental in the annual Allegheny River Clean-Up and most recently has taken several trips to Ukraine, along with her daughter, as part of the ongoing humanitarian efforts in the war-torn country.
“This really all starts with my mom,” VanOrd said. “Everything that is good in my life came from my mom.”
VanOrd’s journey has taken her around the continental United States.
Born in Warren, she moved to Virginia Beach with her family as a young child before returning as an adolescent.
“We didn’t have a lot of things, but one thing I always had was a lot of love and encouragement,” VanOrd said. “My mom pushed us to have dreams, have goals, and don’t be scared.”
VanOrd went to high school at Eisenhower, and her initial plan after graduation was to leave and not come back.
“When I graduated, this was like the day after, actually in the morning after I graduated high school, I moved as far away as possible to Anchorage, Alaska,” she said. “I didn’t think I was ever going to come back.
“I made a couple of laps around the country and joined the United States Navy and became an air traffic controller. I managed to get my bachelor’s degree, started working on my master’s, and was honorably discharged.”
VanOrd thought Alaska would be her permanent home, but then something happened.
“We deiced to take two weeks and come to Warren, and I hadn’t been to Warren in a little over a decade,” she said. “In those two weeks, seeing the forest, seeing the creeks, I fell in love with the surroundings. They say once you step foot in the Allegheny National Forest you never really leave.”
When VanOrd received that information, she began searching the Warren area for job opportunities, and she landed an opportunity at Allegheny Outfitters.
“I got roped in,” she said with a smile. “And that’s really where the adventure started. I spent every waking hour learning the nooks and crannies of the river and the forest. Nature has a way of opening our eyes to other things when we’re out there.”
Not long after she moved back, she was instrumental in starting the river clean up
“It’s just all about how we can give back,” VanOrd said. “How can we make sure these places remain beautiful? The first river clean up was in 2009. I can remember we found a hot water tank on the left-hand side of the island.”
It’s been a labor of love ever since.
“You know, in all of our conservation efforts, I certainly haven’t lifted 160,000 pounds of metal out of this rivers on my own,” VanOrd said. “It’s taken a special community, a special group of people. You know, we all work really hard, and when we work together, things just multiply.”
VanOrd’s community service extends far beyond the Allegheny River and the customers she serves at AO.
Her efforts in aiding the citizens of Ukraine go well above and beyond the call of duty.
“I went over in April with my daughter and we really thought it would be a one-time deal,” VanOrd said. “But you get there and you meet these people…I mean they are our mothers, sisters, children grandmothers. They left everything behind.
“What they have been able to do is nothing short of amazing. They have lived and breathed this while many of us just kept on living our normal lives.”
VanOrd went on to describe some of the services offered to the refugees, including Polish lessons, English lessons, and programs created for them to help carve a path forward.
It’s all part of VanOrd’s journey. Community leader. Humanitarian. A true pillar of Warren County.
“Without the community, there’s no reason for me to be here,” VanOrd said. “Congratulations to everyone here. Without everyone here, I wouldn’t be here, so I’m incredibly thankful.”