Choosing to Serve, Meet Our First Recipients!

We Serve First is off and running!  Ellen and I wanted to take a moment to get you all up to speed and let you see the progress and early success that your generosity has allowed.  When this idea was born we had no idea how it would function, what we might accomplish, and if we could sustain it, but here we are eight months in, and the picture is getting clearer.  

There was never any doubt in my mind that Ellen's courageous story would inspire people to give.  I never dreamed it would happen so quickly.  We are on the path to becoming a 501 C 3 non profit, thanks to the legal council of Larry Loperifito.  This status will allow us to further our mission and allow you to claim gifts as a deduction.  The need for this change tells you a lot about how generous our community, and the larger volleyball community has been.  Impressive just scratches the surface!  

Just a few weeks ago, on Giving Tuesday (The day that follows Cyber Monday) a Facebook post and a tweet spurred even more kindness.  Just as an afterthought I made a post about our foundation, and you responded with gifts totaling over $1,000!   This amount was important because it came on the heels of our very first "Vollership" Grants.  We wanted to share with you the stories of our first three recipients, Courtney List, Rachel Vanetta, and Clairissa Hankinson.

Rachel Vanetta-Kiski Area Cavaliers

Yesterday Rachel received a surprise visit from her first volleyball coach, Ellen Toy. The coach that helped instill in her a love for the game and encouraged her to keep playing, keep trying and to never give up on her dream of playing in college. We never thought we could ever have paid Ellen back for supporting our daughter the way she has as her coach and now Ellen has gone even further to help one of her players. At Rachel's tryout for Westmoreland ELITE VBC , Ellen surprised Rachel by giving her a grant from the We Serve First Foundation to help defray some of the costs of her club season so there was less of a burden on our family. Ellen left us all speechless and a few of us teary eyed with not only the surprise of receiving this grant, but also the kind words she had for and about our daughter. Our family will always be grateful to have someone as supportive, loving, giving and strong as Ellen in our lives. Thank you Ellen, Tim and everyone who supports We Serve First from the bottom of our hearts. We are truly humbled and thankful for your thoughtfulness and generosity.

Written by Rachel's mom Sharon

Courtney List-Serra Catholic

One of the great things about the We Serve First Foundation is how Tim and Ellen Toy have taken a difficult situation and turned it into something positive.  Over the last year, Coach Ellen has been such an inspiration not only to me, but also to my entire family.  However, before Coach Ellen came into our lives, we had another inspiration and her name is Danielle – my little sister.  Danielle was born with a rare (<1000 cases in the world) genetic disorder called CDG-Type 1a.  The disorder impacts Danielle’s fine and gross motor skills.  It limits her ability to walk and do the everyday things that kids her age enjoy doing.  Danielle loves the sport of volleyball and she is my biggest fan, which helps keep me motivated.  Danielle and I are best friends and I believe that she has helped make me into the person I am today.  I see how hard she has to work for everything in life.  She reminds me to never take anything for granted and to always be grateful for every opportunity that I am given.


I was given a tremendous opportunity last April from Coach Ellen and Tim.  I have been playing volleyball since 7th grade and I played for Westmoreland Elite Volleyball Club after my freshman year in high school.  I knew who Coach Ellen was, but I never had a chance to directly play for her.  Tim called my dad and said that he had heard about my family’s story and me from Coach Bruno at Point Park.  Tim and Coach Ellen wanted me to be the recipient of their first ever “Vol-ar-ship”.  They wanted to send me to the TriState Elite Recruiting Camp for a week over the summer.  I was so excited.  My goal is to play college volleyball and this would be an amazing opportunity to enhance my skills and to get exposure to college coaches and players.  So, of course, I said yes!!  Unfortunately, 2 days before the camp, I came down a bad virus and had to miss the entire camp.  But, rather than ask for their money back, Tim and Coach Ellen helped a fellow teammate of mine, Shannon Sullivan.


At this point, you would think opportunity lost, right?  Not the case with the Toy’s.  This year, I will once again be playing with Westmoreland Elite.  Coach Ellen just informed my family that she and Tim, on behalf of the We Serve First Foundation, would like to cover part of my club tuition for this season.   As a high school senior, my family and I are preparing for college and the expenses associated with it.  This financial assistance is a huge help in alleviating some of that burden.  Plus, being able to continue to play club at the 18’s level will help me further elevate my game as I prepare for reporting to college camp in late summer.


Thank you, Tim, Coach Ellen, and the We Serve First Foundation for all that you do to provide daily inspiration, as well as the economic support to continue fostering the love of volleyball for so many families!


Clairissa Hankinson-Plum High School


My name is Clairissa Hankinson and I am a 6’1’’ Middle Hitter/Blocker from Plum Borough.  I was lucky enough to start playing volleyball in 7th grade, and thanks to dedicated coaches and a great deal of training, I started as a freshman player on the varsity team.  My freshmen year I was named All Section Team II and continued to progress throughout my high school career.  As a sophomore I was able to pay my own way through the 2013 JO club season, where I played up to the 18’s team at the age of 16.  This allowed me to gain more playing knowledge and to increase my skill level.  Sadly, for my junior year last year I was unable to play JO’s due to some challenging personal circumstances.  But rather than go all season without touching a volleyball, I attended the preseason men’s open gyms at my high school.  This provided me with some practice time, but did not give me the exposure to college coaches that I might have had from competing in tournaments.

Not that it had ever been easy, but my senior year has been an especially difficult time for my family.  By the fall of this year I realized that JO’s were out of the question again.  That is, until I met Gateway High School coach Greg Lockley at the Plum tournament during the 2015 high school season.  I had played against Gateway many times before but I had never had the opportunity to speak with coach Lockley at length.  When he realized during our conversation that I did not play JO volleyball last year and that I did not plan on playing again this year, he was astonished.  He invited me to come play for Westmoreland Elite where he coaches, but I made it clear to him that as much as I would love to, I could not afford to play for his club.  Our discussion led to the best thing that could have happened to me, the We Serve First Foundation.

Thanks to Ellen and Tim at the We Serve First Foundation, I have an amazing opportunity to play for Westmoreland Elite volleyball club.  There, I’ll have the honor of being coached by Greg Lockley and the chance to gain exposure to college coaches.  Before I met Ellen and Tim I did not know that there were people out there with such kindness in their hearts.  Without this generous opportunity given to me through the We Serve First Foundation, I would not be able to play the sport to which I am dedicated and that I genuinely love.  I will forever be grateful for their kindness.

We are so grateful to have found three deserving young women to support this year.  Best of luck to Rachel, Courtney, and Clair on their club seasons.  They are perfect examples of the kind of athletes we hope to assist!

We "kicked things off" earlier this summer by sending a young lady in Kent, Washington to the Give it Back Foundation camp.  Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro have been outspoken advocates of "volleyball giving" and Ellen and I felt strongly about supporting their endeavour. The US Women's National Team have been special to us for sometime now.  Give it Back worked this year for a cause close to Courtney and her family, The Children's Therapy Center.  Learn more about the team and this effort HERE.  

Lastly, if you have been following our story on Facebook you know that the last two weeks have presented Ellen with additional health challenges.  She spent two days in the ICU after complications led to another major surgery.  After an additional week in the hospital she is home resting and recuperating.  I am always surprised by this incredible woman.  She has an unshakable will and is again on the road to recovery.  Her courage against the odds inspires us all.  I know for sure that the good things we have been able to do because of your generosity keep her moving in the right direction.  We look forward to the success of Rachel, Courtney, and Clairissa and to many years of finding other young athletes in need of a boost to reach their dreams!  " Flip the Coin, Choose to Serve!"

If your able to contribute check out our GoFundMe page HERE.