April is recognized as National Volunteer Month, and there’s one woman who has dedicated nearly 20,000 hours to giving back to others. Santosh “Toshi” Hayre, 81, is a resident at Parkway Place, a nonprofit, faith-based senior living community in Houston, and when she retired 15 years ago she decided to devote her free time to volunteering. She knits hats for newborns, shawls for patients in the hospital and booties for residents living in skilled nursing at the senior living community. She is part of the knitting group at her church and also donates her knitted items to local charities. After devoting herself to others, Hayre found herself in a challenging position, but she never lost hope. Hayre lost all her belongings during Hurricane Harvey, but she found a new home at Parkway Place where she continues to give back to others. Since she started knitting more than a decade ago, she has made more than 1,000 items.

“Knitting is my full-time hobby, and I enjoy it very much,” said Hayre. “I haven’t worn anything I’ve knitted because I like to see other people wear the items and get use out of them. It makes me happy when I see the joy that something like a hat or shawl brings to people. I’ve seen parents whose son or daughter was going into surgery and they were worried, but I sat and talked with them and it helped. It warms my heart to volunteer during my retirement, and a hat or a pair of socks can really change someone’s day for the better. I also sell some of my items at my church. The money benefits local charities including the Angela House. God blessed me in my life to do this, so why shouldn’t I share it?”

Hayre was born and raised in India. She was the first girl in her village to go to college. She came to the United States in 1957 with her soon-to-be husband to finish her education. She attended the University of New Mexico while her husband received his Ph.D. After that she attended Kansas State to get her master’s. Once she completed school, the couple moved to Houston in 1965. They raised two children and adopted her sister’s son after she passed away from cancer. Her husband was a professor at the University of Houston for 32 years and helped thousands of students from other countries come to the United States for schooling. He passed away in 2008. Hayre says giving back and helping others runs in her family, and she plans to continue volunteering as long as she can.

“I was born in a small village and I was healthy. I had a good life, and I was proud to come to the United States with my husband to continue my schooling and make a difference in the lives of others,” said Hayre. “I lived in the same house in Houston since 1965, but when Hurricane Harvey showed up uninvited I knew I had to go somewhere else. I was basically homeless. I spent time traveling in the northeast but came back and decided to live at Parkway Place. I’ve had a connection to the senior living community for many years. I used to volunteer at the Parkway Place store, and I’ve known the owner since she came to the United States from India. I am proud to continue to give back to others, and I hope my actions encourage others do the same.”

“Toshi is a perfect example of someone who should be recognized during National Volunteer Month,” said Susan Phelps, executive director at Parkway Place. “She gives so much to others and doesn’t expect anything in return. I know her knitted items have made a difference in the lives of residents and so many other people across Houston. We know it was a difficult time during Hurricane Harvey, but Toshi is a strong woman and her selflessness really showed during that time. She thought of others during one of the hardest times of her life, and we admire her for that.”

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