It all started with a conversation. A conversation between Dan Holohan, hydronics guy extraordinaire, and Judy Garber, executive administrator of the National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers. A conversation about how to help people in need get heat for the winter.

Holohan's idea stemmed from his daughter, Colleen, and a house she would be living in for a summer project in Cambridge, Mass., after she graduated from college. This house would be used by a group of young people, but there was no working plumbing, no hot water. And, being newly graduated students, no one had any money to fix the place up.

“Colleen called me a couple of weeks before they were all set to move in and asked if I could help,” he recalls. “I put out an appeal to the people who read 'The Wall' at, and before the day was out, I had three donated water heaters (we only needed one), a bunch of supplies, and the volunteer work of three Massachusetts-licensed plumbers.”

A few weeks later, as he and Garber were traveling to the New England Fuel Institute show in Boston, Holohan relayed his Cambridge project experience to her. And they began talking.

“One thing I've learned about Dan, he's an 'idea person,'” Garber says. “One thing about me is I like challenges and opportunities. Couple that with a glass or two of wine, and bingo! Oil Heat Cares was born.”

The two were already involved in raising money for the Dave Nelson Scholarship Fund, which gives seven $2,000 scholarships to trade school students each year. And NAOHSM had already “put the arm” on manufacturers to donate equipment for other special projects, Holohan explains, so it seemed that what he did with his daughter in Cambridge could work on a national level.

“An association has to continually look at new things to keep the interest of its members and, at the same time, look at new ideas that might attract new people,” Garber notes. “The most important thing about our industry is the fact that we're made up of a bunch of independent oil and service companies. Each takes part in its own local neighborhood. Giving back is something that many of our members do regularly. So the idea of a project that was organized and beneficial to all seemed right.”

The idea would pit NAOHSM chapters against each other, competing to see which one would “do the most good” in a given year. The winning chapter would receive the Oil Heat Cares Cup, and the bragging rights that go along with it. Money would be raised to buy the equipment, at a discount, from manufacturers, and the NAOHSM members would donate the labor.

As the idea grew, the two shared it with others, and eventually pitched it to the NAOHSM board in spring 2004. The board wholeheartedly approved the idea, and Garber began work establishing the Oil Heat Cares Foundation.

“She is brilliant at organizing things,” Holohan says of Garber. “We had NAOHSM set the foundation up as a charity, and the IRS approved it this past year. We're legit!”

The Projects

There are 14 completed projects listed on the OHC Web site (; you'll read about some of these projects starting on page 8. There is one project in the works and, at press time, there were two additional requests for assistance. “The beauty of this program is the fact that we can turn around the approval process pretty quickly, many times within 24 hours,” Garber says.

The application process is easy. Members that know of a customer or someone else in their community with a need for heat or hot water must fill out a one-page request for funds -found on the OHC Web site - and have the homeowner sign the paperwork. Once approved, members are asked to follow-up with a few pictures.

Some equipment is donated, but the foundation always offers to buy it, Holohan says. “The manufacturers have been terrific; they love being involved in these projects. Some of these stories could bring tears to a glass eye.”

Garber agrees: “We've had numerous fund-raising efforts, which will continue. But this project could not be possible without donations from very generous manufacturers. Some of them even call us and ask, 'How can we help?' I want to thank every single person who has donated money, product and, the most important component, labor.”

(To read more about fund-raising, see page 14.)

The biggest challenge seems to be getting the word out to oil-heat company owners, Garber says. She believes that once they are made aware of the program and see the good it does for the community, they will want to participate.

Overall, though, the industry reaction has been extremely positive. “It's bringing competitors together in a selfless cause; it's helping those who need help; it's shining a bright light on the oil-heat industry,” Holohan states. “There's really no downside.”

To The Victor Go The Spoils: The first Oil Heat Cares Cup was awarded last year to Shipley Energy, member of NAOHSM's Central Pennsylvania Chapter. The board - comprised of Holohan, Garber, Dave Bessette, Michael Markarian, Kevin Rooney, Kevin Shea, Bob Hedden and Paul Stone - will likely select the next winner, but Holohan picked the first.

“Dan really loves the project,” Garber explains. “He enjoys seeing it all come together and learning about the various jobs. It was only fitting that we give him the honor of picking the winner last year. But we'll probably take away Dan's fun and let the OHC board pick the second winner.”

The second OHC Cup will be awarded at the NAOHSM annual awards banquet on May 16.