CARING, CONNECTING, CONTRIBUTING
AT THE FIVE-YEAR MARK – FOUNDERS FEATURE: Margy Balwierz
In January of 2014, Margy Balwierz (who lives near El Paso, WI) had an idea inspired by an NBC evening news story about a group called Staying Put in New Canaan (Connecticut) that helped seniors to age in place. She believed this to be a great concept with the coming of the ‘silver tsunami’, the large numbers of baby boomers entering their senior years. She wanted a group like this in her own community, so began making calls, put up some fliers, gathered a handful of people from the community, and the journey began.
After subsequent research and contact with county agencies, the first Spring Valley Seniors Staying Put’s first meeting took place in spring of 2014.
Arduous legwork followed, along with the encouragement and generous guidance of Karen Krupa, director of Interfaith Caregivers of Polk County, a giant of a mentor. She provided everything needed to move forward as an organization, doing precisely what Interfaith was doing. Our volunteer-based organization took shape by fall of 2014.
In Sept. 2015, we began to gradually offer services; by early 2016, we were partnering with the Pierce County ADRC coordinating meals-on-wheels volunteer drivers weekly – Tues through Fri. That program continues today, in addition to a diverse array of other services & activities.
Jack Kenefick, a retired attorney living in the adjoining community, graciously offered his expertise throughout the corporation-forming process, and after. He provided key building blocks from which the agency construct could move forward. He helped the group to draft bylaws and articles of incorporation, and to file for 501(c)3 status (which was granted Feb. 2015). Jack remained with the organization as legal consult, served as an adjunct board member, provided continual encouragement & belief in our mission. His generosity, dedication, grace, humility, and strength of character will be remembered always. Sadly, we lost Jack on Sept. 26, 2020.
Margy Balwierz served years as Board President, currently as Vice President, has headed various committees, including years of grant-writing work, and navigated the team as we gained confidence and belief in our objective. Her vision, ‘cheer-leading’, creativity thinking, artistic contributions, gift for prose, and humanitarianism inspired enthusiastic cohorts into rapid momentum right out of the gate. Margy will be stepping down from the board in 2021, but will remain a volunteer.
Margy, thank you for planting a seed where once there was nothing … for tending the garden that flourishes today after 5 years. Thank you for your vision, talent, tenacity and dedication.
In Margy’s words …
I was an Elementary Science Teacher and retired locally 22 years ago. I began creating handmade art tiles, volunteering locally and working to keep up the homestead for my husband and myself. I have two adult children in the Twin Cities and two granddaughters, the oldest a freshman in college.
Close friends, a neighbor and his mother living together just down the road from us; both of them highly intelligent and independent characters came to a time of crisis. It was a new and difficult situation for both of them as she quickly went from being a pillar of strength and support to becoming the one who needed help doing everything. This was a role reversal neither of them was comfortable with. Although we remained close and friendly, I found it difficult to give or even offer help as neither wanted outside involvement on their behalf. They struggled and too quickly, both passed away.
Not long after I heard about Staying Put New Canaan in Connecticut. I myself, being a senior citizen, thought how will I be able to handle losing my own independence? Having been a hospice volunteer for a dozen years I saw how well volunteer organizations could work and achieve. A Community volunteer organization seemed like it might be something that would work in Spring Valley. It seemed like a small but significant way to be of help to isolated people and their families. I inquired around of the County ADRC resource people if they could start something like Staying Put, and was told that they had their plates full. They indicated that maybe I would organize such a program, because it would be valuable.
My greatest frustration in starting a nonprofit is not a 1-2-3 -go situation. There are dozens of base-building building blocks before any service can begin. It took many meetings of recruited friends. Then, with a couple of crucial articles by one of those friends about our fledgling idea by Ina Murray, the “Old Cow Belle” was published in the Pierce County Herald. It was about two years before we had volunteers helping others through the established Staying Put.
One response to an article was a phone call received from an 85-year-old woman who was living with her 92-year-old husband. She thought Staying Put was a great idea and “maybe someday we will be able to use some help”. That is the biggest roadblock still, that the need is always seen as for someone else. Many people who could use a bit of help, even as they are do a great deal themselves in caring for their loved ones. They may find use with a small break, some respite or transportation that Staying Put can provide.
Our greatest resources have been the caring people who took interest in the cause, dug in and made it happen. Volunteers worked together, made plans, accepted compromises and moved ahead. Karen Kruppa from Interfaith of Polk County was instrumental. She was a giant of a mentor, offering total support in setting up the organization and sharing all guidelines from legal needs to priorities in setting up and organization to volunteer training, who are good local resources for grant money, and more. Having written dozens of grants as a schoolteacher, I took on that effort. Kathy Nyeggen was eager to serve seniors and took on the Volunteer Coordinator position as if it was invented for her. We found Jack Kenefick who offered critical legal counsel. And, every other person who was in at the beginning are the building blocks, almost all are still involved, and they have made Staying Put in Spring Valley thrive.
I have seen Staying Put grow into a working service organization that offers help in creative and sustaining ways. I have seen it get “wheels” and move forward with careful guidance and attention from a caring Board. I see a future supported by individual endowments from members of the village of Spring Valley as we go forward, and I expect the organization to carry on its work indefinitely. I am pleased with our ability to find a way to work on through Covid 19. Most of all, Staying Put is lucky to have a loving and dedicated staff and to have the crucial support of student and adult volunteers who are the heartbeat of the organization.
In the words of Jan Hatling....
When my friend Margy Balwierz asked me to help her start Spring Valley Seniors Staying Put I was reluctant at first because I'm not a joiner and tend toward shyness. I knew it was a great idea, however, because I worked at a neighbor-hood nurse/volunteer organization in the past called, The Healthy Seniors Project, and saw firsthand how a little bit of support can make a big difference in the health and well-being of seniors. But what did I know about starting a program? Nothing! But I sure did learn, along with a dedicated group of volunteers.
On the Staying Put Board my first job was the treasurer. I had to learn about payroll and taxes which is funny because I’ve never balanced my own checkbook! Later I worked with Margy writing grants and I ended my term as President. I learned many new skills and I met and worked with a lot of really nice people.
As a senior myself now I feel grateful that Spring Valley has this organi-zation. Staying Put with the help of volunteers and community support will be there to lend a helping hand as we age in our own homes and community. I’m very proud to have been a part to help get it started.