Partners in Kind: Caring for the community

Kindness toward others a worthwhile effort

OBSERVER Photos by Vicki Notaro Top: Alisha Brenecki labeling items for the foster care welcome bags. Above: Genesis Diaz, Abigail Mejia and Yuribeth Castro share their reflections about the welcome bags activity. Left: Melissa Pazderski displays the group’s philosophy. Pictured at right above is Partners in Kind founder Melissa Pietrkiewicz sharing a moment of joy with son Noah Pietrkiewicz.

Forty young adults sat quietly in Alumni Hall on the SUNY Fredonia campus on June 28. Melissa Pietrkiewicz, founder of Partners in Kind of Chautauqua County, had captured their attention with her introduction. They were focused on her every word.

The Upward Bound students had come to assemble welcome bags for children placed in Chautauqua County foster care homes.

The evening also included thought-provoking questions, a reflection about the experience and a challenge.

“Have you ever seen kids with no hats walking down the street?” Pietrkiewicz asked.

“Instead of stewing about it, we’re doing something about it!”

Who are the people involved in this Partners in Kind initiative? They are friends, neighbors, family, businesses, groups and people from varied backgrounds, all united in the purpose of service.

Throughout the set-up area in Alumni Hall, adult volunteers wore shirts printed with Margaret Mead’s philosophy, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In the words of Pietrkiewicz, “The group started. on December 15, 2016. I know this because I purposely started it on the anniversary of my first positive pregnancy test after years of infertility. I had planned on doing something extra to give back so to speak on that day each year, and figured starting Partners in Kind would flow well with that idea. Throughout the years in various roles as a Social Worker I would often turn to social media for help getting the gaps filled for the population I was serving at the time, whether it was seeing who had a last season winter jacket they could part with, or someone to purchase some school supplies for a family in need.

“This Christmas in particular was a special one. I asked for help with a family whose Christmas savings went into a major car repair. Before I knew it, I had Christmas presents for a family of eight piled high in my dining room. It was incredible to pull open my social media accounts and read someone who maybe I hadn’t spoke with in years ask for my address because they were sending me gifts. I thought to myself why not start a group for all these like minded people, maybe we can do other things to help, but more importantly maybe we can be more of a community again. I love the idea of helping our neighbors, and taking care of each other. Giving to big charities is definitely worthwhile but I’m so appreciative of those who give local to see a change local.

“It’s not always about buying things. It’s really based on the notion that we all have something to give. Maybe you can buy items to donate, maybe you can read books, maybe you have time to make phone calls or hang flyers. The point is everybody is capable of being kind.”

From January through March, the group distributed over 1,500 warm winter items throughout Chautauqua County. In February, Partners in Kind participated in The 28 Project, which invited members and others to commit a random yet intentional act of kindness. “It’s about getting back to basics and modeling to our children that there is work to be done,” Pietrkiewicz noted.

In March, men’s hygiene projects and pantry supplies were collected for the Alex Sober Living House. Subsequent projects have included clean-up for Earth Day in Chautauqua County and the assembly of dignity bags for county women in need. In Fredonia’s Barker Common on Saturdays in July, the group will read stories and offer activities focused on kindness.

In Alumni Hall, students moved from table to table gathering baby bottles, toothbrushes and age-related articles to personally pack a backpack for an individual child entering foster care. Jessica Mierzwa, owner of Forestville Chiropractic PC, ran a collection to contribute items. Lakeshore Savings Bank, Larry Spacc GMC, and Aloe Vera’s Eateries opened their doors to be drop-off places. Rebecca Joy donated several knapsacks that she made. Elevation Combat and Sports Academy has been a contributor to each monthly project since the beginning.

Loretta Slaton Torain, Director of Outward Bound, was enthusiastic about the endeavor. “I think it’s a wonderful idea to have the youth involved and they can see what others are dealing with,” she said. This was one of the community service projects that students of the summer academic program will participate in this summer.

“We want the students to learn how to give back to the community,” Torain added.

Once the welcome bags were filled, the youth were encouraged to write their thoughts about why “it’s cool to be kind…”

Responses included, “you make people feel good about themselves,” “because life is too short to be rude and angry,” “being kind can give one happiness,” “you’re helping others in need and it makes the world a better place,” ” it affects you and your community in a positive way,” and “everyone needs to know that someone cares about them.”

The evening ended with Pietrkiewicz asking, “What will you do in 10 minutes?”

Answers spilled quickly from the students. “Give a compliment,” “start recycling more,” “smile in stores,” “don’t be mean to people on the internet…”

When one person said, “help,” Pietrkiewicz encouraged specifics by asking how.

“Hold a door, donate to the Salvation Army…” the suggestions continued. The empathetic young adults displayed an eagerness to run with their ideas.

It was time to go out into the night, to carry the kindness message to the surrounding community.

Pietrkiewicz has ideas for more people to become involved as well.

She wrote, “Moving forward, I would love to work with more local businesses or agencies who can team up with us on our monthly projects. It’s a win-win for everyone. If a local business could offer to be a place for people to bring their donations for our project that month and offer some sort of an incentive like a free coffee or a ticket for a drawing, we have an accessible place for donations and they are increasing their foot traffic. I truly believe that we are all connected and it’s important to keep the needs of our community in the front of our minds.”

Follow your heart. You can be the difference in a person’s life.

Melissa Pietrkiewicz wrote the following reflection about a donation that Partners in Kind received in March.

“These Boots”

I just put my son to bed and started sorting through all the donations that came in today for two little boys that were just placed into foster care.

These boots brought me to tears.

These boots will now belong to someone who in his little brain is struggling to make sense of all he has been through.

These boots will be received by foster parents who are essentially rearranging their lives to make room for those little boys who have not been made a priority.

These boots will be worn by a little boy who wonders if he’ll ever go home.

These boots now can be used for puddle jumping and family fun.

These boots will be what’s worn when he makes new happy memories to replace the bad ones.

These boots will help a child who came to their foster home with nothing, feel like they have belongings to call their own.

These boots are not just boots. They are instead a way to breathe childhood back into the life of a little person who has not had an easy life.

These boots represent a group of people who can’t stop bad things from happening, instead give what they can to help put people’s lives back together when they do.

These boots mean safety.

These boots mean love.

These boots mean family.

These boots mean you have a chance now little one.

These boots.


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