“Help­ing peo­ple is the right thing to do”

Woman's World - - Legacy of Caring -

From the time she was a lit­tle girl, Erika Blaszak’s grandma taught her to give to the less for­tu­nate. So when Erika grew up, she knew she had to find a way to con­tinue Grandma Jen­nie’s car­ing . . .

In the kitchen, six-year-old Erika Blaszak watched as her grand­mother, Jen­nie Louise, heated up din­ner left­overs in the mi­crowave.

With her par­ents work­ing long hours, Erika of­ten spent time at her grand­par­ents’ house. “Fol­low me,” Gram said then, and they went out­side, where a man with a scruffy beard stood at their Ne­wark, New Jersey, stoop.

“See you to­mor­row,” he said, nod­ding in grat­i­tude as Gram handed him the plate.

Watch­ing him walk away, Erika won­dered, “Who was that?”

“Oh, he’s just a nice man who needs a lit­tle help some­times,” Gram ex­plained.

For Grandma Jen­nie That

in­ci­dent stuck in Erika’s mind. And though she was only in first grade, she re­al­ized: No­body should go hun­gry! I want to help, like Gram. So she started us­ing her al­lowance to buy dog food. Pack­ing kib­ble into plas­tic bags, then tuck­ing them inside her Flint­stones back­pack, Erika waited un­til Gram was watch­ing from the porch, then dashed across the street to where stray dogs oth­er­wise had to rum­mage through dump­sters.

Watch­ing the pups gob­ble the food, a warmth filled Erika. “They were so happy to have

some­thing to eat!” Erika re­ported to Grandma Jen­nie, who hugged her proudly. It was only as she grew up that Erika re­al­ized that the man her grand­mother fed had been home­less. Even as an adult, Erika loved spend­ing time at Grandma Jen­nie’s, help­ing her cook and do­ing cross­word puz­zles to­gether. But then, when Erika was 27, Grandma Jen­nie was di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer— and af­ter a valiant ef­fort, lost her fight. Erika was dev­as­tated. And see­ing her enor­mous fam­ily— Grandma Jen­nie had five chil­dren, 13 grand­chil­dren, 23 great-grand­chil­dren, even one great-greatknew Gram had been the glue that held But she wouldn’t have wanted us to give up, she thought— and vowed to find a way to keep Grandma Jen­nie’s legacy of car­ing alive. So af­ter much brain­storm­ing, One Kind Step (Onekind­stepnj. org) a non­profit to spread kind­ness through the com­mu­nity for those in need, was born.

Legacy of love As

their first act of kind­ness, Erika and her fam­ily packed up bags of toi­letries and brought them to a shel­ter near her Rah­way, New Jersey, home so the women there could feel a lit­tle bet­ter about them­selves.

“Know­ing some­one cares can keep them go­ing,” a worker there smiled.

Erika and her loved ones had some­times vol­un­teered at soup kitchens, and they no­ticed that the folks there—while thank­ful for the warm meals—seemed lonely.

“Want to play hang­man?” Erika asked an older gen­tle­man.

“I haven’t played that since I was kid. I’d love to!” he said, his eyes bright­en­ing. So One Kind Step be­gan drop­ping off not only food, but also games like Pic­tionary, and stick­ers and mark­ers for the kids.

“I love it when you guys are here. It makes it so much fun!” one lit­tle girl sang, wrap­ping her arms around Erika.

On Mother’s Day, One Kind Step brought bas­kets of nail pol­ishes and per­fumes to a chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal. They helped lit­tle pa­tients wrap them up with cel­lo­phane and bows to sur­prise their moms— and made ex­tra gifts from the tini­est pa­tients. “This is my first Mother’s Day, and I’m spend­ing it in a hos­pi­tal. I can’t tell you how much this means!” one new mom beamed.

But for Erika, it’s the “Christ­mas at Gram’s” event that touches her the most. One day ev­ery hol­i­day sea­son, the city of Ne­wark closes Vin­cent Street where her grand­par­ents lived for 60 years so One Kind Step can host a hol­i­day party, com­plete with Santa.

“This is ex­actly what I wanted!” one lit­tle girl squealed.

An­other lit­tle boy tugged on Erika’s sleeve. “I’m so happy for my foot­ball. ‘Cause I’m gonna be a foot­ball player when I grow up!”

As count­less other chil­dren flipped through new books, Erika re­mem­bered the years she’d spent dec­o­rat­ing her grand­par­ents’ house and shar­ing Christ­mas din­ners. And she was cer­tain: Grandma Jen­nie was smil­ing down.

To­day, through One Kind Step, Erika and her vol­un­teers have helped 2,000 peo­ple, never for­get­ting their an­gel in­spi­ra­tion.

“What I found most amaz­ing about Gram was that she didn’t think she was do­ing any­thing spe­cial. She just be­lieved help­ing peo­ple was the right thing to do,” Erika beams. “And be­cause of her, we be­lieve in chang­ing the world, one step at a time, too!”

— Kristin Hig­son-hughes

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