by Brenda MARTIN & Bernadette POSATO
It is 7 AM, 40 degrees and a Sunday morning. There are 3,500 or so people, executives, stay-at-home moms, kids on bikes, dogs on leashes and babies in buggies, from every corner of WNY, gathered together in parks. Over the course of the last several months, they have approached family, neighbors and colleagues for money. All of this for a five-mile walk through their communities. How did this happen?
Julie Fronckowiak and her team of dedicated young professionals at the March of Dimes brought these people together. WalkAmerica is the nations oldest walking event, and it takes place every year across the country and right here in WNY.
As executive director for the Western New York March of Dimes, bringing people together is what Julie and her team do best. The best way to effect change is by bringing people together with a common goal, whether it be to help save babies or to build a business, she says.
Julie grew up in Holland, a small town in southern Erie County. After completing her communications degree at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, she set out on a year-long adventure that lasted five years. She had committed to a year of teaching English in rural Kenya and fell in love with the country and people.
Even before her teaching contract ended, Julie knew that she wanted Kenya to be her home. I felt as if the adventure had just begun and I had so much more yet to learn. Waking up everyday overwhelmed with curiosity and excitement was too much to walk away from. Instead of watching for deer in Buffalo, I had to keep my eyes open for zebras on the highways.
Making the decision to stay was just that simple. Establishing a home and livelihood was not. With the simple need to have comfortable furniture, an idea blossomed into a very successful business endeavor. Julie started a business, Country Quilts and More, that expanded from making items for herself and neighbors to outfitting the homes of ambassadors with everything from throw pillows to custom-designed dining room tables for 12. The workforce that had been made up of one seamstress and a woodworker grew into a group of 20 Kenyans working to build the business together.
Despite all of this success and adventure, the draw of home in the United States became stronger than the lure of Africa. It was on a trip back to Kenya, after a visit home for Christmas, that I realized I had become a guest in my own family. There were babies that didnt know me and family memories created that I was not a part of. I realized my home was not Kenya, my home was here.
Just as Julies decision was made to stay in Kenya with no real formulated plan, Julies return home was much the same. I just knew it was time.
After spending 5 years in Kenya, Julie returned to start her life again in WNY with one large suitcase and a lot of uncertainty. Her sister provided a home, her family provided a lot of love and her friends anchored the readjustment. After a couple of long cold Buffalo months, the spring started with a job at a local nursery while she focused her professional ideas. I found my niche with the March of Dimes. With the trust of a great boss, my first professional opportunity has become my greatest adventure and the most fulfilling job I could imagine.
As Julie talks about WalkAmerica and the work of the March of Dimes, her face lights up. It excites me when people can come together and focus energy and resources to accomplish good things. I am happy to be back in Western New York, even without the zebras.
Brenda Martin and Bernadette Posato were contributing writers.
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