November 2004

Pamela Krawczyk

by John BINDER

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Recognizing that age is not an indicator of ability, Pamela Krawczyk has chosen to find ways to dispel the myths of aging. She is enthusiastic in her description of the vitality of older adults and in the promotion of their ability to live independently. Sitting behind her desk, in the comer office on the 13th floor of the Rath Building, does not cause Pam to forget her roots and humble beginnings. She grew up, and still lives in the Kaisertown neighborhood of Buffalo where a sense of community has always been and still is important.

The daughter of Richard and Theresa (Plewniak) Krawczyk, she is proud of the fact that her grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country to give their future descendants a better life. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs. "I consider myself to be truly blessed to have had such wonderful and loving parents," Pamela states, "they provided all of their children the skills, talents and education to become successful individuals. By success, I'm not referring to positions or status in the community, I'm speaking about respect for self and others, discipline and faith. My dad was a skilled cabinet maker who had a brilliant mind—however, circumstances prevented him from pursuing a college degree. He made sacrifices and placed his dreams aside to provide financial security for his family. After he returned from service in World War II, he chose a position with the United States Postal Service in order to provide each of his children with the opportunity of an education. To his credit, each of his three children earned Masters degrees. My mom made many sacrifices also. An extremely strong, independent and creative woman she was a role model for us. She taught us life skills, ethics and responsibility and shared her wisdom—which all her children refer to today as invaluable advice."

Pamela is the youngest of three children. Gregory, the oldest is a food chemist at FMC in New Jersey where he resides with his wife and two daughters. Claudia, Pam's sister, works as Vice-President in Operations Risk and Support Services at HSBC Bank. Pamela endearingly refers to their relationship as the "sister act" in that life experiences have given them a unique and special bond.

Although Pamela's grandparents had passed on prior to her birth, the streets of Kaisertown held numerous "surrogate" grandparents, providing life's education. Respect for your elders was something that was learned at an early age. This served her well when she was appointed to the Geriatric Unit of South Buffalo Mercy Hospital as a "candy striper." This experience fostered further respect for the abilities of older adults, and thus the pathway was set before her.

Her primary education, at St. Bernard's, located on Clinton Street in Kaisertown, and Mt. Mercy Academy, not only gave Pamela the education but provided the strong ethical foundation upon which she has built her career and the belief that education is a journey, not a destination. She credits faith, hope and a supportive network of loving family and friends with her success.

In 1977, Pamela received a scholarship to D'Youville College where her field of study was Biology/Pre-Med. During the next four years Pam continued to take several Sociology courses and was prompted by a professor's handwritten notes on her term papers encouraging her to study gerontology.

Her pathway was detoured for six years, as Pam worked in Cardio-Pulmonary Research for the New York State Research Foundation. Recalling the comments of her professor and wishing to pursue an advanced degree, Pamela made the decision to make a career change and returned to D'Youville to earn a Masters degree in Gerontology. She considers this to be one of the best decisions of her life and a most fascinating career choice given the current demographic trends in Erie County. The National Honor and Professional Society in Gerontology, Sigma Phi Omega, has recognized her talents and work.

As her thesis research was originally conducted in a long-term care institutional-type environment, Pamela Krawczyk volunteered as a Red Cross Long Term Care Ombudsman where she advocated for the rights of those older adults residing in nursing homes.

Pamela also became a strong voice for changing the misconceptions about aging. She spent the next eleven years directing the Golden Age Center of The Salvation Army, promoting prevention programs and encouraging independent living.

Through her efforts in coordinating the Senior Olympics for Erie & Niagara Counties, she was able to prove that age should not be an indicator of ability. During the time of Pamela's leadership, participation tripled and in 1999 she was proud to accept the Network in Aging's Outstanding Program Service Award for The Salvation Army Senior Olympics.

Observing the ever-changing role of families and realizing the growing number of older adults assuming parental responsibility for grandchildren, Pamela began the Grandparent Enrichment Program at The Salvation Army Golden Age Center. This program was selected nationally out of one hundred twenty applicants to receive a seed grant from the Brookdale Foundation.

In January 2000, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra appointed Pamela Krawczyk as Commissioner of The Erie County Department of Senior Services. As the Director of this area agency on aging, she is responsible for the development of a comprehensive and coordinated plan of services for the frail, low-income, elderly of Erie County. Although this position provides many challenges, it also provides opportunities to promote the strengths, health and wellness of older adults. Pamela remains steadfast in her commitment to assist all older adults to lead lives filled with happiness and dignity.

Her volunteer efforts have been directed by her belief that she is a "servant leader" and is committed to helping the frail, poor and aged of the Western New York community. On March 1, 2000, D'Youville College awarded Ms. Krawczyk their Alumni Service Award for her achievements in working with older adults and her continued dedication to serving this community.

Pamela's life philosophy can be summed up in her favorite quote from Langston Hughes: "Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong...because sometime in your life you will have been all of these."

John Binder is a freelance writer.


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