Diakon Community Services volunteer Elaine Mykolayko set her Frackville Rotary Citizen of the Year 2015 Award on the podium and opened up a few pages of notes.
While she would be brief, she noted, "I do like to talk when I have something wonderful that I’m really passionate to talk about!"
And a lot of what the citizen-of-the-year talked about was volunteerism and the Diakon programs she supports through her own volunteer efforts.
“The staff and volunteer pool at APPRISE is pretty amazing and I am exceedingly, exceedingly proud to be a member of it. Ask me about it; it’s important work,” she said.
APPRISE is a Pennsylvania Department of Aging-funded program that offers health-insurance counseling for people on or soon to be on Medicare. In Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, the program is operated by Diakon Community Services, which provides a range of additional community-based services.
Anyone who’s come up against Medicare either because of age or disability knows how complicated it can be and many can tell stories about mistakes they’ve made choosing insurance that turned out not to be right for them, said Mykolayko. "That’s one reason programs such as APPRISE are so important."
The award came in the midst of Mykolayko’s regular volunteer activities. On one typical day, for example, she stopped at the Pottsville Senior Community Center to pick up her red totes of food for her Meals on Wheels clients. Some senior adults, she says, prefer to gather at the center and socialize during their meal, but others may not have the means to leave their homes.
“It’s amazing to see that they still want to be as independent as they can. Some of them probably don’t have the means to change their situation. Emotionally, it’s not always an easy assignment because a lot of the people you do see [are] either alone or their illness keeps them in the house, so you really feel that you’re doing something good. You know, you really feel that you’re helping somebody, even if it’s just to let them have somebody to talk to for a couple of minutes.”
On this day, Mykolayko carried a red food tote up onto a little wooden porch decorated with birdhouses and other garden accessories, including chirping birds that brought a garden feel to the porch. Olga Kosick greeted Mykolayko with a big smile. Kosick was recovering from surgery and held up a bandaged hand.
“I think she’s good with people and when she comes in, she’s very pleasant. She talks to me and makes sure that I’m okay. I’ve known her a long time because she worked over at the library right across the street, so we’re neighbors. She’s a very good person,” says Kosick.
“She does a lot of things within her community,” adds Sue Johns, APPRISE program coordinator for Diakon Community Services, who notes that Mykolayko not only delivers for Meals on Wheels, but also helps on the Pennsylvania Department of Aging TeleCenter with calls from across the state regarding Medicare questions. As a librarian, she assisted APPRISE by providing the program with use of the Frackville Free Public Library during open enrollment.
“Elaine is always more than willing to help, especially when I have cancellations and I need some extra coverage in the field," says Tracy Miller, Meals on Wheels coordinator for Diakon. "She’s more than willing to go out and help when she can to deliver the meals. I’ve been here 10 years and she’s been here ever since.”
Miller adds that Mykolayko "really knows the consumers in her hometown and she really is committed to giving back in her hometown."
“She has been such a great help for us," notes Karen Wood, who oversees all Diakon Community Services programs. "She’s a wonderful volunteer. You ask her to do whatever and she’s happy to do it.”
"If I can get one or two people in the audience to say, ‘Oh gee, that sounds kind of interesting....’"
In fact, initial efforts to expand APPRISE programming into the Frackvill area brought Diakon Community Services staff in contact with the library, where Mykolayko worked.
“She gave us space and the next thing you know she’s saying, ‘This is really great. This is a good service. How can I get involved?’ That’s how her volunteerism expanded from delivering Meals on Wheels to assisting with APPRISE as well," says Wood.
Mykolayko had become involved with Meals on Wheels in her hometown because she was looking for ways to help people with her time.
“I’ve never been much of a homemaker," she chuckles. "I don’t really enjoy housework. I do like cooking, but I don’t really like decorating and gardening and stuff like that so much. When I was working full-time I tried to be as generous as I could financially. I decided to retire early and I knew I wasn’t going to have as much money available to give donations so I thought, well, let me see if there are things I can do to give my time instead."
The key to successful volunteering, she says, is to be as helpful as you can, but not interfere. "You can’t tell people what you think they should do. We do have a lot of resources that we can refer to within the agency, but I think that the hardest thing is seeing the difficulties that people are in and not letting it affect you to the point that you say I can’t do that anymore.” Some times, those difficulties simply reinforce the commitment to help.
Suzanne Domalakes, president of the local Rotary and a member of library board, says that we’re very aware of Elaine and what she does for Frackville and I know when I saw her putting out the Easter eggs on Palm Sunday morning that we had picked the right person. There she was, all by herself, putting the Easter eggs out.
"In fact, "she’s just everywhere,” adds Domalakes. “We just knew all the things that Elaine does and she was the perfect candidate.”
Judge John Domalakes, also a member of the Rotary Club and the master of ceremonies every year since the club began recognizing citizens of the year, says Mykolayko is “very impressive; that’s why she was named. Elaine has done great work at the library for 10 years, but her commitment to the community is not confined to her work as a librarian. She’s also been very active in community activities, groups like Diakon for example, but also the Easter egg hunt, the children’s Halloween parade, the children’s Christmas party, and many other community activities. She’s secretary of the Frackville Fireworks Committee so she’s immersed herself in community activities and been a very important member of the community certainly worthy of being honored.”
Mykolayko was class valedictorian at Frackville High School in 1966 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Shippensburg University and a master's in library science.
During her tenure as library director, she created the Adventures With Books Program, partnered with the Frackville Recreation Board, the Frackville Business and Professional Association, Schuylkill Community Action, and APPRISE. She created the Senior Spaces Grant, which centered on materials and programs for older adults, and completed a project consisting of renovations of the children’s area of the library funded by memorial donations in honor of the Yudacufski family. She also directed various technological improvements at the library including an e-book collection and the SPARK on-line catalog. In November of last year, she was appointed to the board of trustees of the Frackville library.
She also corresponds annually with fifth-grade students to develop writing skills and communications ability as part of the RSVP Intergenerational Pen Pal Program. She serves as a volunteer tax preparer for Schuylkill Community Action and also serves as an active member of the Frackville Recreational Board. Beyond other activities, she is a member of Pumpkin Festival Committee. The festival has been a very successful operation over the last several years. Mykolayko is also secretary of the Frackville Area Fireworks Committee and in November of 2014, she was appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Frackville Free Public Library.
An avid reader and member of the Jane Austin Society of America, she has traveled the world, visiting Europe, Kenya, Africa, Nepal, Japan and China among other regions. She also has moved a number of times but says the "best thing" she ever did was to move "back home."
“Elaine," said Domalakes the night of the awards program, "I don’t know how you have time to do all these things, but you do and on behalf of the community of Frackville we thank you for it.” said Domalakes.
Mykolayko’s answer to the recognition was what one might expect: "If I can get at least one or two people in the audience to say, ‘Oh gee, that sounds kind of interesting; maybe I’ll check it out,’ that would be the icing on the cake!"