Karen Glowacki lives life at full tilt. The 54-year-old is highly engaged with the community and loves being active. “I don’t want to just sit around and watch TV,” Karen says. She does anything but.
So many things are meaningful to Karen that it’s difficult to know where to start, but when asked, Karen has no problem determining that church is the most significant one. “I was raised in a Polish Catholic family. My faith is important to me.”
She attends St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in Parkville, where she is an altar assistant and a Eucharistic minister. “I help the Father hold the prayer book and I pour water over his hands before communion. I help set out communion and I help hand out the host. It makes me feel good to give back to my church.”
CHURCH ALSO is the setting for Special Friends, a social group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc’s support staff provides transportation to and from meetings. Karen loves the socializing and activities, but the spiritual aspect is equally fulfilling to her. The Archdiocese gave the group special Bibles, and Karen likes reading from hers.
Like her faith, helping others is part of the fabric of Karen’s life, so she also enjoys fundraising with the group. “We collect change in a bucket for the Haiti committee of the church. We raised enough money to feed six or seven children from Haiti for a year,” she says proudly.
Through Special Friends, Karen found out about Camp GLOW, a six-day summer camp that has arts and crafts, swimming, Bible stories and chapel. The camp’s staff has given Karen many leadership roles in which she takes great pride, like watching out for people and emceeing the annual talent show. She also looks forward to going to daily mass.
Karen lives in an apartment with drop-in support from The Arc staff who help her with personal goals. She and her roommate Lisa are best friends; they know each other from way back. Karen has been described—in the best way—as a mother hen to Lisa, whom she sweetly calls “honey.”
“When Lisa gets anxious, I tell her to take a deep breath. I make sure the temperature in the bathtub is safe for her, and I help her with chores,” Karen says.
Lisa has seizures and when she does, Karen moves her into a safe position. When Lisa comes to, Karen is gently reassuring. She tells Lisa, “You’re okay now; I’ve got you.” Karen determines when a call to 911 is needed, and she keeps a record of Lisa’s seizures for staff.
When Lisa’s mother passed away last year, Karen repeatedly encouraged her to take time to grieve. One example: Lisa felt anxious about missing time from the bowling league the pair belongs to, but Karen told her not to worry because the team would win the games for Lisa’s mother. And it did.
Karen loves apartment life. She has a very involved family and support staff from The Arc who make that possible. Rebecca Eller, her support coordinator, talks with Karen often and takes Karen out for her birthday. “Karen is always on top of things. She is an outspoken and strong person who is easy to get to know. She likes to make sure the people around her are happy, and she is the first to console someone who is sad. She lives a full, typical life that equates to anyone else’s.”
Support staff helps with weekly meal planning and takes Karen to malls and restaurants on weekends. Karen’s sister lives close by and helps when needed, and mom Carole takes her to medical appointments. Carole describes Karen as an outgoing, very caring person who enjoys working, volunteering and all the other activities she does. “She’s a joyful person who likes being around people. She is very content with her life.”
Throughout the years, Karen travelled with her family often. Her favorite trip, she says, was the one where she got to see a lot of churches. Karen loved the Disney cruise she went on. As an added bonus, she got a free cruise when a hurricane forced the boat to return to port early!
Karen is close with her brother. There was a time she considered living with him, but she decided that they would be better friends than roommates. That’s the kind of maturity that has served Karen well in many aspects of her life, including her job at Mercy Ridge Retirement Community.
In 1995, Karen began receiving supported employment services through The Arc, and she was the first person from the agency to be hired by Mercy Ridge. “I make sure everything is ready for dinner—that the trays are stacked, the silverware is sorted, the condiments are filled and the tables are clean. I like making sure everything is put where it is supposed to be. I’m very serious when it comes to work. I want to do a great job and I want things done the right way. I ask a lot of questions to make sure I’m doing it just right, and if my co-workers ask me to do something, I do it.
“I love it at Mercy Ridge. The people are very nice. Being friendly is the best part of my job.”
Karen’s job coach Laurie Gray checks in to ensure that the work is going well for Karen and her employer. She calls Karen a helpful, conscientious person who interacts well with co-workers. “Karen has great work habits—she’s always on time and she’s a hard worker who always gets her work done. She is enthusiastic and willing to help wherever needed. Management loves her.”
When Karen’s shift at Mercy Ridge is over, she goes directly to Stella Maris to volunteer in the cafeteria. A staff member from The Arc found the opportunity for her. “I take off dirty tablecloths and put fresh ones on, and I vacuum sometimes.” She is always willing to pick up new duties, too.
“Volunteering at Stella makes me feel good because I can help out. I like talking with the residents. If they leave something in the cafeteria like a cane or a jacket, I return it to the front desk. I also help residents wrap up leftovers. I do a Christmas tree for the dining room every year. Everyone loves me there.
“I like to work with beads and do crafts and I always make things for the nuns at Stella. I have a big thing for Sister Karen. When she sees me coming she says, ‘Here comes Karen. What did you bring me this time?!’ It makes me happy because I care about people.”
ON THE WAY HOME from Stella Maris, Karen sometimes stops at the YMCA in Parkville to use the treadmill. “I have to keep my knees nimble for Special Olympics sailing, because we do a lot of kneeling on the boat.” She is an active member of the team, and on Tuesday evenings during the summer, she goes to the Baltimore County Sailing School for practices, where she says she learned, “You have to be really careful not to tip the boat.
“At the end of the summer we have a sailing regatta at St. Mary’s College. That’s where the Special Olympics takes place. It’s fun because you get to see people from different counties.”
Every year, Karen also participates in another Special Olympics event: the Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point Park. “Boy is it cold! But I like doing it to help raise money for a good cause.”
THAT KAREN has a well-rounded life is self-evident. But she has also discovered the secret that being happy is doing for others—and that true gratification comes from being fulfilled. Guided by her faith, she gives to others with her whole heart. Her spirit is open and kind; she lives fully every day.
Despite all of the positive feedback Karen consistently receives from people, she couldn’t be more unassuming.
When Karen found out that she was going to be featured in The Arc’s annual report, she was very excited but asked immediately, “Why me? Why did I get picked? Why me out of all the other people?” Staff helped her understand the choice—and the fact that some questions simply answer themselves.