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Feeling Fortunate, Paying it Forward

By Pete Levine ·
Feeling Fortunate, Paying it Forward
Margaret Smolko

The way Margaret Smolko sees it, if you’re lucky enough to have a job as rewarding as hers, then you owe it to your community to give back.

That’s why for the past 18 years, Smolko, a residential services aide at Pennsylvania’s Ebensburg State Center, a facility for people with intellectual disabilities, has been a source of inspiration for her colleagues and the residents she serves.

Smolko helps people with a range of disabilities accomplish, as she put it, “the daily tasks of living.” For some residents, that might mean something as simple as helping them comb their hair or brush their teeth. For others, however, whose disabilities are more severe, her job entails everything from bathing to dressing to feeding.

Complicating matters is the fact that residents at Ebensburg range from 18-89, so the variety of assistance people need can vary greatly, making Smolko’s job that much more challenging. 

But according to Breanna Schellhammer, another aide at Ebensburg, Smolko doesn’t let anything stand in her way. That’s why she nominated Smolko for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

“She always goes above and beyond in her work. She works full time, overtime, and she’s always putting together fundraisers. She’s really inspirational,” said Schellhammer.

Recently, Smolko, a member of Local 2407 (Council 13), along with her fellow AFSCME members working at Ebensburg Center, organized a fundraiser for a colleague with brain cancer.

“She made pierogis, bought all the supplies and organized everyone,” said Schellhammer.

More than just supporting a colleague in need, Smolko said, “The people I work with are all my family. If someone is in need, we help them.”

Never Quit Service Awards

Do you know a public service worker who shows extraordinary dedication to his or her job? If so, nominate them for a Never Quit Service Award.

If one theme emerges from Smolko’s career, it’s her belief in the value of human dignity. That philosophy is most obvious when Smolko works with residents. She ensures that their work contributions, whether packaging silverware for restaurants or folding blankets for hospitals, give them a sense of pride.

Which is why seeing the residents smile is among the best parts of her job. “You feel like you’ve made their day a little better,” she said.

Smolko attributes her caregiving instincts to her mother, a nurse’s aide for the elderly. Going to work with her mom as a young girl, she believes, prepared her to follow in her footsteps.

“I think I knew that was what I was always going to do,” said Smolko.

Fortunately for her residents and her colleagues, her passion remains as strong as ever.

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