In recognition of Paul Piwnicki, dedicated volunteer.
Yes She Can and the Girl AGain boutique would not exist, let alone be the recognized successes that they are, if not for Paul Piwnicki. Paul is and has been our first and most dedicated volunteer, yet most people do not know about his many contributions. When I came up with the idea of creating a resale boutique for American Girl dolls as a place for Isabelle to work, Paul (Izzie’s dad and my husband) loved it. But, we agreed to hold off pursuing it until I retired from my career at IBM.
By 2013 when I did retire, my vision had evolved around what Izzie and her peers needed to transition into adulthood. With that in mind, I created a business plan for a unique program for young women with autism who needed an authentic workplace where they could develop skills for employment and greater independence. Paul and I suspected that in the beginning, designing and launching such a program would require me to take this on, full-time, and without compensation. Paul supported me in my efforts, providing me with wise counsel, as I committed the next 3 years it took to make my vision a reality.
From day one, Paul was an enthusiastic volunteer. Though he was still working full-time as an architectural engineer in Long Island City, Paul made the time to take on any task or chore the organization needed. In the early days of the Girl AGain resale boutique, before we could receive donated products, we purchased merchandise from Craig’s list sellers. Paul drove into Manhattan and Brooklyn, to eastern Connecticut, and to western Massachusetts to pick up dolls and all their accessories.
Paul set up his workshop in our kitchen where he repaired all the very well-used and broken doll furniture: beds, chairs, desks, bicycles, tree houses, and more. He glued soles onto doll shoes, mended broken horse legs, and repaired chains on doll purses. His repairs not only made the toys usable but also made them close to new for discerning collectors.
When we opened our first store in Hartsdale, NY, Paul put together all the IKEA furniture, spray painted the grey metal Home Depot shelves to “Yes She Can” pink, designed and built doll clothing racks, and then dismantled and reassembled it all 7 months later when we moved to our White Plains store.
In our Martine Avenue location, Paul put his engineering skills to work. He designed and installed cables for curtains as space dividers. He had his company’s shop fabricate a beautiful store sign out of metal with Girl AGain logo-colored film and installed it over a lightbox. (That saved us over $2,000.)
As the store was poorly insulated and cold, Paul installed plastic sheeting over the floor-to-ceiling windows – which saved us tremendously on our Con Ed bill. He fixed broken toilets and brought shipping boxes to the recycling center.
Before we had a store manager or director of training, I ran the store as well as the program. Sometimes I needed a break from the store, so Paul filled in as store manager and learned how to use Square to process sales transactions. Paul helped on the weekends with our customer workshops – spray painting picture frames for a Halloween project, photographing the activity, and scraping glue drops from the floor.
Paul also was a great ambassador. He proudly wore his black Yes She Can t-shirt and cycling jersey to promote the organization. He had 2 magnetic Girl AGain signs on his car doors to advertise the store on his drive to work and kept Girl AGain business cards in his car and wallet. Whenever he saw a 7-year-old girl he would hand a card to her mom.
For our Advocates for Adults with Autism Awards events, Paul set up our “step-and-repeat” backdrop and corralled attendees to be photographed. He joined us in every Yes She Can year-end celebration, talking with the fathers of our trainees, and sharing experiences and progress of each other’s daughters.
Over the past 9 years, there were many difficult decisions I needed to make, and I always consulted with Paul. He was and is a great listener. He gave me insightful and thoughtful ways to proceed. When the organization had enough money to cover a small salary, we hired a store manager. This allowed me to take 2 days off a week. In our 4th year of operation, I became an employee, and we celebrated my paid position as Executive Director at our favorite restaurant, X20. Paul never complained about the financial sacrifice we made to create Yes She Can. He saw firsthand not only how his daughter, but also many other young women like her, were thriving.
Paul was the best, most engaged, and most dedicated volunteer any non-profit could want, let alone any wife. He has always been proud of me and of the program, we created together. He attended all the events where I have been honored, beaming with pride when I received recognition from Autism Science Foundation, YAI, Nonprofit Westchester, UJA, and others.
Paul is also delighted that Izzie is working at Girl AGain, applying the skills she has gained as a trainee and combining her expertise in American Girl with her passion for customer service.
Many of you don’t know Paul. He is not someone who seeks the spotlight. He has a quiet voice and an unassuming style. Yet, Yes She Can would not be a success without Paul.
Now Paul and I are stepping back from our roles at Yes She Can. We need to adjust our life plans as Paul was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. But, ever the volunteer, Paul is participating in a clinical drug trial. We want to spend our time traveling and enjoying family and friends, jazz concerts, art museums, breweries, and each other’s company.
Most nonprofits rely on volunteers. Over the years there have been many kind and generous people who have contributed to Yes She Can. I am so grateful to all of them. It’s now time to give recognition and thanks to my first volunteer, the most dedicated and humble man, my husband and devoted father of Isabelle – Paul Piwnicki.
By Marjorie Madfis, Founder, Yes She Can
January 20, 2023
Pat Salner says
Paul is a wonderful person and I am proud to say he is my brother in law! I hope he knows how much he means to me and our family!!
Margo Andrews says
What a beautiful and heartfelt letter to Paul. Thank you for letting us know all he has done behind the scenes. He is such a special person and now others know this too! So much love to you all!
Both of you have worked so hard to help many young women. At the same time, supplying a more affordable product for many little girls and their parents. We wish you well in your retirement and look forward to more shared adventures.
Such a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing!
sandra Kern says
You have described Paul thoroughly, with love and pride. He’s a wonderful man and fortunate to have a strong loving wife. You know him so perfectly. Thank you for telling others what a truly good man he is.
Elisabeth Salner says
Thank you for sharing this lovely post. Love my uncle Paul very much!
Pat Salner says
Paul Piwnicki is a wonderful human being! He is one of the most caring, considerate person I know. Everything that Marjorie states in the blog is absolutely true. I am proud to call him my brother in law! We wish that his Alzheimers progresses slow enough that he and Marjorie have many years of active life together!
Ritajean Piwnicki says
This post makes me both proud and sad at the same time. My brother Paul is the most genuine man I know. He never asks for anything in return when he does something. He is the first to offer a helping hand to anyone regardless of whether he knows them or not. I not only get to call him my brother, but I get to call him my best friend. I respect this man so much and love him even more.
He has dedicated so much of his time making sure that the non-profit business was a success. He has always been so proud of Marjorie and Isabelle. We have talked endlessly about all the hopes and dreams he had for Isabelle.
Thank you, Paul, for being who you are.