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