By Janet C. Wetzel
DEER PARK - When Pat Skrocki scratched her last message on her classroom chalkboard on Dec. 31, 2000, she planned to become a full-fledged, genuine retiree.
But it was not to be. Even after 36 years of teaching at St. Bernard High School, she soon learned her work was not over.
"I planned to spend the rest of my life being a retired teacher, just doing the things I'd talked about for years," said Skrocki, 58, of Deer Park. "But God said, 'You have lots more work to do lady. Forget the rocking chair and the garden.' So I figured something was coming my way."
In July 2001, during a long search for an apartment for a friend with cerebral palsy, she passed an apartment building in Kennedy Heights that she had never noticed before. She went inside where a group of people were playing pool and having a wonderful time.
That was Geier Apartments, operated by Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD), through Hamilton County MRDD.
The resident manager and residents showed Ms. Skrocki around. They showed her a Karaoke machine someone had donated, but no one knew how to use. Without hesitation, Skrocki asked to take the machine home, taught herself to use it, then got permission to have monthly Karaoke parties for residents.
It started with six residents, and soon more than 50 people, all with some type of disability, were coming from all over the city.
"They come and sing their hearts out," Skrocki said. "They just love it. It doesn't matter if you can't sing a note, nobody cares, and that's not what it's about anyway. Some sing, some listen, but they all enjoy the camaraderie."
In summers, she moved the Karaoke parties to her home, often ferrying several carloads back and forth from Geier. They grilled out, sang out and danced for hours.
Then, after nearly a year volunteering at Geier through LADD, Skrocki said she took a part-time job there in May 2002.
On weekdays, she helps residents with life skills, such as teaching them how to ride the Metro, balance a checkbook and clean their apartment.
Her pay ends after five hours, but not her work.
She often spends evenings and weekends volunteering her time to take residents to theatrical productions, shopping, to a favorite restaurant, or just hanging out with them.
Do you know a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to (513-755-4150).
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