Jeanette Zielinski sits with her grandchildren, 6-year-old Lorenzo, 3-year-old Oliviana, 4-year-old Angelo and 2-year-old Nicoli.

Jeanette Zielinski sits with her grandchildren, 6-year-old Lorenzo, 3-year-old Oliviana, 4-year-old Angelo and 2-year-old Nicoli.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

St. Clair Shores school district, city reach out to help local family this holiday

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 6, 2017

ST. CLAIR SHORES — When Jeanette Zielinski worked as a technician in an optometrist’s office, she said they often gave back to the community, collecting money to help families at Christmastime and giving free eye exams to those in need in Detroit.

“I never knew that reaching out like this was going to come back and help me,” said the St. Clair Shores grandmother.

Zielinski had spinal surgery in 2016 and can no longer work; she can’t drive or turn her head. This year turned into a different kind of struggle for her, she said, when her 37-year-old son, a veteran, died of a heart attack in the living room in front of his four children.

Although he had been going to a Veterans Affairs hospital, Zielinski said that her son, Michael, never knew he had heart disease. He left behind a 3-year-old daughter, and 6-, 4- and 2-year-old sons. Their mother, Zielinski said, has a substance abuse problem and is in rehabilitation; Child Protective Services has opened up a case for the children, and Zielinski is their primary caregiver.

But Zielinski said there’s been a little Christmas magic brightening up the season for their family.

“Lakeview (Public Schools) called me. They picked us as a family. They took sizes and what the kids needed for Christmas, and they’re providing us with a Christmas,” she said.

Debbie DePape, executive assistant to the superintendent of Lakeview Public Schools, said that each building in the district typically adopts a family for the holidays. This year is no different. The Wheat Educational Campus, which houses the district’s administration building and the Early Childhood Center, worked with district counselors to identify families like the Zielinskis that could use some help. Zielinski’s grandson attends preschool at the Early Childhood Center.

“In speaking with her, she herself worked in the medical profession for years and was always the person reaching out to provide the assistance that we are providing her. She was very taken aback and very appreciative,” said Christine Templeton, administrative assistant to the executive director of student services for Lakeview, of Zielinski. “I’m just glad that we are so family-oriented and we have so much support to be able to offer families what they need in these times.”

Zielinski also had to have $800 worth of sidewalks replaced in front of her home this summer. Recently, she received a call from City Hall.

“About two weeks ago, Julie from the city of St. Clair Shores called me, and they took up a fund for Christmas. They put that toward my sidewalk bill,” she said. “This is stuff people did on their own. I did not ask or reach out at all.”

Julie Kandt, a clerk in the Building Department of St. Clair Shores, said that throughout the year, employees can pay $3 to wear jeans on Fridays. Then during the holiday season, each department picks a charity or a family in need to support with their donations.

Kandt said that she helps decide where the Community Development and Inspection Department donations will go. She remembered speaking to Zielinski over the summer, when Zielinski had asked for more time to pay for the sidewalk repairs.

“I called her and said, ‘We’d like to help pay some of your sidewalk bill,’” Kandt said. “It was a complete shock to her.”

Kandt said that the donations from the Community Development and Inspection Department and the City Manager’s Office will help pay nearly half of Zielinski’s bill. 

“It makes you feel good. People who don’t know, it’s a fun phone call to make,” Kandt said. “It really is a group effort from all the employees at City Hall.”

Zielinski, a widow, said that she appreciates the kindness of others this holiday season.

“When I was going through this, my son dying and taking the kids from (their mother) ... I was so lost,” she said. “It’s good to know that people understand and care, and I cannot thank them enough for what they’ve done for my family.”

Zielinski said she’s hoping others will be heartened by the good news this season.

“You always hear about the bad things, (people) breaking into garages. ... You never hear about the people who step up to the plate,” she said, adding that she wants “just to show what a great city St. Clair Shores is and the school system, and I wish to thank everybody.

“My family has been a great big part of this too, and I wish to thank them. This is just unbelievable.”