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Turning Tragedy into Love: Local Woman Hosts ‘Christmas Surprise’

 

for ICU Staff at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital on Dec. 17

 

Ashley Kulikowski of Glassboro, NJ, knows first-hand the impact of COVID. Not only did the 23-year-old battle the disease herself, she also lost her beloved grandfather to the pandemic in October. Screen Shot 2020-12-18 at 17.11.09

“I know how awful it feels to have COVID, and I know how much worse it is to lose someone to it,” the young nonprofit leader said. “I can only imagine how hard it is for the healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 patients and seeing the pain they face every day. If my grandpa was here, he would be showing his gratitude through giving himself.” 

That sense of understanding and empathy ignited Ashley’s desire to help lift the spirits of frontline healthcare workers at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital. The 23-year-old coordinated the “Art Kulikowski Christmas Surprise” on December 17th to show support for and thank the 70-some frontline heroes in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Along with her grandfather, Ashley and several other family members battled the disease when they contracted COVID-19 in September. Art Kulikowski, 76, of Washington Township, died at the hospital after a prolonged battled with COVID-19. He was cared for in the ICU, where Ashley’s aunt, and Art’s daughter-in-law, Kim Kulikowski, serves as Nurse Manager.

“The Kulikowski family is very grateful to the ICU nurses and doctors for the care and compassion shown to my father-in-law and all of his family during a very emotional time. Art was ‘the life of the party’ and always made sure you were taken care of and had what you needed,” explains Kim. “The first ‘Art Kulikowski Christmas Surprise’ is an amazing tribute in his name to all the wonderful healthcare workers — he would love it!”

Ashley felt that the ICU staff went “above and beyond” for her grandfather.

“They had his eight children on FaceTime calls and he kept saying ‘As soon as I get out of here, I am going to take Kim [his daughter-in-law] out to dinner,’” Ashley recalled. “My grandfather had a giving heart and loved to show his appreciation.”

As her family grieved their loss, Ashley decided to honor hospital staff through a service project: “We wanted to thank the entire ICU staff for its tenacity, courage and strength during this pandemic, as our everyday heroes, and continue my grandfather’s legacy.” 

Along with lunch provided by Glassboro-based Nick’s Pizzeria and Washington Township’s Salad Society restaurant, ICU staff members received a gift bag with an adult coloring book, colored pencils, fuzzy socks and gift cards. Ashley said the goal of each gift “is to provide a stress-relief outlet, and for every nurse and physician to feel valued, appreciated and loved.” 

The Founder of Fearless Movement — an epilepsy and mental health nonprofit — Ashley is no stranger to giving back. In the past six months, she partnered with another local nonprofit, SNJ Millennials to impact 1,500 individuals through free services aimed combating fear through scholarships, programs, treatment and laptops for remote learning. One project involved mailing more than 500 art “empowerment packages” with a sketchbook, coloring book, crayons and an age-appropriate crafts, to provide a creative outlet during the pandemic. These packages were mailed to schools, hospitals, and community organizations and individuals across the country.

Ashley, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13, suffered from severe depression and anxiety in her teens. She has been seizure-free for the past three years and just recently received her driver’s license.

“Art therapy provided an outlet for me to express myself and overcome my mental health issues,” she explains. “Studies have proven that art can be a lifesaver for those experiencing depression.”

Ashley and SNJ Millennials Founder Quandell Iglesia thank their corporate sponsors: the Columbia Bank Foundation; Nick's Pizzeria Wawa (Glassboro, NJ); Peach Country Tractor, Inc. (Mullica Hill, NJ); Chick-fil-A Mantua Square; Walmart (Woodbury); and local businesses surrounding Jefferson Washington Township Hospital  — Pat’s Select, Liscio’s Bakery, Ott’s on the Green, Salad Society and Bottino’s ShopRite. To join their efforts, visit: www.fearlessmovement.org/getinvolved or contact Ashley Kulikowski through email: ashley@fearlessmovement.org. All donations are tax-deductible.

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