Sue Kelley says she remembers seeing her grandmother in a nursing home, and thinking — there has to be a better way.
In heading up local initiatives and devoting much of her consulting business to advocating for older people in the Milwaukee area, the Shorewood resident has taken to the responsibility she says we have as a society to provide a better environment for our seniors.
“Why I do it is more about who I am, and what I believe in,” Kelley says.
Among nearly 20 names submitted to Shorewood Patch to be our Person of the Year, Kelley was nominated five times, and was the only person to be nominated more than once.
Kelley heads the Shorewood Connects project, which among other goals enhances the ability of older residents to remain in their homes and improve the sense of community and neighborliness in the village.
Shorewood Connects is an offspring of Connecting Caring Communities, an initiative of the Milwaukee County Department of Aging which ended in 2010. Kelley says Shorewood was invested in the program, however, and chose to continue on its own.
Four years in a row, Kelley has organized fall and spring clean-up events, connecting volunteers with seniors who need help with yard work and general upkeep of their homes. Just this fall, 125 volunteers gave their time to help 43 Shorewood households.
"The idea behind the project is to not only make Shorewood a great place to raise a family, but also a great place to grow old," she says.
Along with the clean-up events, Kelley organizes an annual Neighborhood of the Year contest. The 4200 block of North Ardmore Avenue was selected this year.
New this year, Kelley is helping develop a senior-friendly business district program, working with the Shorewood Business Improvement District to identify shops that would like to become more accessible to older people.
She has always had an interest in older people, she says, and loves her weekly meetings with seniors over coffee on Tuesday mornings at Einstein's.
The nature of her agency — Sue Kelley Consulting partners with non-profits and government entities to manage and run projects — affords her the time to devote to volunteering, and the avenue to help seniors.
“I’m fortunate the place I live wants to do these types of things, and is committed to community building,” she says. “I’ve always had an interest in older people, and that’s something I have focused on in my consulting business.”
Kelley, a Shorewood resident of 27 years, has had the Milwaukee County Department of Aging and Milwaukee Aging Consortium among her clients in the 19 years she has run her business.
In addition, Kelley volunteers with what's known as the Casserole Patrol, a network of volunteers who help provide food or transportation to residents following a traumatic event, and is a tutor with the Adult Learning Center in Milwaukee.
"She can always be seen volunteering at school programs, sports events, the Booster Club's Art & Craft Fair and countless other events," says India McCanse, in her nomination of Kelley.
Being named Shorewood Person of the Year is very humbling, Kelley says, because she sees the real heroes as those serving on the Village Board and School Board, volunteers with Shorewood SEED and the Shorewood Foundation — volunteers who don't necessarily get the recognition they deserve.
But those who nominated Kelley think just as highly of her.
“Sue Kelley embodies all that is good, right and just of being human. She is an example of spirit, of engagement, of inquiry, of kindness, and of action — just the type of neighbor, friend, colleague, cheerleader, and leader everyone wants to know or work with,” says Kim Apfelbach, in her nomination of Kelley. “Regardless of the school or community committee, work project, family or neighbor she's involved with, Sue brings a balanced, caring, and honest attitude to the mix.”
Kathleen Ludington says, “We have a better community because of the countless hours she volunteers on behalf of our children, elders and families. She approaches service to others with sound judgment, diplomacy, and commitment to follow through.”