60th Anniversary Spotlight Series
August 31, 2016
Kevin Tomasik began volunteering at Cantalician Center for Learning in 1986 at 13-years-old. His parents were in charge of a group at the organization that would go on outings with children and adults with disabilities on the weekends. His aunt, Felician Sister Mary Patricia Tomasik put out the call for volunteers for the weekend program so his Mom "signed him up."
"When my mom told me I was going to be volunteering on the weekends, I didn't even blink. I didn't know any other way, but to help out when people need it. I also think my mom thought it would keep me out of trouble," said Tomasik.
The group would go on excursions across Western New York to places like the Buffalo Zoo and area parks. They would frequently visit the farm house and property that Cantalician Center used to own in Clarence. He recalls helping his dad create hiking trails in the woods for the individuals to walk and do cross-country skiing in the winter. The group would also have picnics, do crafts, games, and cook at the farm house.
"We would pick the individuals up with the yellow school bus in the morning and take them out for the day," said Tomasik. "I grew up with the individuals who went on these outings, some of whom are still at Cantalician today. They were my friends."
A number of Tomasik's family members would go on to work at Cantalician Center over the years. His mother taught at the Main Street site, his brother was a counselor for the day habilitation program, his two Cousins worked at the Eggert Road facility, and another aunt worked as the executive secretary for the organization.
"When the sisters said they needed help, my family would step in. I think at one point me and my brother were on the school basketball team," said Tomasik.
In 1988, Tomasik started volunteering in the classrooms at organization's Main Street and Eggert Road facilities. It was at that age that he saw a girl having a seizure for the first time and learned what to do and how to help in that situation. He said it was a nerve-racking experience that he will "never forget." Tomasik also assisted the maintenance crew with their needs. Tomasik recalled helping with the demolition of the Hertel Avenue site before it underwent renovations.
"I tore up ceiling tiles, I jackhammered the floor, I helped takedown the garages, and put in the new bathrooms. We tore apart the whole library section that used to be there. We knocked down the old wooden shelving, knocked out the old windows and threw all the old books and lockers out the window," said Tomasik.
When he turned 16-years-old, Tomasik was officially hired as a cleaner at Cantalician Center, working under the head of the cleaning department, Jim McCarthy. Tomasik recalls working nights at the Sister Raphael Marie building at the Main Street campus. He said he would go to school during the day and left school, sometimes during study halls, to go to work at Cantalician Center.
"I was pretty much at Cantalician anytime I had a free moment," said Tomasik.
When Tomasik graduated high school he left the area to go to college in Texas, but later move back home to Buffalo. During a visit to Cantalician Center, he ran into the director of the workshop who asked him to come back to work at the organization as a maintenance trainer.
"I worked that for a little while training the cleaning crew, then I went on to become a production supervisor at the workshop and then production manager," said Tomasik.
Tomasik recalls other "hilarious" moments from over the years, like crickets coming into the building in the morning, chirping away as they worked, woodchucks burrowing by the windows, ripping up the lawn, and staff members getting delivery trucks stuck under bridges.
"Funny things like this only happen at Cantalician," said Tomasik.
Over the years, Cantalician Center would introduce new services as New York State passed down various directives. Tomasik said at one point the organization had a program that assisted individuals with head injuries and then there was a senior focused program before the day habilitation program was available.
While working as a production manager, Tomasik describes constantly being asked by the maintenance crew how to fix and handle certain situations. He recalls the current director of employment services, Darren Lisicki taking him aside and asking him if he was interested in taking a job as the maintenance supervisor.
"I never thought I would be here, working as the facilities manager today. It just happened that way. There were other opportunities over the years, but I love what I do and I love the people. It was never worth it for me to go anywhere else," said Tomasik.
Tomasik explained that growing up it was natural for him to be around the Felician Sisters and people with disabilities. He would see the Sisters dressed in full religious habit and then when they were just hanging out watching television in their sweatpants. The Felician Sisters taught him that children with disabilities were "God's special children" and that they deserved respect. He said that is why he always felt very comfortable around them as well.
"I have been at Cantalician my whole life. Everyone here is like family. So, as long as I live, there will always be a special place in my heart for Cantalician," said Tomasik.