Published Dunndeal Gazettes, January 2023
Tracy Serdynski Stites and her family started the Who I Am Foundation in 2020 to help the doctors and hospital staff to get to know their non-verbal patients a little better. In the last year, the support kits can not only be found in hospitals, but also in assisted living and memory care facilities. At this time, the foundation has helped almost 3000 families through their free Healthcare Support Kits.
“For residents struggling with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, the wall hangings help them remember ‘Who They Are’ and who their loved ones are,” said Tracy.
Feeling the need to help the little ones in foster care, and the foster parents, the foundation created a new product, a 5 x 7 photo album. The albums have room for 12 photos and 12 Who I Am cards they can use to tell their Foster Care homes who they are. Photos and notes can facilitate conversation in addition to helping them understand a little more about the child’s needs.
This year the foundation joined forces with The Heartland for Children Foster Care Program to provide each child with a Who I am 5 x 7 Photo Album. Over 1100 albums were given as Christmas presents to the children currently placed in The Heartland for Children’s Foster Care Homes. In 2023, it is estimated 1000 more will be needed for children who will be new to The Heartland For Children Foster Care Program. Avon Park High Rotary Interact Club members have been assembling the Who I Am Foundation Photo Albums while earning Community Service Hours.
“These photo albums will be a way for children to tell their story using the photo slots and notes included in each album. Moving from foster home to foster home can be a scary thing. Our combined hope is these photo albums will help foster parents understand a little more about the child entrusted to their care,” said Tracy.
The idea for the Who I Am Foundation began in July 2020. Her father, Don Serdynski, was in the hospital with COVID. Due to restrictions, other family members were not allowed in. Before long, his conditioned worsened. He was placed on a ventilator, which made him unable to communicate with his family as well as the doctors and nurses caring for him.
One day when Tracy was getting ready to visit her father, she gathered family photos to place in her father’s room so that when he opened his eyes, he would know they had been there and enjoy the memories of family trips, his mammoth sunflowers that he loved to grow, and watching the Florida Gators, his favorite football team. She also wrote a note to the nurses asking them to call a family member whenever they were in the room so that the nurse could call when it was convenient. This would alleviate the extra time each nurse took to put on the gear and go into the patient’s room, since he or she was already in the room performing his/her routine duties.
As a citrus grower for most of his life, Don Serdynski was very healthy before COVID struck, and they never imagined that he would be taken from them so soon. On his last night on earth, Don was being taken care of by Tim Lanier, a nurse, who is also a big Gators fan. Tim called Don’s family using the phone number in the room to let them know he was passing. When Tim realized they would not make it in time, he took Don’s hand and said “I am not going to let a fellow Gator die alone. I will stay with you until the end.” Because of the photos in the room, Tim was able to talk to Don about his family, his flowers and Florida Gator Football until Don went home to be with the Lord.
In her grief, Tracy asked God ‘what can we do to help the doctors and nurses and other people going through this tragic time?’
“God spoke to me and said it’s the phone number and the pictures in the room.”
That’s when she came up with the idea to make a Patient Kit. Through Advent Health, they were able to create patient support kits and “Who I Am Foundation” came into fruition. The kits consist of hospital grade plastic photo pages with pockets that can be used for pictures, notes, and family contact information.
For more information on the organization or to find out how you can help, go to https://www.whoiamfoundation.com. High school students can volunteer and earn hours towards their Bright Future Scholarship.