Valerie Janikowski is a nurse at Ke Ola Hou who knows the true meaning of the swing shift. That’s because as soon as she finishes work, she takes on her second job (unpaid, of course) as a volunteer, logging countless hours championing community health and assisting the elderly population on Lanai.
Valerie and her family moved to Lanai five years ago from Kwajalein, a tiny island part of the Marshall Islands measuring about one and a half miles by three miles in size. Her husband John, a physician, was offered a position at the Lanai Straub Clinic & Hospital. After living on Kwajalein for 10 years, the Janikowskis still wanted to live in a small tropical community where their son would be safe and felt a move to Lanai was the perfect next step.
In her five years on Lanai, she has made a significant impact on the community. Valerie was introduced to Ke Ola Hou after John began volunteering with the Native Hawaiian nonprofit. A registered nurse, Valerie was impressed by Ke Ola Hou’s mission to offer a wide range of free health services to the community and soon began volunteering and working there herself.
Along the way, Valerie has cultivated meaningful relationships with her patients. One experience that stands out is when a Hawaiian family that she cared for gifted her and the other staff members with beautiful handmade lei as a gesture of their appreciation.
“Working in healthcare, what we do usually comes with expectation, “Valerie said. “On Lanai, there is a gratitude and appreciation for what we do, and this family, in particular, showed us the true spirit of aloha. They call us their hanai family now — that’s the biggest reward for all our efforts.”
Ke Ola Hou isn’t the only organization lucky enough to benefit from Valerie’s time and expertise. She volunteers for a multitude of community causes and events, but is most passionate about assisting Lanai’s senior residents.
“She has accompanied elderly patients to Maui when they require health care on her own time,” said Nancy Tamashiro, who has volunteered alongside Valerie for the past four years. “She was also the driving force in getting GPS tracking bracelets for some of our older residents. She started with one bracelet for one man who had gone missing (who was found with help from the community) and is now in the process of making this technology more widely available for those who need it on Lanai.”
Her volunteer work with the Maui County Office on Aging and Ke Ola Hou has led to opportunities to chair large-scale community events. . In the past, Valerie assisted in coordinating the volunteer efforts for purchasing, cooking and serving over 300 Christmas Day meals for seniors, including 100 home-delivered meals. She is now working with various community partners, including Straub, Lanai Community Health Center, Lanai Community Hospital and many others, to hold a health fair this month.
“Val has an incredibly welcoming personality. She has a confidence that makes people trust and follow her,” Nancy said.
On the rare occasion that Valerie is not working or volunteering, she enjoys doing beadwork, traveling and spending time with her husband and their nine-year-old son Jacob. And, according to Valerie, although being active in the community does consume a lot of her time, giving back is not a chore or a hardship.
“I consider it a blessing to work in our community. I truly believe that when you do something for someone else, you get something back, too. The spirit of Rotary is ‘service above self.’ If we could all do just that, how wonderful would it be!”
Editor’s Note: So many Lanaians are generous with their time and their talents and we’d like to feature some of our community heroes here each month. If you’d like to nominate someone for our volunteer spotlight, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.