Kerry Nielsen never met a problem she couldn't fix
When Kerry Nielsen was about eight or nine, Webster the family cat made a classic cat mistake: it curled up under a motor -- in this case a snowblower in the neighbour's garage -- and as Susan, Kerry's mom puts it, "cut his back up." The grave injury required expensive veterinary care. Like the "little women" of Alcott's famous novel, Kerry and her sisters immediately volunteered to give up their Christmas treats for love of Webster.
In the end, they didn't have to; other kind souls came forward to help cover the cost and the girls had not only Webster and Christmas too, but something even better -- a lesson in how love is inextricably linked with cost and reward, or as the Bible puts it, casting your bread upon the water in hopes of its return.
Webster's Good Samaritans may have come forward in part because Susan was known to be caring and giving herself, even when she had no great bounty to share. All her girls mirrored her example, but none more than Kerry. Kerry was exceptional. If she got more orders selling Girl Guides cookies than some of the other kids, she'd split her orders so that everyone could feel about good themselves and share in the fun.
And the plastic telephone her grandmother gave her seemed to be more than a toy to Kerry, more a precursor of what was to come. As Susan says, Kerry was "born with a phone attached to her head," even as a kid, eager to make herself available, ready to answer the call.
And these days the calls come in. Kerry admits she feels compelled to fix any problem that comes her way, whether it's someone having trouble with a Bell bill or something more serious, like the time her mom faced the ordeal of bankruptcy and losing her home. Susan was terrified. But Kerry didn't see disaster, she saw opportunity. "It's never the end of the world," she says. "It's going to get better."
Susan ended up moving in with her parents, a happy turn of events because it meant she was there when they needed her, able to spend time with her ailing mother right up to her death, something she'll never regret. An opportunity, as Kerry said.
Unemployment gave Kerry the opportunity to undertake the Self-Employment Benefit Program and start her own cleaning business (Kareful Kleaning); a success, because like everything else, Kerry views her job as a chance to make someone's life easier, to make them happy.
And that's exactly how helping other people makes Kerry feel herself -- happy. So that whenever an opportunity presents itself, Kerry doesn't hesitate to say yes -- yes to the Terry Fox Run, yes to the Salvation Army Christmas program, yes to collecting fruits and veggies for the same organization, yes to gathering produce from the fall fair for the food bank, yes to cleaning streets to raise money for MS, and yes to assisting with the breakfast for families program at St. David's.
When Kerry's friend Ed Gillespie's son was born with a rare heart condition that meant all kinds of worry and expense, she saw another opportunity to help. Packet readers will be familiar with the fundraisers Kerry has organized for baby Grayson -- a dinner and dance, an evening on the Island Princess; raising money to cover trips to Sick Kids, feeding tubes, and time missed from work.
She'll be organizing another Grayson Gillespie fundraiser next spring. At age two, Grayson weighs just half what he should, but he's able to eat a little on his own now and is facing another operation in June. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a formidable complaint, but technology is improving all the time and Kerry "can't just do nothing."
And it may be that Grayson's plight tugs just a little harder on Kerry's well-exercised heart strings. It may somehow remind her that she is not the first Kerry Anne Susan Nielsen, but named for the sister she never knew, the infant Susan lost at three days due to heart complications, the first Kerry Anne.
Perhaps a young Kerry sensed the void she was stepping into, and ever since has striven to replace grief with happiness. Susan doesn't need convincing. "God put double into her," she says.
Kerry Nielsen would like to thank the community and many sponsors who support her efforts including Domino's Pizza, Farzin Photography, SNAP, KICX, Orillia Today, The Packet & Times, Boston Pizza, Garfield Dunlop, Angelo Orsi, Bruce Stanton, Moe's Tap and Wings, Steve Clarke and Brewery Bay, and many local churches and clubs.
Anyone wishing to lend a hand is invited to call 705-330- 5760.
Kate Grigg is an artist and writer who grew up in Orillia and tells stories of local people in her column every week in The Packet. If you have a story idea you think she may be interested in, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.