Employee Awards and Accolades

Kim Stucke reflects on 40 years at Stairways

Thursday, May 28, 2015

One of Kim Stucke’s fondest memories of working at Stairways Behavioral Health occurred just a few months into her job as a live-in residential aid.

While working at apartments located at East 38th and Briggs Avenue, Kim walked into a surprise when she entered her bathroom one morning in late November. Sitting in the bathtub was a 30-some-odd-pound turkey floating in a shallow pool of water.

Unbeknownst to Kim, the thawing bird in the bathtub was waiting for her to fashion it into Thanksgiving dinner for 40-some residents.

“I had never cooked Thanksgiving dinner or anything that big before, so I called my mom, dad and sister and asked them what to do,” said Kim, who was just 21 at the time. “We put together a nice dinner and I remember people were so grateful because they didn’t have any family to spend it with.”

The experience was prophetic in a way for Kim, as Stairways would become like a family for her for the next 40 years.

Since 1974, Kim has held a number of roles in the clinical and administrative sides of Stairways, serving as a caseworker, Director of Community Living Services before becoming Director of Special Projects and transitioning into Chief Development Officer, the post which she currently holds. Kim has also been instrumental in her work with Fairweather Lodge as well as securing grants and serving as a legislative liaison.

All the while, she hasn’t forgotten the response she received after she prepared Thanksgiving dinner all those years ago.

And her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, either, as she won Stairways’ Distinguished Service Award in 2004. She has also completed Leadership Erie, has received several proclamations for her work and was the Women’s Roundtable Woman of the Year award recipient in 2009.

What is it about Stairways that you have worked here for 40 years?

Since I started out working at Stairways as a live in residential worker, I always have had a big heart for our clients. I am acutely aware of what their needs are and how difficult managing a mental illness can be on a daily basis. Sitting around their kitchen tables, clients’ shared with me their hopes and dreams. I have tried to carry this sentiment forward in the work that I have done during my career here. Professionally, Stairways offered me opportunities to move my career from direct service to clinical management to executive management.  The diversity of job opportunities that Stairways afforded me is what kept my career relevant and viable.

What have you learned about people during your time here?

From my point of view, Stairways has great clients, exceptional staff, dedicated board members and generous community supporters.  We all share a common bond that being the journey of life, along with its victories and its challenges. Some of us have greater or less degrees of victories or challenges along the way but all of us need support along our journey.  

How has the landscape of the mental health field changed since you began?

The landscape of mental health has changed dramatically in terms of funding, system values and clinical practice. Way back the county wassolely responsible with the focus on bringing people out of the state hospital to their home communities. Then there was a shift to partnerships between state and county with a focus on rehabilitation. The current environment is one of managed behavioral health care funded by county, state and federal resources.  Comprehensive continuums of treatment and rehabilitation services are focused on recovery.

What lessons did you learn as you began your career that has stuck with you?

All people want the same basic things in life; a home, friends, meaningful involvement through employment, volunteer work or participation in agroups, clubs or churches. In addition people strive for good health and financial security. I learned that people need success to build their self-esteem in order to take the next step in their journey. People want to be valued for who they are not their illness.

What of your experience on the clinical side has since helped you in your administrative roles?

Knowing how difficult life can be on a daily basis for many of our clients is front and center to me. It provided me the patience and endurance tonavigate changes in the mental health system. This understanding was a primary motivator for me when it came to tackling barriers often presented by government officials, bureaucratic programs/ regulations and narrow minded thinking. It was critically important to make resources available for our clients in order for them to have a better life. I wanted to assure that their voices would be heard which resulted in my strong advocacy work.

What would you still like to accomplish at Stairways?

I would like to ensure that Fairweather Lodge, Opportunities Unlimited and the Bloom Collaborative become high quality programs that are financially sustainable. In addition to the many other important Stairways programs, these non- traditional programs have great value in terms of improving the overall quality of life for our clients.

Above: Kim (left) with former Chief Administrative Officer

Mary Ellen Dahlkemper after Kim won the

2009 Woman of the Year Award     

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