Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a 10-part series profiling the winners of the Kenosha News’ 10 Exceptional People Award. We will profile one winner each day up to the date of the awards ceremony on Sept. 20
Parents of newborns and toddlers have an angel, of sorts, in Gean Swiatko-Klee, a nurse with the Parents as Teachers division of the Kenosha County Comprehensive Home Visitation Program.
The 57-year-old nurse, who’s been with the Kenosha County Division of Health program for three years, is quick to say, though, that she’s not doing it alone.
“It’s all of us,” she said. “There’s a lot of positive impact we can make on our community. I’m only 1/10th of it. It’s good to be a part of a big team.”
The voluntary program for expectant mothers and their children to age 3 helps women connect with their offspring through minimum one-hour, biweekly visits.
Nurses in the program, which is free to mothers who meet Women Infants and Children income levels, provide nutrition and health information and help their clients improve child development, kindergarten readiness and mother-child interaction.
“There are so many components to a healthy lifestyle,” Swiatko-Klee said. “We help them with what is lacking. I become a mentor, particularly to mother and baby. I try to answer questions. I make connections for them to local resources.”
Co-workers said she does much more.
“She’s awesome,” said team leader and registered nurse Lori Peters. Even if clients are having problems, Swiatko-Klee digs in her heels and keeps trying new things.
“She’ll stick with them when other nurses might stop.”
Swiatko-Klee’s other notable effort was launching and organizing an annual Christmas event so kids could visit and get a picture with Santa.
“That was a highlight of my life,” she said. “I wanted our families to have that opportunity.”
That caring is a hallmark of a health career inspired by her own poor dental history and meeting a kind dentist who made an impression on her.
Born in Kenosha, Swiatko-Klee got her degree in dental hygiene, then worked in the medical examiner’s office and with the Chicago Bears’ team dentist.
When her first husband Harold Swiatko died of brain cancer before finishing his nursing degree, she vowed to finish for him.
She got her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Herzing University in 2015. After working in the intensive care unit at the old St. Catherine’s Hospital and doing her internship in the health department, she knew she’d found her calling.
“I got bit by the public health bug,” she said. “This was an avenue of unmet need for a lot of families. Some don’t know how to parent. My biggest thing is I don’t want to tell them; I want to work with them. You educate the parent.”
She stresses it’s a team effort. She thanked her husband for his support and program director Gwen Perry-Brye for encouraging team members to continue their education and offering advice when needed.
Between taking a new course in Madison, this mother and stepmother of four and grandmother of six enjoys riding her Harley and eventually plans on retiring to Tennessee. But not quite yet.
“I thought I could make a difference,” she said. “I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.”