Damians Ladder
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is held last Friday for Damians Ladder, with founder Colly Gruczelak (middle) and Melissa Lanctot holding the scissors alongside local officials and volunteers. While the nonprofit was officially launched during the event, it has already been assisting local seniors for months. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Last Friday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the Scotts Valley Senior Center for Damians Ladder, a nonprofit organization that’s already been making an impact in the lives of seniors in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley for months.

At the center of it was Colly Gruczelak, the Press Banner food columnist, who founded the organization that provides practical services to lower-income older residents, after she herself was helped by the organization’s namesake.

Senior Center Coordinator Darshana Croskrey was among those helping serve lunch.

“Who would like the clam chowder?” she asked. “Who would like the minestrone?”

It was Gruczelak herself who was the mastermind behind these dishes. Some attendees said they’d be scouring the pages of the Press Banner in the days to come to see if she divulged her soup secrets.

Recently, Gruczelak received the Outstanding Community Hero award at the Valley Churches United 2023 Angel of the Year awards, including for launching Damians Ladder.

When asked about Gruczelak, Ann BennettYoung, the organization’s board secretary, explained that food preparation is “part of her service.”

Anna Pissanetzky, a senior center board member and receptionist, said the milestone represents the realization of an idea she first heard about a year ago. She’s already been part of a drive to help seniors stay cool during heat waves.

“I helped go around the community and pass out some fans,” Pissanetzky said.

She added that given the high cost of nursing homes and housing, helping seniors stay in their own homes can be a gamechanger.

David Wagner, a 73-year-old Felton resident, is one of the volunteer contractors. The chemical engineer is now retired.

“This is now an opportunity to pay it forward,” he said.

He recalls one woman who had a problem with her two-way light switch setup.

“One of the switches was bad,” Wagner said. “She’d been eating by candlelight.”

When he was able to complete the repair, the lady was ecstatic, he recalled.

Damians Ladder
Damians Ladder founder Colly Gruczelak (right) helps with food service during the June 21 luncheon at the Scotts Valley Senior Center, where the nonprofit organization was honored for providing practical services to lower-income older residents. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

In another case, a tree had smashed into the gutters of a Boulder Creek home, where a resident with stage four cancer lived.

“It entailed me getting on a ladder and piecing everything together,” Wagner said. “I’m fortunate that I’m still mobile.”

Wagner said he’s actually the one benefitting from his volunteering, in some ways.

“It seems the more I do, the more mobile I am,” he said, as he looked around at the brimming senior center. “This is a heck of a turnout.”

Wagner explained how, in addition to providing fire alarms, the organization also earthquake-proofs water heaters. And now, Damians Ladder is looking at expanding to Watsonville, he added.

Bill Wolverton, the 62-year-old host of the internet radio show “Good Morning Monterey Bay,” said he wanted to come out to support a good thing.

“I think it’s marvelous work they’re doing,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Anna Marie Gotti, a community engagement and partnerships official with the Red Cross, was on a fact-finding mission. She was curious to learn if this is the sort of group they can rely on during disasters, which seriously upend the lives of seniors.

“I think this organization might be able to support some people,” she said.

Rosemary Chalmers, Wolverton’s co-host on Santa Cruz Voice radio, was there at the organization’s inception.

“’I’m Colly’s cheerleader,” she said. “We visit a lot.”

On one such visit, she remembers how Damian Lanctot—who she described as a “very congenial” guy—came over with a ladder to replace smoke detectors for Gruczelak.

“Yes, he was handsome,” she added.

His wife, Melissa Lanctot, was also at the luncheon.

“He was always the nicest person on the planet,” she recalled. “He and I were friends since Scotts Valley Middle School.”

Gruczelak even told her husband about the idea for creating this sort of organization when he was completing the job at her home, noted Melissa Lanctot.

“Colly and Damian talked about seniors needing help that night,” she said. “She had this idea kinda already going.”

Melissa Lanctot also has helped deliver fans and other items, and said it’s helped her process the loss of her husband.

“I’ve definitely found it to be helpful,” she said.

She added that her husband’s former coworkers at Lockheed Martin continue to collect money to give to Damians Ladder each month.

On Friday alone, with the help of emcee Danny Reber from the Scotts Valley Chamber of Commerce (and surely thanks to the delicious chowder), the organization brought in another $2,000.

“This is such a vital thing for our community,” said Mari Rossi, one of the donors. “This is amazing.”

Previous articleTherapyWorks | The Importance of Mental Health for Men: Breaking the Silence
Next articleBoulder Creek fire siren to sound weekly starting July 2
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here