Damians Ladder
The logo of Damians Ladder, a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to help San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley seniors. (Contributed)

San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley are chock-full of character and conveniences that most other towns would be lucky to have: breathtaking natural beauty, great schools, plenty of opportunities for shopping and dining, and cohesive, neighborly communities. 

Residents work together, play together, celebrate holidays together and support each other in times of need. Now, thanks to SLV’s Colly Gruczelak and Ann Bennett Young, there’s a way for area senior citizens to get the assistance they need when it comes to small home repairs: Damians Ladder.

Gruczelak, a columnist for the Press Banner and a Ben Lomond resident, had a relentlessly beeping smoke alarm in 2022. Gruczelak couldn’t comfortably reach it with any of the ladders she owned, so she got a hoe from the garage and “beat the devil out of it” to quiet the device. 

She happened to mention her predicament to her neighbor, Melissa Lanctot, over lunch; later that week, Melissa and her husband, Damian, showed up unexpectedly with the perfect ladder to assist, and they made quick work of installing brand new smoke alarms in Gruczelak’s home. 

In July 2022, Damian Lanctot was killed in an accident on Alba Road. 

Gruczelak had begun to prepare monthly luncheons for members of the SLV and Scotts Valley Senior Centers to provide an opportunity for seniors to share their worries and find support. After listening to the attendees share their concerns and need for help around their homes, she realized that there were hundreds of senior citizens in the area that could benefit from hands-on assistance with home-related repairs.

Based on that feedback, Gruczelak, her close friend and colleague Ann Bennett-Young, and Melissa Lanctot created a coalition of area leaders and members of service-oriented associations who were inspired by Damian’s selflessness when it came to helping others, and in late 2023, Damians Ladder was born.

Now, the nonprofit is in the process of joining forces with local Boy Scout troops, Valley Churches United, Scarborough Lumber, Sons In Retirement (SIR), the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz, Veterans Village, the Red Cross and retired area handymen to ensure that the mission of the nonprofit—“Helping San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley seniors, and the disabled, to live in their homes and have good quality of life”—is carried forward. 

So far, the group has had several success stories, including the installation of grab bars in showers, distribution of fans during the summer, and handing out retired Chromebooks from Scotts Valley Unified School District. 

“The laptops are in perfectly good condition, but since they have aged out from receiving support by Google, the students can’t use them,” Bennett-Young said.

“In January, we’re going to host classes at both senior centers (SLV and Scotts Valley) to help seniors learn how to use the devices,” added Gruczelak.

The group has also received donations of goods and cash to help offset the costs of the program, including licensing and insurance, and they’re off to a good start for their January kickoff. 

Gruczelak said there is a local organization (which wants to remain uncredited) that will take over the program next month to manage outreach, provide workers and ensure that the needs of area seniors are met. 

“We’ll still be in charge of the organization,” said Bennett-Young, “but we will rely on them to get the work done.” 

While their services will be based upon the needs of the community they serve, Gruczelak and Bennett-Young envision help with things like installing handrails, changing light bulbs and air filters, fixing small items and generally making homes safer for residents.

“Seniors are embarrassed to ask for help,” said Gruczelak, who is intent on ensuring that there is no shame or judgment when assistance is sought. 

Bennett-Young agrees. 

“Part of the challenge we’re facing is that seniors don’t speak up. They don’t want to be a burden on others, and the low-income seniors can’t afford to get the help they need,” said Bennett-Young, and that’s where Damians Ladder comes in.

For now, the group is still in the process of collecting resources and volunteers to help support their efforts. 

“If we can make a difference for even one senior, we’ll know our work is worthwhile,” Gruczelak said.

For those seeking more information on contributing to the nonprofit or using their services, visit https://damiansladder.org.

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Christina Wise covers politics, education, art & culture, and housing issues. She has a degree in Communication from San Diego State University, and has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley since 1996. She's a community advocate and a mother of two.


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