Carol Oldowski’s mom passed away when Carol was 14, but she will never forget all the talks they had, sitting cozily together on her mom’s cedar chest. “The chest was at the foot of her bed, covered with a rug. When we were sitting there, I could say anything and everything, and not be judged,” Carol recalls.
Years later, when she volunteered as a counselor at Walk-In, she recognized that same kind of space here. “What Walk-In creates is a cedar chest for everyone who walks in the door.”
Carol, whose volunteer service at Walk-In spanned the years from 1990 to 2011, knew at age 4 that she wanted to be a nurse. At age 9, she began administering shots to treat her mom’s anemia. She became a counselor after establishing her career as a psych nurse at local hospitals and a public health nurse for the city of Bloomington.
In all of these settings, she found that people could turn to her when they felt overwhelmed, and she was usually able to help. At Walk-In, she found the homey atmosphere encouraged her to be creative in finding impactful ways to reach clients. She recalls one client who was facing multiple daunting challenges, and Carol led her through a relaxation exercise in which she used the metaphor of weaving a beautiful basket to hold all the challenges. “You can choose what to take back out of the basket,” she recalled saying. The client left feeling more able to take on her problems, saying, “I feel lighter.”
As a young child, Carol remembers a weight being lifted after she and her mom used the cedar chest to talk about sensitive topics like menstruation and sex. It was during one of those conversations that Carol learned how a brain injury had caused a neighbor boy to act in an inappropriately sexual, and frightening, way toward her.
The gift of listening that Carol’s mom gave her as a child, sitting on the cedar chest, has been passed along many times, and Carol hopes it will be carried forward by others. The same kinds of frightening things Carol faced as a child affect children today, and she continues to volunteer today, supporting her church community and teaching about open communication.