ALLOUEZ — Five years ago, Kimberly Krejcarek achieved her childhood dream of learning to play the violin. Now she’s doing what her heart and her faith were guiding her to do: playing violin for the elderly.
“When I started playing, my main goal was to play at nursing homes,” said Krejcarek, a Manitowoc native who now lives in Green Bay. “I knew I didn’t want to play professionally or get paid or anything like that. It was strictly to give back and to bring this music to others.”
Krejcarek’s compassion for the elderly comes from her deep Catholic faith, which was formed during childhood.
“My mom was very big into going to Mass every weekend, even when we were on vacation,” she said. “So I would always go ‘because Mom said so.’ Then, when I attended college, it was, ‘Oh, I don’t have to go because Mom’s not here anymore.’ But I made the conscious decision to go myself.”
After graduating from Lincoln High School in Manitowoc, Krejcarek attended UW-Oshkosh, where she earned a degree in Radio TV Film (RTF) in 2010. It was during her college years that Krejcarek’s faith blossomed.
“I just really enjoyed sharing my faith with people my own age in college,” she said. “I was involved in ministry and organizations and charity stuff through the Newman Center. So that really propelled my faith even further and deeper.”
After graduating from UW-Oshkosh, Krejcarek was hired by WLUK-TV Fox 11 to write and produce television commercials, station promotions and oversee contests. One day, she told a colleague about her desire to play the violin.
“I just loved the sound of it, but didn’t have an opportunity myself to play,” she told her co-worker. “Then she mentioned that she played the violin and would love to give lessons. That teacher moved to Milwaukee, so I’m on my second teacher.”
It didn’t take Krejcarek long to decide how she would use her newly developing musical talent.
“I’ve been (playing for nursing home residents) for about a year,” she said. “I just feel called to help others and this is an easy, inexpensive way of doing that. I’m up to nine nursing homes.”
Every Monday evening after work, Krejcarek grabs her violin case and music books and drives to a nursing home.
“Of the nine, it’s about five Alzheimer dementia facilities and four that are just traditional nursing home and assisted living centers,” she said.
Her repertoire ranges mostly from religious hymns to familiar classics.
“When I play at nursing homes, I play a lot of Catholic Church songs from the ‘Breaking Bread’ songbook that we have at Mass,” she said. “I love playing Catholic songs as well as old-time favorites and non-religious songs.”
Krejcarek said the reaction from residents is often priceless.
“It’s so amazing because I’ll play songs that I’m sure some of the residents haven’t heard for years and they are singing along. It’s just like they heard it yesterday,” she said. “That’s so heart-warming that these songs are so engrained in their minds, even the Alzheimer patients who struggle with memory loss. It’s amazing how easily they are able to recall these lyrics and this music.”
Following her hour-long concerts, Krejcarek enjoys visiting with residents.
“You get to know these residents so well and you just see the difference that you’re making,” she said. “Even just a small act, just playing the violin for an hour, means the world to them. There are a few residents who’ve come up to me afterwards and said how happy I’ve made them feel, how at peace they are and it just warms my heart immensely.”
According to Krejcarek, faith guides her in the nursing home visits, even in unsuspecting ways.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s not me playing,” she said. “I know that sounds kind of unusual, but there are songs I know where I lose my place in the music, for example, and my fingers know just what to do and it’s like, ‘I wonder if that’s God or the Holy Spirit?’ Kind of like, ‘I’ll help you. This is what comes next.’ I like to think when I play that God is there smiling down and enjoying what he’s seeing.”
One of her favorite hymns, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” captures the essence of Krejcarek’s ministry. “I just feel like that kind of sums it up. I feel like I’m closest to God and his work through me when I play for these residents, like I’m doing his work for others.”
Krejcarek recently joined Titletown Catholic Young Adult Ministry offered by the Diocese of Green Bay. It gave her an opportunity to invite other young adult Catholics to join her at nursing homes. “I’ve had four people who have either played the piano with me or sang,” she said. “I’m so happy to have them. I just love inspiring others.”
Christmas can be a difficult time for nursing home residents, who’ve lost loved ones or may not have visitors. While it gives Krejcarek joy to fill that void, she knows that her visits are important year-round. “They need music and feeling loved all of the time, so I do go there 12 months a year, every week,” she said. “I think it’s important not to forget about them the rest of the time.”