Jefferson Award winner dedicated life to community service

Dr. Dorothy Pieniadz sees part of her legacy in pictures from Rhode Island College's study abroad program, a program she started.

"For many of the students, many of their lives changed radically when they came back," she said.

Pieniadz traveled mostly to Poland and eastern Europe.

"In 1959, we were the first organization allowed to bring students into Poland --- Krakow," she said. "(Pointing to a picture of John Paul), the people had told me this is the future pope."

Pieniadz's work abroad is only part of her story.

She was the first Dean of Students at Rhode Island College, a position that allowed her to change the school with activities and opportunities like teaching and Polish scholarships.

Away from the college, she volunteered with the United Way and its organizations like Federal Hill House and Camp Fire Girls. She even helped start the group known today as Big Brothers Big Sisters in 1967.

"Among my fundamental core beliefs is that your community will only be as good as what you give to it. Then you too have to be a part of it. You can't sit in a rocking chair and complain," Pieniadz said.

With nearly 50 years of community service, it's no wonder she is a Jefferson Award recipient.

"It was very early in the morning and when I got the phone call, I was overwhelmed," she said.

She says it was a pleasant shock.

"I'm a little embarrassed in the sense that service to the community has just been part all of my life," Pieniadz said.

Pieniadz said she still has more work to do.

"There's a saying, 'That while I see dear Lord, let me live another day because maybe someone still needs me.' If you're allowing me to occupy space here on this earth, then I better be thankful and do something in return for it and not just breathing the air and polluting it at the same time," she said.