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Jefferson Awards: Alice Kulikowski / Ex-nun brings discipline, heart to construction projects

Saturday, January 10, 2004

By Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One of the photos that real estate developer Steve Mosites treasures most is of his longtime friend and occasional working partner, Alice Kulikowski, with a sledgehammer in her hand, tearing down a wall at Joan's Coffee Shop during the renovation of The Times Building, Downtown, in 1988.

He likes the photo because of what it says about Kulikowski, a former nun, a former school principal and, these days, a respected figure in construction management in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Alice Kulikowski helped coordinate the renovation of a Sisters Place center for homeless single-parent families in Clairton. (Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

"She has a unique ability to deal with people on all levels in the construction business," Mosites said, "from the laborer to the architect to the building's owner."

Kulikowski, a building owner's representative, is known not only for expertise in overseeing commercial projects, but also for putting that knowledge to work for the Catholic community. Her efforts are twofold, aimed at helping the religious women who shaped her early outlook on life and homeless single mothers and children.

It is her work for Sisters Place Inc., a collaboration of 16 communities of Catholic religious women in the region, which prompted that organization to nominate her as a Community Champion. Kulikowski was then chosen as one of seven local winners of the Jefferson Awards, which is given by the American Institute for Public Service and is considered a major recognition for volunteerism. As part of the award, Women of Southwestern PA Inc. is donating $1,000 to Sisters' Place in Kulikowski's name.

As a longtime Sisters Place board member -- including a two-year stint as president -- Kulikowski has been a tireless fund-raiser, chairing the group's annual breakfasts, doubling the proceeds from that event from $25,000 to $50,000. And in a recent project involving the renovation of a new program center for homeless people, she persuaded many local companies to donate either money or materials, with Mistick Construction agreeing to serve as general contractor.

"They agreed to work within the limits of contributed materials and labor, which was not an easy feat," Kulikowski said.

"What makes her good at it is her training as a nun," said Bob Mistick, president of the company, who also worked with her on the renovation of the Sisters of Mercy Mother House in Oakland. "She is focused on the success of the project, and will not be dissuaded from her focus by any attempts to patronize or distract her. She is very good at using her expectations of accountability to command superior performance from those with whom she interacts."

The center, which is in a housing community for single-parent families who are homeless, is located at Century Town Homes in Clairton. Currently, the program serves 26 single parents and 54 children, in both transitional and permanent housing.

  


This is the fourth of seven profiles of Jefferson Award winners.

Previous articles

Dr. Randall Kolb / Tending to homeless is rewarding to doctor (1/8/04)

Terri Watson: Hard-working volunteer isn't slowed by disability (1/7/04)

Holly McGraw: Her creative ways made Duquesne students achieve (1/6/04)

The 2003 Jefferson Awards: Seven winners honored for their public service (1/4/04)

"Her heart is very much with this project and with people trying to make a difference in the lives of those who haven't had the same kind of opportunities that other people have had," said Sister Cynthia Serjak of the Sisters of Mercy.

Renovations of the order's mother house, completed with Kulikowski's help, included an office and after-school space for providing social services.

"She's a very clear thinker, but she combines a practical sense with a very open and generous heart," said Serjak, who added that Kulikowski brings an invaluable knowledge of the ins and outs of construction projects.

"These kinds of details aren't necessarily a strong point with the sisters," said Serjak with a laugh.

Kulikowski, a native of Cleveland, is a 1964 graduate of Duquesne University. She was a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God for 20 years and received a master's degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh. In the 1970s, she served as principal of South Side Catholic High School and, later, at St. Francis Academy.

After leaving the religious life, she joined the mortgage banking firm of Carey, Kramer, Crouse and Associates, where she worked for 10 years, first as an administrative assistant and eventually as an office manager. She then accepted a position with real estate developers Damian Zamias and Steve Mosites, where, she recalls, "I traded a business suit for jeans and a hard hat."

"They took a leap of faith with me," she said. "They told me they wanted me to represent their interests on the construction site, to make sure things were going smoothly. They were great mentors."

It wasn't easy, being a woman overseeing a mostly male construction site, "because they wouldn't always take you seriously."

But she learned the ropes, combining a businesslike attitude with personal attention, which usually got results, Mosites recalled.

"Alice has a way of getting to know people and getting the most out of everyone she works around," he said. "If we needed a little extra work done by the contractors, it would get done, but she usually had cookies waiting for them the next day."

Today, when she's not working on commercial projects, she focuses on helping the aging members of female religious communities cope with changing needs, from renovations of existing buildings to staffing.

With her background in both business and religion, "I feel I can provide a special service for them, and it's something I really like to do."

The Community Champion/Jefferson Award ceremony, which is open to the public, is at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 in Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland. It will be hosted by Rick Sebak from WQED.


Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.

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