People Leading by Example: Sheila Petroni of Neighbor to Neighbor

The geography of Door County provides nearly 300 miles of shoreline and scenic beauty, but it poses a great challenge for organizations trying to extend services to the northern reaches of the county.

In 1993, Neighbor to Neighbor Volunteer Caregivers director Jackie Izyk visited churches to find someone to help extend their reach. She found more than a little bit of help in the person of Sheila Petroni.

Petroni was born and raised in the community and knew that services didn’t always make their way up the peninsula. She was happy to step up, but she couldn’t have known that she’d essentially become the head of the Northern Door program, as Izyk was afraid to cross the bridge in Sturgeon Bay and rarely ventured north. For 25 years Petroni has been invaluable to the program.

“Her dedication level in running the Northern Door center has been incredible,” said Neighbor to Neighbor Executive Director Ann Bennett. “She is the face of Neighbor to Neighbor in Northern Door.”

The Neighbor to Neighbor Medical Equipment Exchange provides free equipment (including crutches, braces, hospital beds, walkers and wheelchairs) for people to use for up to six months free of charge. In the course of a year the program helps more than 1,500 people, saving them the expense of buying costly equipment. It also keeps items in circulation, rather than in a landfill.

As a volunteer, Petroni is in charge of the equipment facility, meeting clients, inventorying items, returns and donations. While Bennett has 15 volunteers who help the cause in Sturgeon Bay, the equipment program in Northern Door is run entirely by Petroni.

“She’ll do speaking engagements for us, attends meetings, pretty much anything to build and grow the program,” Bennett said. “She has a strong moral compass and believes in giving back to her community.”

Petroni, a member of Sister Bay Moravian Church, puts in more than 100 hours for Neighbor to Neighbor every year.

“A lot of it has to do with my faith,” she said. “I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, and I believe it is our job to be the hands and feet here on Earth and to help my neighbors.”

Petroni helps a client choose a walker. Photo by Len Villano.

Before the medical equipment program was dropped in her lap, Petroni helped senior citizens navigate paperwork to receive their Medicare benefits. She also served as a respite caregiver, where she was matched with an elderly woman who still lived at home into her 90s, but needed help with grocery shopping, housekeeping, and just needed human contact.

When she’s not volunteering for Neighbor to Neighbor, she serves on boards at her church, contributes to Children’s Day in Ephraim and Friends of Peninsula State Park, and has helped many other community organizations. In 2017 she received a Golden Heart Award from the Volunteer Center of Door County for her efforts.

“I like to think of myself as a humble person, but I guess I do get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people if I can,” she said. “It’s nice knowing you made the journey a little easier for someone else.”

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