With Her Whole Heart
By Kay Stellpflug
“There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet,” said William Halsey Jr. People who know Kristi Hartzheim would disagree. Her co-workers and friends think she is a great person who has risen to many challenges. What makes her special is that she takes them in stride, looking for positive outcomes for each one.
Kristi Hartzheim and her family have already left a lasting impression on Dodge County, and she’s only 35 years old. She has been an advocate for families who need services, and she has provided resources since she was seventeen when her family faced the tragic car accident that left her mother and sister in need of assistance.
In 2001, this accident led her into being a caregiver and advocate. These experiences also led her to her job as a line therapist for children with autism. This led to her getting into homecare business, continuing to focus on the needs of people who needed help. That didn’t keep her from volunteering in her community just like her parents did. “I was adopted by the most amazing parents. They did foster care and adopted many kids, some with special needs.”
Her mother and father, both of whom she lost just last year, were shining examples of people who gave of themselves, had positive attitudes and modeled community service. Each of them left their mark on all whose lives they touched. Richard and Denise Dornbrook left a legacy, and that legacy is benefitting generations to come.
When her own son was diagnosed with special needs, she had the resiliency and skills to meet the challenges. “The hardest part of being a parent to a child with special needs is not knowing (where to find) resources to help you, when you want the most for your child,” said Kristi. He son Karter was diagnosed with ADHD, 15Q Duplication, Elopement, allergies, frontal lobe disorder, and a few other things that make it hard for Karter’s impulses to intensify. Knowing where to find help, and even what kind of help, was essential. “Karter is like having triplets,” she added, grateful for her big family and the caregiving skills they all learned growing up.
Kristi’s involvement with caregiving and raising awareness started early and hasn’t wavered. Her entire family has always been quick to help with kindness and compassion. “I think the reason I advocate and do what I do is to make sure other families get as much support as they can. Getting services that are available is essential, and I want every parent to know they are not alone.” Kristi meets with representatives at the Capital on Disability Advocacy Days and she and others tell their stories.
Although her full-time job is with BMO Harris Bank in Watertown, and her job is helping people with their finances as well as providing information and assisting with their needs, she still has time to continue her community work. Her children have readily joined in those efforts.
“Kristi is an amazing mother who leads by example, and with her whole heart,” said her friend Julie Maree. “Kristi is one of the most genuine and loving people I have ever met,” Julie continued. “She is a constant advocate for the well-being of those around her.”
Advocacy is the resounding theme of her life. Initiating and supporting those projects and organizations that make a difference is her forte. Karen Gibbs speaks of it like this: “Kristi sees a need and works to meet that need. She has taught me the power of advocacy. That is one of the most inspiring things about her. Her message is empowering others and she does it with her upbeat attitude. She is also a great example of work-life balance. She makes the time to work, focus on family and have fun with community events and volunteering.”
That volunteering has included her sons Karter, now 12, and Kleyten, 9, who are learning about community. To say Kleyten has a big heart would be an understatement. Kristi says he gets it from his grandparents. He loves to volunteer, raise money for causes and his admiration of the police and fire departments is amazing.
He has been involved with the 9/11 Stair Climb having a lemonade stand and raising donations of $1,500 dollars. He helps with the K9 dog fundraisers and displays a passion that members of the fire and police departments appreciate. He also plays hockey, is a good student and can make a siren sound just like an actual siren!
Karter assists in fundraising as well and has a personal appreciation for the police force. They have assisted him in numerous ways, and he is grateful. One of the more recent projects the family has been involved with is Project Lifesaver. Project Lifesaver has been in Beaver Dam since December 2018 and Police Chief John Krueziger reported that it has already made a very positive impact on the community.
The program provides monitors for individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and Downs Syndrome. The small bracelets that look like a watch contain a transmitter emitting a radio signal which is trackable. Sergeant Eric Smedema worked with Kristi to establish the program which involved fundraising, training and purchasing the wristbands and replacement batteries which need to be changed every month or so.
The Dementia Coalition gave a $5,000-dollar boost to get the momentum going and the rest was up to the volunteers. “This has been such a positive experience for all of us,” said Sergeant Smedema. The trained officers get to visit the homes of those who wear the device and visit with the family when they change the batteries and check on the wearers. It is a great way to show their support.
“Kleyten Hartzheim is the miniature face of the police department. He checks Karter’s battery every day and is so supportive,” added Smedema. Costing only $300 per person per year, this program gives families peace of mind and is truly a lifesaver.
This peace of mind is reflected in Karter’s observation when he says, “It helps me stay safe.” Kleyten comments, “This keeps my brother protected.”
Helping the community, helping the police and fire departments, and helping each other is what this family is about. They are definitely making a difference.
Mary Fitzgerald has known the family for a long time. “I’m not exactly sure where I met Kristi, but I’m sure glad I did. Her energy is contagious, and she is an absolute joy to be around. Whether bartending at Chapel of the Archangels, volunteering at Taste of Wisconsin or getting into the action at the Citizens Police Academy, she brings positive energy to whatever she does.”
Mother Teresa has a quote that might be far more appropriate than the William Hasley quote. She said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” If you look up that quote, you might find a photo of Kristi Hartzheim underneath.
Anyone interested in donating to the Project Lifesaver may call the police department or stop in. The website is www.projectlifesaver.org.