When Fred Rogers famously told scared children to “always look for the helpers,” he was talking about people like my friend Steve “Bronco” Broniarczyk.
I knew Bronco was a helper the day I met him, in journalism class at Marquette University more than 30 years ago. He read my articles, offered friendly feedback and gave me internship advice that proved invaluable.
Since then, he has made an impressive career as a global helper with the U.S, military, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.
Last night, I had the pleasure of speaking with Steve during a break in his duties coordinating disaster relief in Puerto Rico.
He told me the progress had been slow and steady in Puerto Rico, and pointed out that the island had been hit by back-toback devastating hurricanes — both Irma and Maria.
“Our goal with FEMA is to increase the resiliency of a place so, when the recovery is complete, it is even a better place than it was before the disaster,” he said.
The biggest challenge in Puerto Rico has been the widespread devastation.
“What makes this disaster so unique is that it’s the whole island,” he said. “There are 3.5 million citizens from urban to mountainous to rural that have been affected with protracted periods without water. At least 50 percent have not had electricity for a month to six weeks. What is really amazing to me is just the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people. A lot of them are just happy that they’re alive, that they have jobs, and that their families are okay. They really are an example of resiliency.”
By the time he leaves Puerto Rico on Nov. 28, he will have helped coordinate the distribution of more than one million grocery boxes and fresh meal boxes to survivors throughout Puerto Rico. He is also coordinating the distribution of fresh water throughout the island.
While impressive, this type of large-scale coordination is nothing new for Steve, who wrapped up a 22½-year military career on a Friday, and began work as planning chief for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security the following Monday.
In that position, Steve planned coordinated responses to tornadoes, the effects of the polar vortex, and turkey infections.
“There’s a pretty wide array of things that can go wrong,” he said. His department was responsible for disasters including technological, natural and manmade.
He also coordinated the national guard support for the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
While in the military, Steve served as a public affairs officer in Haiti, deputy operations officer for stabilization force 15 in Bosnia, and Balkans Operations Officer at the U.S. Army Europe Headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany.
“It all goes back to being able to write,” he said. “What do I do every day here is directly related to the skills I learned at Marquette. Instead of writing news stories I write plans to distribute food to survivors, or to train soldiers to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. All it really comes down to is being able to communicate information.”
A police officer’s son, Steve comes by his helper mentality naturally. In addition to his father, members of the Broniarczyk family account for 165 years of combined service to the city of Chicago, including the police and fire department.
Steve’s wife Kathy works for the military family institute at Purdue University, and his daughter Lauren, currently a physical therapist at Methodist Hospital, did a rotation at Fort Bragg and volunteers to assist service members on honor flights. Another daughter, Katie, studies Gerontology to care for the elderly.
Please join me in wishing Steve, his family and all military service members a Happy Veteran’s Day.