Exceptional community caregiver earns Good Neighbor award

Every year ABLE has the opportunity to recognize someone as their “good neighbor” in conjunction with  Providers’ Network, Inc., or PNI.

PNI is a group of 12 community based private service providers from Southeastern Minnesota who serve persons with developmental disabilities. That good neighbor is then recognized at a banquet at the International Event Center in Rochester.

This year Rita Noel of Caledonia was lauded for her exceptional commitment to family, friends and work and named a good neighbor.

Mary Pieper, ABLE program director, said in her recognition speech to Noel that the wealth of experience she brings to the organization, in addition to her supportive and nurturing disposition, makes her an exceptional recipient.

“Our good neighbor has worked for ABLE since Oct. 23, 1984. She started her career as a direct care staff at the original Houston County Group Home located on Winnebago Street in Caledonia. At that time she ‘adopted’ Janice (an ABLE client) as her 2:2. Everyone else had a 1:1 staff advocate, but Jan insisted on calling Rita her 2:2 since Rita was married to Jug and he was her 1:1.

“Rita makes a point of making sure Janice has everything she needs. She changes out Janice’s clothes at change of season and makes sure Janice’s wardrobe is stylish and reflects the season and her age. She makes sure that Jan’s birthdays are a major event, always has birthday and Christmas presents for her and keeps Jan’s collection of snow globes bright and shiny.

“She makes sure that Jan’s room is well decorated and seasonally appropriate and goes that extra step by taking Jan to visit her family and friends.

“Rita worked full time for ABLE until February of 2007 when she decided to retire as a fulltime employee and become a sub.  Yeah right! Rita averages close to 30 hours a week and is actually in overtime once in awhile. She’s our scheduler’s go-to person for overnights and those tough “I am short” shifts. She’s also a great trainer for new staff and has the ability to share a wealth of experience. Rita has boundless energy and a wonderful work ethic. She seldom sits down, and when she does it’s because she’s taking the time to give someone she supports some quality attention.

“Rita is also a good neighbor to her community.  She and Jug have served as guardians to their nephews, Rick and Larry, for nearly 30 years. She is the first person there when someone has experienced a loss and has taught many of us the importance of being there at those tough times.

“When her son was killed, Rita said it wasn’t those who were there that she remembers, but those who weren’t. That has prompted many of us to step up to the plate when it would have been easier to stay home. Rita is a proud member of the Red Hatters, would never miss a meeting of her Homemaker’s Club, serves endless hours at her church, is an avid bowler and golfer and – did we mention – she’s a very young septuagenarian.”

This year’s banquet was on Nov. 2, and all of Rita’s daughters and their spouses were able to attend, as well as several of her grandchildren. In addition, the ladies she supports from Grove Street and 222 Sunnyside house attended and helped present the plaque.


– Emily Bialkowski