Former area resident Margaret Koniski-Demko recently was named the Vinton County Mental Health Advocate of the Year for 2012 by the Athens, Hocking, Vinton 317 Board.
Koniski-Demko's work in Vinton County is as the Family & Children First Coordinator and program manager of a federally funded home visiting program for children from birth to age 5. The program is funded by the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program from the Ohio Department of Health.
Vinton County was the only county in the state - eight received the grant - to have the program run to capacity, according to Koniski-Demko. "I have also written for more funding for next year, and if the grant is awarded, Vinton County will have the largest home visiting grant in the state through ODH. I also manage 14 other funds at the Vinton County health department and have some case management duties when youth over the age of 5 are in need of community supports," she explained.
Koniski-Demko serves on the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council and the Ohio Help Me Grow Advisory Council, the latter two being governor-appointed positions.
The daughter of John and Rosemary Koniski Sr. of Steubenville, she is a 1993 graduate of Catholic Central High School and a 1996 graduate of Ohio University. She resides in Athens with her husband, Tom, and daughter Emily, 7, who has Down syndrome.
"I have always said that the birth of my daughter seven years ago changed my life - not just the way the birth of any child can change you, but in a much more profound way," she said. "I learned what it was like to have to find services and supports to help me. I learned what it was like to not know where to turn, and to see that 'the system' is extremely difficult to navigate. I want to help families who need it most in Appalachia when they need it. I want to help them know where to turn and to not ever have to doubt that there is support out there," she said.
"She is my inspiration for the work that I do and the reason that I have found my calling in life. I was proud to receive the award on behalf of the children and families in Vinton County, but it is because of her and because of all the children and families out there who need a little helping hand that I do what I do," Koniski-Demko said.