As a child, Stephen Piorkowski spent a lot of time at home because he suffered from epilepsy. As an adult, he learned to control his disability and is trying to help others suffering from it to receive needed support.
Despite the challenges Piorkowski faced from epilepsy during his youth, he fondly remembers the time he spent at home. He watched as his mother would create three-course meals for his family, which inspired his interest in cooking and baking. His grandparents also owned a Polish delicatessen in New Jersey.
In September of 2013, he returned to college as an adult learner enrolled in Schenectady County Community College’s Culinary Arts program. Piorkowski, of Delmar, does not have a driver’s license, so he rides the bus to the Schenectady campus.
“It’s hard … sometimes my commute from the library to the college is at least two hours,” Piorkowski said. “Sometimes at night it’s three hours. … It’s a hard commute and it has been a rough winter.”
He’s attended SCCC for three semesters and made it on the President’s List each time. “I had some cognitive problems, but eventually I worked them out,” he said. Piorkowski is also president of the Alliance for Students with Disabilities at the campus.
“I started out with a history of pretty bad seizures, but since I have been at the college they have stopped luckily,” said Piorkowski. He has been seizure free for more than two years.
The local event sponsored by Piorkowski is part of Purple Day, an international effort raising awareness about epilepsy, and The Great Purple Cupcake Project Cupcake Project For Epilepsy, which was started in connection with the worldwide initiative. Proceeds raised from the event will be donated locally to the Epilepsy Foundation of Northeastern New York.
Piorkowski spearheaded the same event last year and recruited local bakeries to sell the purple cupcakes. Participating bakeries started selling cupcakes this year on Sunday, March 22, and will continue selling the purple treats through March 29.
In Delmar, Bake Me a Cake Next Door will be selling cupcakes. Further down Delaware Avenue, Bake For You will also the treats available. Schuyler Bakery in Watervliet and Puzzles Bakery and Café in Schenectady are participating, as well, with Piorkowski baking cupcakes with fellow students at the college.
Along with helping raise awareness and fundraising for the Epilepsy Foundation, he said the event is also to help people living with neurological disorder.
“They tend to be very hidden about it, because they feel they might lose their job,” he said. “By making people aware that there are people like myself and other people that can lead a normal life, it may set the path for people who haven’t gotten that support yet.”
Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder that has nerve cell activity becoming disrupted in the brain, which causes seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations and sometimes loss of consciousness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Overcoming epilepsy took years for Piorkowski, who suffered grand mal seizures, and finding the right medicine to treat his disorder took many years. “The hardest part … is falling and injuring myself,” along with cognitive issues if he has more than one seizure in a short time span
Part of the reason he speaks out about what he has faced is because he often connects with others facing similar problems. He thinks the outreach is mutually beneficial. “Every time that I speak out I meet another person that speaks up,” he said. “If I didn’t speak out then I wouldn’t meet them.”
In May, Piorkowski received the Dale Miller Chef’s Professionalism Scholarship, which has helped him pursue his associate’s degree. His career goal is to own a delicatessen and restaurant.