You first heard about my friend (and community-support-powerhouse) Kaden in this shameless teaser.
Readers, I have shared so often that everyone you meet has something to teach you, if you are open for the message. Often, there are many messages… or maybe just nudges… about choices, places or people you need in your life. Sometimes the message is short and simple…
Kaden’s message is one of love… for family and friends… and strangers, in many cases (hey, that’s a pun! You’ll see!) from her community and beyond.
Join me in learning what makes her tick… and learn, my friends, as I have, that every person has value… and deserves to be cared for… especially precious children who are going through one of the toughest times of their lives.
For the last 40+ years, you have been involved in community events, civic organizations and volunteering efforts. What moved you to become involved at such a young age?
I began involvement because it was what my mother and grandparents did. I helped them with their various projects. For example, my grandfather was a member of his local Lions Club and they would have a service project of assembling and distributing food baskets during the holidays. As a family we attended and worked to help make the event a success. When you see people affected by your efforts, how ever small, it leaves an impression. As a child helping, having an adult praise you for giving up your playtime to help probably had an influence as well.
I love seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter during a service project. A lot of work and hours goes into the planning. But when you see all that planning and worrying play out in front of you, and people are learning and having fun, well, the feel of success and satisfaction is overwhelming.
One thing I have learned in my involvement in community service, whether a simple act of one on one or part of a large event, is that personal touch and contact with people brings to me the most gratifying feeling of accomplishment. I have just donated money when needed, but it is the hands on that is more to my liking.
As the Founder and President of Kases for Kids, what can you tell us about it? Is it something that anyone can do… anywhere?
Kases for Kids started 20+ years ago as a one-time service project for my Lions Club. We had long term projects, but usually do a short-term project in between. After hearing a news show and an interview with foster children one day, I guess their words sunk in my brain and I literally woke up with Kases for Kids on my brain.
When children are removed from their homes, usually their worldly possessions are thrown into trash and grocery bags. This is how they arrive at foster homes, shelters or other relatives’ homes. They see their things in trash bags and get to feeling that maybe their things are trash, and if their things are trash, are they trash? Not something we wanted them to experience, so they needed a suitcase to carry their possessions, to give them a bit more dignity during a horrible time in their lives.
Our goal was to gather 50 suitcases for delivery to our local emergency foster care shelter. Due to a visiting dignitary’s response to the project, in less than a year the program was started in four counties in California and our local club goal was meet and exceeded. Within five years, versions of the program was in additional counties and other states plus being started in a couple other countries.
What I do as a representative of Kases for Kids is to help a community start the project locally. A big part of its continued success is what is gathered locally stays local. Taking care of our local kids in crisis, not because of anything they did, but because the adult couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of the child. A forgotten part of our community.
(It is those local contacts that help sustain Kases for Kids. For our local program, we are gifted regularly the beautiful work from the ladies of Binky Patrol who crochet or knit or quilt blankets for children for numerous service support agencies. Or the San Joaquin Quilters Guild who makes our toiletry bags one of their members designed just for us. We have one lady who contacts me regularly with a request for any special needs I have. I am not exaggerating when I say she has her own crew that she puts the word out to of special requests we have and they find those items from I have no idea where. Thrift shops and yard sales or perhaps a purchase from their own pocket. This program is truly a community program. Because it is not just one person’s work but the largess and need to help of many that has brought me to tears at times.)
So, the program is started locally and adapted to its local needs. Out of our office we also add to the suitcases toiletry bags full of essentials (toothbrush/paste; travel sized shampoo/conditioner, lotion, soap); backpacks with school supplies; blanket; brand new socks and a stuffed animal. We also have a clothing closet exchange for when the kids arrive with nothing or very little, a couple changes of clothes can be gathered, or if the child outgrows the clothing before the next clothing allowance, it can be exchanged for a larger size.
I know of a club in a large city that focuses on the backpacks and school supplies angle. They work all year to purchase brand new backpacks and school supplies and distribute the packed school essentials for distribution to local foster children through a few different agencies. Have been very successful.
It is a project that anyone can help with in a various amount of ways. Through donating a gently used suitcase, or providing manpower in the cleaning of suitcases, to the packing of toiletry bags, to the organization of a suitcase drive…. Well, the list goes on and on. Just takes a willingness to help.
And I’m not avoiding the need for financial assistance. If you don’t have a suitcase to donate, or unable to provide the time, cash donations allow the purchase of necessary items to complete a goal.
I love working with communities who want to start such a project in their area. Usually a service organization heads it up. I provide the initial guidance and direction, but shortly there after I pull back and the group in charge adapts and grows their Kases for Kids as the local needs are known.
You are officially retired but are very busy and a generous wife, mom, grandma, volunteer, friend and community leader. How do you do it all?
Luckily I don’t have to do it all in the same day. As a member of a local Lions Club and a Soroptimist club, volunteer with my local CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Team), plus assist my husband with his volunteer work with the Navy Sea Cadets Corp, my community involvement card is full. Family comes first with taking care of husband of 39 years and helping our daughter raise her two girls.
I wonder if I’m doing it all well. Being active is important and can over-extend oneself. But as long as I remember priorities and continue to find great joy in getting together with others and taking care of my community, I can’t imagine slowing down much. I receive so much personal pleasure and feeling of accomplishment from my volunteer work, it truly motivates me and revs up the engine to want to do more.
What do you to recharge – emotionally and physically?
I am a massive crafter. I cross-stitch, embroider, needlepoint, sew, throw clay on a pottery wheel, make jewelry, etc. It is that creative outlet that I recharge emotionally. I love making a mess and, hopefully, creating a present for gifting when finished. I brings out a whole different part of my psyche and personality.
My career and volunteer service take precision thinking and legal guidelines that have to be considered at all times. Policy and procedure that must be followed. That can, and does, get a person brain-fried and worn out at times. Creating with joy and imagination allows that freewheeling and playful side of me to come out and put the trauma and drama of other parts of my life on hold for awhile.
My husband and I have a trailer and visiting the beach regularly also does much to allow my body and mind to relax. Always feel recharged after a few days of salty air and listening to waves crashing.
Who inspires you?
I still want one day to grow up and be like my grandparents. True community leaders and service providers. Their memory inspires and drives me to reach out and provide assistance where I can.
It is working with social workers who deal with the trauma these kids are facing on a daily basis with such devotion that is inspiring.
There isn’t a single person who inspires as much as gaining inspiration and respect from the selflessness acts of others. Makes me want to do the same.