The daughter of a woman who was received an RAOKK discovered my blog while looking for more information about the project–how freaking cool is that?? I don’t know where she’s from, and I don’t know who started that particular act of kindness. All I know is that she and her mom are connected now to the network of amazing people who gave of themselves that day, and that makes my heart happy.
She requested a post with more details about Katie’s life to share with her mother, and of course I said I’d be more than happy to provide one (I did not, however, anticipate it would be one of the longest posts I’ll probably ever write–I tried to break up my ramblings with photos!)
Forgive me if I have details wrong–y’all know I’m not always great with details, so let me know if I’ve messed anything up. (note–updated on 1.31.15… forgot to include a big piece of college!)
Since I didn’t meet her until college, I only know about pre-college Katie from stories and photos. She was born and grew up in central Ohio. Growing up, she loved Eeyore. She played the trumpet, and marching band was an important part of her life during high school. So were choir and Teen Institute.
Those were also the years when she started working as a camp counselor at Great Trail Girl Scout Camp—one of the things she was SUPER passionate about. She worked with the youngest girls who came to stay at the overnight camp, and I can’t think of someone more perfect for helping nervous 6 year old Brownies feel at ease in their new, often scary, surroundings. She had a sparkly cape she’d put on along with her propeller hat (when we met, she told me it was the “happy hat”), and to those girls she really was Super Katie—the one who would help them see how awesome camp was even if it was dark and there were sometimes giant spiders in their tents. It was more than a job to her—it was a second home where she found family among the other counselors and camp staff.
One summer in college I was lucky enough to visit her there over a weekend—we canoed in the fading daylight while bats flew overhead, we sang traditional girl scout songs around the camp fire, and we slept outside under the stars (a first for me). She was in her element there, and I’m so glad I got to get a glimpse of a place that was so important to her. She loved being in nature and had a particularly great appreciation for trees. She was known to literally hug trees… and I loved that about her.
I met Katie in college—my sophomore year she moved in across the hall from me for her freshman year in Woodlawn Hall at Wittenberg University. I remember clearly how we first met—my roommate and I decided one night the first week of classes that we needed to meet our new hallmates, so we marched ourselves into everyone’s rooms for introductions. From there…? Who knows—in that beautiful mess of day-to-day college life when time passes but you aren’t sure how or where it goes, we became the closest of friends.
Some of my favorite memories of that time with her: She was the ring leader in convincing everyone to stop studying and come out into the hallway to finger paint on nights when we all needed a break. We got in the habit of playing played racquetball together several nights each week. We’d be so exhausted by the time we got home that we’d stop at the bottom of the stairs, grit our teeth, and yell the whole time while we ran up the stairs (some nights we really wondered if our legs would give out). In the shared bathroom on the floor, she’d sing to me from her shower stall while we both got cleaned up. When she finished big projects or got done with a big test, she’d stand at one end of our long hallway and toss her textbook down the hallway floor–imagine someone skipping a stone across water, and you’ll kind of get the idea. (I tried it once and broke the binding on my accounting book. Clearly she had a skill I lacked.)
She was my diamond sister (what others would call a “little”) in our sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. We lived together in the sorority house my senior year, her junior year. There was plenty of tomfoolery that year, and I loved it. There were also quiet nights of sadness and end-of-college confusion, and I’m blessed that she shared those with me. She brought her beautiful singing voice to our chapter–I can still hear her singing at special chapter events. Such beauty and grace. (Read on for update!) She was involved with the Weaver Chapel Association during her time at Witt–both as a member and as a leader, if I remember correctly. I forgot about that in my first writing! She was also involved with choir in one way or another over her years at Witt. Both groups led to deep, lasting, loving friendships that played a role in helping Katie continue the journey to becoming the amazing woman she was.
After Katie graduated with her degree in Psychology (with a minor in music), she stayed in town for a year to work at a residential treatment center for girls ages 12-18 with severe emotional and/or behavior problems who were being treated in a therapeutic inpatient setting. While I don’t remember a ton about what she did there, I DO remember her telling me about some of the crazy experiences she had when crises would hit. Yikes. It was a good spot for a temporary job, but definitely not what she wanted forever! That was the year that she adopted Annie, the adorable puppy who turned into her loyal canine pal for the next 12 years of her life. She was beyond cute but wild in those days, and it was love at first sight, as far as I could tell.
After that year, Katie moved on to grad school at LaSalle University (Philadelphia) to pursue a master’s degree in clinical/counseling psychology. Once she graduated, she was finally able to start working in a therapy setting–the work she’d been born to do. She was one of the most patient, intuitive, loving people I’ve ever known, even in the face of stress, emergency, and difficult people. If anyone was destined to be a therapist, it was certainly her. I credit her with helping save my life more than once… Through a period of depression as an undergrad, even before she knew me well, she had the instinct to somehow know exactly what I needed. Years later during one of the hardest years of my life, she supported me from 2500 miles away–reminding me that she cared, listening as I struggled, and keeping an eye on me (so to speak) to make sure I was safe. It was in her blood. She didn’t so much choose her career but rather tapped into what was an innate talent, her true life’s work.
Katie eventually settled into two jobs–she worked full time for Wordsworth, a non-profit agency in Philadelphia that allowed her to work as a therapist in the local community. Her clients were children and teens from low income areas who were dealing with a range of often severe emotional and behavioral problems. She did in-home therapy sessions with her clients and their families, the goal being to help everyone in the home develop the skills necessary to get on a successful path so the child/teen could remain in the home. I asked her a few times if she ever felt unsafe in the neighborhoods she visited, and she told me that she didn’t–she said that as soon as the neighbors recognized her and realized she was there to help, they looked out for her. She told me about a time when some teens were checking out her car, looking suspicious, and some local teens who knew it was her car actually chased them away. Katie just had that ability–she could connect with anyone, including those from totally different backgrounds and upbringings. She was able to convey to them how deeply she cared about their well-being. Her job included trips to court, visits to schools, trips to the hospital and doctor appointments, and providing transportation so parents were able to shop for basic needs. I don’t know how she did it, but she was amazing and touched more lives than I can begin to imagine.
That job also included a massive amount of paperwork, which Katie HATED. We used to work together from different sides of the country when we’d both need to catch up over weekends. The weekend Katie passed away, she and I were planning to team up to get caught up–I had work to do, and she told me she had at least 8 hours of paperwork to catch up on. I couldn’t help giggling a little that weekend, even through the tears and pain, thinking of her throwing her head back and laughing in heaven knowing she wouldn’t have to finish that massive pile of paperwork!!
She also worked part time at a women’s therapy center doing individual therapy. She loved the work she did there, as it gave the opportunity to help women work through a variety of struggles. She always hoped to have a private practice someday that she could do from her home (with Annie as a therapy dog!) While she wasn’t ready to take that leap, I think her work at the therapy center helped her keep in her mind and heart where she ultimately wanted to be.
Sometime over the last many years, Katie became involved with Essential Experience (EE)–a workshop experience that, in many ways, changed her life. EE is an experiential workshop designed to help participants explore areas of their life/themselves they’d like to change–and to encourage them to experiment with that change in a safe, supportive setting. The community of EE alumni is a tight one, so her involvement with EE and its community reached far beyond her first weekend workshop.
Katie’s life wasn’t an easy one. That’s not my story to tell–just know that it took incredible courage on her part to begin, and continue, her journey toward healing. The work she did through EE and the connections she made helped her grow, learn, and confront the pain she carried. Her courage in doing her own work and in the way she supported others was beyond what I can explain. Her courageousness gave me strength to start my own work–I can’t imagine the life I’d be living without the growing I’ve done, and I only was able to start thanks to her support. Again, she changed my life on deep levels that are beyond explanation, and I’m certainly not the only one she shared her gifts with.
Other things about Katie: She didn’t watch a lot of TV, but she loved Ellen and Bones. She liked to read–she was a huge Harry Potter fan, and for quiet calm in the evening, she had been listening to audio books while she colored mandalas. She loved fall–she loved sitting on her front porch on cool fall mornings, wearing a hoodie, snuggling in a blanket, drinking coffee, and writing in her journal. She was a BIG time journaler, actually, porch or not. She loved shopping at the farmer’s market during the summer and would taunt me with photos each week of all of her amazing finds. She liked to try new recipes with the great veg she found… It was an outlet for her creativity, I think. I only got to experience a couple of her creations, but from the taste I got, she was damn good at it! She loved the colors purple and yellow. She painted the walls in her apartment in awesome bold colors–yellow in the kitchen, teal in the bedroom, yellow and pink in the bathroom. Her apartment felt bold and cheerful because of that, and I LOVED it. She loved daisies and noticed beauty in nature everywhere. Every now and then she would still pull out her trumpet and play duets with a friend. They claimed that they weren’t very good, but she loved those sessions (and that’s all that matters!) She also played guitar from her Girl Scout days. I know of a few songs and poems that she wrote, and she had a true talent for sharing her emotion through words and sound. She liked to travel–she loved imagining where she could go, finding a place to stay, and packing up Annie to head out on adventure. The last big adventure she took was to Maine, where she had always wanted to visit. She went on an amazing whale watching trip, finally got to hear loons in person, and spent time enjoying the outdoors.
She passed away on February 28th, 2014. The world lost an incredible soul that day, and I hope I’ve given enough details about her life to make it clear how deep and far-reaching that loss has been felt. Katie lived a life of love and courage, and she inspired those around her to do the same. My goal is to make her proud by sharing the love and courage she taught me in my own life, in her honor and memory.