Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristen Witzel.
Kristen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
While my mom didn’t have a dime to her name, she was one of the most generous people in the world. She gave her time, talent, heart… and even her last nickel to help others. I was raised with a beautiful example of love, kindness, and generosity.
I love kids and spent my teenage years babysitting. I studied Child Development at UGA and became a Certified Child Life Specialist in 2002. I worked at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for nearly 15 years and I learned so much about kids, families and the world we live in.
The only thing I’ve ever truly known about myself is that I wanted to be a mom. In 2007, my dream came true when my son Parker was born. The day we came home from the hospital, I wrote him a note and in that note, it read “I want to raise a boy who is kind, thoughtful and generous… generous with his time, his heart and his money.”
Not even a year after Parker was born, my world came crashing down around me and wouldn’t settle for years to come. I went through a tough divorce, a big health scare and I tragically lost my mom.
As I navigated life as a single mom, without my mom, I began to ponder how I could truly teach my son to be loving, kind and generous. I wanted to be intentional about it. There’s not much out there for kids in terms of volunteering and giving. And well, let’s face it… life happens. I had great intentions. “We are going to volunteer at the food shelter this year!” And then, sure enough, it was December and well, we hadn’t volunteered. I grew concerned about the lack of opportunities out there for kids. Kids and families WANT to give back and help others, they just need some help. How can we help kids be better people? How can we teach kids the joys of giving?
The AHA moment:
About this same time, I was working in a management role at CHOA. I had the privilege of working with a child who wanted to give back to CHOA for saving his life. We brainstormed ideas and eventually he decided on “Jared’s Climb for Kids” where he would ask family and friends to pledge per wall he could climb. This was a big undertaking because Jared was once told that he wouldn’t have mobility in his arms. He grew to love wall climbing and defeating the odds. Jared ultimately raised $2500 and donated it to CHOA. As I accepted the check on behalf of Children’s, I thought “What if every child could use what they love to help a cause important to them?” That’s the moment the idea of Kids Boost was born.
Oh, the Struggle. I was a single mom with very little money. I couldn’t just quit my job (which I loved, by the way) to follow this dream of creating a giving journey for kids. I sat on the idea for at least a year. It kept coming back to me and I couldn’t ignore it. It’s funny how sometimes a tragedy in life can lead to greater faith or a deeper desire to follow your heart. And I think that’s exactly what happened. So, guess what? One day I just decided I’m doing it. I am following my heart. I quit my job to pursue this dream.
While my friends and family all grew concerned that I was having a quarter life crisis, I invested my time in creating Kids Boost. I used my small savings account to create a website and to start the Kids Boost process. I “borrowed” a few neighborhood kids and gave them each $100. I challenged them to turn that money into more for a charity of their choice. I asked them to make a list of what makes their hearts happy. We used that list to figure out how they could turn the money into more. I assured them that I would help them and at the end, they could present a giant check (think Ellen or Oprah big check) to the charity that they choose (and I could even help them identify a charity if they needed help with that too).
I gave 5 kids $100. They hosted things like an ice cream social, baseball party and painting party. They chose to support causes that they felt connected to… American Cancer society because one lost their grandmother to cancer, a local humane society because she wanted to help animals and one friend chose Lighthouse Family Retreat because she saw their impact while on vacation. The kids were able to choose WHO and HOW they can help based on the things they love. At the end of my trial, the 5 kids came back with $3965! Not only that, but the kids had fun! They all wanted to do it again and so did their friends. Their parents also reported a boost in self-esteem and self-confidence. They also said they learned real-life lessons like money management and communication while building courage.
I filed for my 501c3 non-profit status and received the paperwork in early 2015. This is when I realized that fundraising is the hardest job and I had a lot to learn!
Ups and Downs:
I’ve endured the highest of ups and the lowest of downs. I’ve had multiple people tell me that “single moms aren’t typically successful when starting their own businesses” or that “non-profits aren’t typically created by single moms with no money, they are typically started by companies, celebrities or family funds.” While this discouraged me, it also fueled my fire. I wanted to be an example of how anyone can use their passion to fuel change and that it doesn’t take money to make a difference. So with a fire ignited, I kept plugging along. For the first few years, I didn’t take a salary (so you can only imagine how many PB&J sandwiches we ate and how reliant we were on hand-me-downs). I lived on peanut butter and a prayer. It was just me. I was a one-man-band but a determined one!
In 2016, I was introduced to Bert Weiss from The Bert Show. He loved the concept of Kids Boost and was eager to learn more. He invited me to come in the studio and share the mission to his audience. We also accepted applications for kids to participate in Kids Boost. To say, I was busy that week is an understatement. The applications poured in! And they haven’t stopped. I started doing a Kids Boost segment biweekly where I would bring in a Kids Booster to share their “who” and their “how,” based on their “why.” It’s a wonderful experience for kids and also a great way to encourage kids to get involved. We currently have 200 kid son a waiting list to participate… yep, that’s 200 kids waiting to give back.
Current State: Since we started in 2015, we have given kids roughly $5500 and they have turned that into more than $120,000 for 52 non-profits. These kids have learned about money, taxes, communication, event planning and business management, even as young as 8 years old! Because of the generosity of donors, I have been able to pay myself a small salary and hired a part time Community Coach. However, can you even imagine what we could do with the right funding and support? We’ve currently helped with 55 Kids Boost projects, can you imagine the impact if we could reach all 200 kids who are waiting?!?
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It’s been a long bumpy road with lots of highs and lots of lows. Most of the struggles include fundraising – most large companies aren’t interested in working with small start-up non-profits. Kids Boost is also unique (both a strength and a weakness). No one else is doing what we are doing! But with that being said, grants and major financial gifts are difficult to obtain.
Personal Struggles – It can often be lonely and scary to quit your job and start your own business. Honestly, I am still scared. Will I be able to pay my mortgage? What if I can’t buy groceries? And so on. Money isn’t that important to me but I have to be able to support my family. It’s also hard to take time off or not work 7 days a week. This is something I am working on each day!
1. Find a group of people who are doing similar work and learn from them… or just share successes and struggles with them. Community is so important.
2. Have faith. I make a conscious decision every day to just have faith in God and have faith in myself. If this is truly what I am meant to do (which I do), then I must have faith that it will work out.
3. Trust the process. Doors shut and others open. Trust the process… there is a reason.
4. Create boundaries for yourself from the start… build in “you time” and “family time” and make it just as important as any other obligation.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Kids Boost story. Tell us more about the business.
Kids Boost is a non-profit organization designed to empower kids to give back to the world. Kids Boost helps children (ages 8-14) use their gifts, talents, and passions to raise money for a charity of their choice. Every Kids Boost participant receives $100 in start-up funds, a one-on-one coach, and resources to help them with their project. Throughout the project, the child will become a philanthropist and social entrepreneur, while learning important lessons in money management, civic engagement, and communication. And don’t forget the best part… all of this is done in a way that’s fun for the child. Once the Kids Booster has completed the project, he or she will get the honor of presenting a check to the organization of their choice. 80% of the total funds raised goes directly to the charity of choice while 20% goes back to Kids Boost to allow another child to start their Kids Boost project. So as you can see, Kids Boost is a cycle of giving that allows kids to learn the power of giving back at an early age. Together, we can impact the lives of children while also raising money and awareness for non-profit organizations in the community.
Kids Boost is different because we work with kids one-on-one. Every kid is different and we acknowledge and appreciate that. Kids Boost is also a kid-driven non-profit, meaning that the child is in control. He or she gets to be the “boss” and make the decisions. No one is telling them they must run laps or sell candy. They choose where their money goes. They make the decision to participate. Our one “non-negotiable” aspect of Kids Boost is that it will never be mandatory. You will never see Kids Boost participation as a requirement of a class or club. We believe that when you mandate community service or volunteerism, it’s met with a very different heart than if the person chooses to participate. Finally, we are different because we work with all kids regardless of their socioeconomic level, race, background, abilities or disabilities. Imagine how powerful it can be when a kid who is typically the recipient of the free lunches or free school supplies, has the opportunity to be “the giver.”
I am proud that we are creating a life-long love of giving for so many kids. These kids feel the joys of giving and will undoubtedly grow up to be philanthropists and community supporters. It’s truly life changing!
What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
I would say the biggest barrier to female leadership is the struggle and desire to be a mom (and a good one!) while also leading a company that requires your time and energy.
- Website: kidsboost.org
- Phone: 706-489-0886
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @kidsboost
- Facebook: @kidsboost
- Twitter: @kids_boost