When Kate Atwood started Kate’s Club in 2003, a special program that helps children cope with the loss of a parent or sibling, she never anticipated how far it would go and how many lives she would touch. The idea was inspired from a personal loss Atwood experienced, when, at the age of 12 she lost her mother to breast cancer. While volunteering as a counselor at a bereavement camp in Virginia, she was able to see the positive impact that could be made when people of similar experiences came together.
Starting a non-profit at the age of 23, Atwood had very little funds and hardly any experience; however she was determined to make it work. “The cards were definitely stacked against me,” she recalls, “I had no money and this was my first experience starting a non-profit business. So, it was important to surround myself and surround the organization with people who could help build it.”
Atwood found the support she needed and the organization began to grow. “That is the magic of what you see today,” she explains, “Kate’s Club today is a simple recipe of a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, and a lot of people’s commitment and involvement. It is truly a product of both the kids who have been a part of it and the community who has built it for them.”
She recalls one of the very first programs that they held at a bowling alley where six kids and six volunteers came together for a day of fun. “Many people don’t know that we actually tried to have a program before that. Boston Consulting Group lent us their suite at Phillips Arena for the circus,” she remembers, “It was perfect for us to launch Kate’s Club. But when the day came, we didn’t have any families signed up yet. That was tough, but we pushed ahead and one month later we had our first families. It hasn’t stopped growing since.”
Atwood has appeared on everything from CNN to The Today Show spreading the message of hope that surrounds Kate’s Club. She feels it is important for children who are grieving to learn that they are not alone and that it is ok to ask others for help. “It’s so great that the platform to raise awareness for grief support exists today. Ten years ago or so, it didn’t,” she says, “Many people in our culture have had to mourn alone and that can be so tough on a spirit, especially a young spirit.”
Today, Kate’s Club continues to spread its message of support and help children and their families cope with the loss of a loved one. While Atwood has recently moved on to a new opportunity as the Executive Director of the Arby’s Foundation, she still remains active and involved with Kate’s Club. Atwood explains that the organization is in the hands of great leadership under Executive Director, Emily Hawkins and a board of directors.
“Kate’s Club is still a personal passion of mine within which I remain connected and active,” she says, “The energy I receive from the kids at Kate’s Club inspires me to continue to grow and heal and always remember that the greatest gift you can give yourself is to help someone else.”
On August 19, the organization will host its eighth annual Cabaret. This is a chance for supporters in the community to come out and enjoy a night of dancing, food and fun all for an amazing cause. “One great thing about celebrating Kate’s Club annually at the Cabaret is that it allows us all to take a moment and look back at the year and be proud of the growth and the impact we have had,” says Atwood. “It’s a night to celebrate how far we have come and to get charged up for the work that lies ahead.”
More from Kate…
What inspires you?
People. Life is so much about who you surround yourself with along the way. I often think by losing the most important person early in life, (my mom), I’ve realized early on just how important and impactful it is to have good loving people around you every step of the way.
What is your favorite part of your job with Kate’s Club?
I’m an entrepreneur, so my favorite part of my job is that I get to carry around big visions and see them realized through my work. Although I’m not an artist in the traditional sense, I like to think I create societal art in the form of communities. Nothing is more satisfying to me than bringing people together, people who may not otherwise ever cross paths, but because of the community that has been created for them, their lives are forever changed.
What challenges you?
Life. Life is challenging. People everywhere seek fulfillment out of life, and to achieve that, no matter who you are or where you live, that journey is a challenge. But a good challenge. And I think if people took on that challenge with others, rather than alone, it would be a better journey.
What are some of the events and activities that kids experience when they join Kate’s Club?
One of the things that makes Kate’s Club so special is our dynamic program offerings. We have social club outings where the kids go have fun adventures out in the Atlanta community; we have therapeutic support programs at our Clubhouse, we even have an overnight camp each summer at Camp Twin Lakes.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
This is hard for me to answer because I have received such great advice about life and about career. But I think in all facets of life the best piece of advice is “you are not alone” – whether starting a company, overcoming an illness, or facing adversity, we aren’t meant to do any of it alone. A great quote I heard once was, “The difference between being ordinary and extraordinary is that the extraordinary ask for help.”
How do you spend your down time and how do you juggle such a busy schedule?
This is all part of my journey. I can find myself so driven and passionate about my work that sometimes I don’t leave time for down-time. But I’m getting better about knowing my limits and making sure I build in time for me. I believe you can have it all, but you can’t necessarily have it all at once. So you just have to take life one day at a time, and do what wakes you up excited and lets you go to bed exhausted.
What do you consider some of your greatest achievements both professionally and personally?
Personally, my achievements are really found in my friends. I have always had great friends in my life. They have loved me and supported me and kept me striving to be my best, even during difficult times.
Professionally, I think the ultimate achievement was just taking the risk to start Kate’s Club. Everything that happened from that was a result of that first step. I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time, but now I really appreciate it, especially as I am taking the first step in my next endeavor.
What do you see as the keys to being your “best self”?
I truly believe to be your best self, you have to take time to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and reach out to help others. When I was a motherless adolescent, I struggled in so many ways and my spirit suffered greatly from that loss. I never would have thought that by starting Kate’s Club and giving back to other kids who shared that similar loss would I connect with the happiness and healing that I have since. Now I truly believe my message to others is that your best self is found when you help others.