‘Giving hope’: Why Huntsville’s Katharine Kristiansen tapped into kindness for community

Image shows 2 photos of mixed media artwork that promotes inclusion.

Katharine Kristiansen, a Huntsville resident and disability rights advocate, creates crafts and inspirational artwork. These original pieces of hers focus on inclusion. Photos by Katharine Kristiansen.

Katharine Kristiansen decided to spread kindness and give to her community in a difficult time.

“I was hoping to see if people would pay it forward too,” she said. “And get others to maybe start doing some kindness stuff during the year. Even the ones that can’t afford it could do small kindness things.”

Katharine is a writer, crafter, and disability rights advocate who lives in Huntsville. She has a history of community involvement as a member of community and church groups. She is also president of People First Huntsville which is a self-advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Katharine decided to take action when COVID made life harder for everyone. She wanted to share kindness and give people hope. She gifted her handmade necklaces to area businesses and health-care providers. She created kindness envelops stuffed with handmade items for people who made a difference for others. She started a pen pal and gift exchange buddies program on Facebook that matched people to mail each other letters or small items as a way to meet new people or stay connected. And she did more.

She set up food box auctions to support people and families in need. Successful bidders got one box of food while a person or family in need got a second box of food. Some bidders donated their boxes to those in need too. Funds raised helped pay for more food boxes.

Her efforts continue. Katharine recently created two pieces of inclusion-focused artwork she plans to offer as part of a future contest.

Katharine said she decided to do these kindness projects for different reasons. First, she usually gifts her handmade necklaces, artwork, cards, fibre arts, and more to a community organization at Christmas. “But they have been closed so I thought, ‘Why not start in our community and see how it goes?’” said Katharine. Second, she hoped people would share their own kindness too.

“And get others to maybe start doing some kindness stuff during the year,” she said. “Even the ones that can’t afford (to buy items) could do small kindness things.”

Katharine relies on ODSP, so money is tight. She usually sells crafts to help make ends meet.

“Also when I sell my crafts and stuff it helps out with the projects that I’m trying to keep going,” she said. “But we’ll see about that because it will be hard to run without money.”

She knows there are other ways to help her community too, though.

“I’m also a writer. So I try to pay it forward in many different ways, like I have done Giving A Review for a product or discount on things. That has been neat,” she said. “And I might do some newsletters of my own or something. I got an idea but we’ll see if it really works out in the end.”

Katharine noted her kindness projects take time as well as space in her small apartment. And she said that, while the investment is sometimes worth it, she also chooses people carefully.

“I watch people a bit and make sure they don’t use the R-word, they have respect, sometimes doing things for the community, need a helping hand, help other people without wanting anything in return, or need a pick-me-up,” she said.

Katharine has done all this for others despite her own loss, anxiety, and pressure in the pandemic. Since COVID started she has lost her mom. She has struggled with low income and fears about housing instability and poverty. She has had to cope with changes to the way Community Living Huntsville provides her Supported Independent Living services amid the pandemic. And she has had concerns about access to mental health services.

She said she feels overwhelmed a lot but tries to find ways to cope. “I try to make a list to do three things a day,” she said. And her kindness projects have helped keep her busy and connected with others.

She said seeing people smile is a good thing. People have said her acts of kindness, whether gifts, food, letters, or a kind word to show someone cares, have brightened their days. “Giving them hope in a bad time,” she said.

Kindness – and showing people you care – are important to making a community better, she said. “You got to have some patience, and some compassion with people out in the community. It helps a bit to get out of the black hole too, maybe creates some purpose to your days and well-being,” said Katharine. “It helps you find some joy in your day as it goes along. And to be grateful for your day.”

It is never too late to start sharing kindness, she added: “Always show someone you care because you never know how bad a day a person’s having themselves.”

Katharine’s crafts can be viewed on Facebook at Katharine’s Crafts from the Heart.

World Kindness Day 2021 is November 13.

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