Where You Come From Doesn’t Have to Define You
When I sat down at a cute little coffee shop for the first time to chat with Kris, I could instantly tell that she was a kindred spirit. She had come early to get some work done and closed her laptop as soon as I came over, ready to have a real one-on-one conversation. That, I think is the thing that stuck out the most to me about Kris: her strong passion to connect with others in an age where “Facebook Friends” is a relationship status and when most conversations are had via text message or email.
I was eager to share this new idea with her and even more excited that Kris had volunteered to do this. She talked about how she hasn’t always been open about her story, but she hopes it can help others.
Meet Kris today—with her gentle grace, clear passion for others, and close-knit family of four—and you’d have no way of knowing where she came from. You’d have no idea that she grew up in poverty, experienced trauma early-on, and became the first in her family to graduate high school. You wouldn’t know it because where we come from certainly helps shape us, but it doesn’t have to define our future.
Where She Came From
Kris and her husband Jeff have always tried to teach their children about appreciating what they have and also compassion for others—that good people can come out of bad situations. In fact, when each of her children were about 10 years old, she drove them past where she grew up—a run-down trailer down a dirt road—and they were shocked to see that is where their mother grew up.
When she was seventeen years old, she moved out of her childhood home to make life on her own without the negativity. She struggled, balancing three jobs and paying for classes at a community college when she could afford them.
Kris vividly described walking out of the financial aid office at her community college her freshman year, eyes full of tears. In order to get any financial aid, she would need her parents to fill out the FAFSA form (a federal form that determines how much a family “can contribute” toward education). In her situation, this was not possible. The office told her there simply wasn’t anything they could offer her without it. Kris had to find her own way.
How She Persevered
It wasn’t easy, but Kris persevered. When we chatted, she really emphasized that you don’t have to go into years of debt to get an education. It may take longer than you plan, but you can work to pay for it as you go. In her situation, she learned this because there were no other options.
While Taking classes, she got her foot in the door working as a college co-op at Dow Corning Corporation, where she accepted an entry-level admin job after completing her associate degree. From there, she worked her way up, using her employer’s educational reimbursement benefit to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, all the while progressing into marketing leadership roles.
This is incredibly impressive, I must say. It’s easy to set a goal, but it’s harder to continue to always work towards that goal. Especially when it takes longer than you want or feels farther off than you’d like.
While working full time and going to school, Kris was also caring for her family. “I know it’s cliché or whatever to say,” Kris gushes to me, “but we really do have the best kids. Ethan is 18 now, and Jocelyn is 14, and they still want to spend time with us! We’re so blessed.” I mention this because I just love how supportive of a family Kris has created for herself. She even told me that they take trips every summer to a family cabin and completely unplug from technology. They spend time together playing cards and chatting with one another.
How it Shaped Her
For years, Kris helped review scholarship applications for her local community foundation, volunteering her time and seeing good come from supporting local students. But she noticed there were students that were being missed—those that didn’t have a solid support system at home, and therefore couldn’t meet the GPA, extracurricular and volunteer requirements that so many scholarships looked for. She wanted to be able to help those out there that experienced childhood as she had.
She worked with the Midland Area Community Foundation in Midland, MI to establish a scholarship for these very students. Alongside the scholarship, they built a support system that includes mentoring and financial aid for all the extras scholarships don’t normally supply: transportation, books, meals, etc.
For a student to succeed, Kris tells me, she needs two things: one is the money to go to college, and the other is for someone to believe in her and tell her she can do it.
Kris has taken her own experiences growing up to fuel her for helping others. She’s not only an advocate for these students but also runs her own business, cheering on individuals and small businesses in her community. She runs a consulting business to help others achieve their dreams—a path she started after listening to that little whisper in her ear that she wanted to do something more.
“I thought consulting was just going to be a temporary transition, but once I saw what a personal difference I could make, I wanted to take it on full time,” she said, her face fully evident of the passion she has for her work. I’m sure her clients see every day just how much she cares and wants to connect with them and support them.
Her experiences helped shape how she interacts with the world and with others, how she sees and understands others’ struggles. Her past and where she comes from has certainly helped shape her, but it is her character, passions, and perseverance that have allowed her to define her own life and what she wants it to be.
How Her Story Inspired Jewelry
When I looked toward designing jewelry based upon this incredible story, I kept thinking back to themes of how we can all grow and follow our dreams, but we will always carry a piece of our past with us. In some cases, we have a loving past that helps to support our future. Others of us, like Kris, have a harder childhood, but we still carry it with us and let it shape who we will be.
In the signature necklace on the left, the bird symbolizes her flying both away from her past but also hanging onto it. While she flies off into the horizon on her new path, she takes a piece (opal) along with her. I chose the opal because depending on in which light you look at it, it changes the appearance and beauty. We can all look back on dark or unhappy pasts with a different light. Shop the collection by clicking here.
10% Donate to Charity
Ten percent of all sales from The Kris Collection will be donated to Midland Area Community Foundation to the Midland Believes scholarship. This is a scholarship that supports first-generation college students and low-income students like Kris once was. She helped create this scholarship when she saw a gap of what was available to these students.