Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Later Mommy Hero by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

For the new year, I wanted to write about a later mommy hero I have: Karin Kwiatkowski. In her late fifties now, Karin had her first kid before twenty then had three children in her mid to late thirties. When I met her she was going to film school with her youngest daughter Abby.

As a woman knocked off the payrolls in January 2009, Karin has struggled to find work in this economy—particularly since she was working in the timeshare industry, which was affected first when banks began cutting off credit. Karin, as the supervisor of the welcome center for Wyndham Sedona, would regularly greet 800 to 900 people in a busy month. Her’s is loving personality full of warmth and patience.

After losing her job, for six months, she diligently looked for work and then decided to consider the option of retraining. With her daughter Abby planning to attend the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking (ZGI), Karin a bit envious, focused her research to see if film school could be a retraining option that she could pursue as well. Since ZGI is a nine-month community college certificate program she was able to enroll. Making that move was a return to work she had done in the mid 90’s when she was involved in writing and directing a travel show called “Discover Wisconsin” among other projects. Abby, who at the time was 8, used to travel with her mom and dad and was a little assistant to the cameraman. As Karin explained “going to ZGI was a chance to get training in the latest digital filmmaking technology, which I very much wanted and needed at my age.”

In the fall of 2009, Karin began the documentary program at ZGI and had a vision she wanted to pursue for her thesis project. Years before with her husband, Karin had written a novel about Jean Lafitte, a pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. That work though not published would later become an award-winning script, but not quite a feature production. Bringing historical topics to fruition as films and novels is quite difficult, but for Karin, Jean Lafitte’s story is one that she is still burning to tell and she used it for her thesis short for ZGI.

A year ago at this time she was driving with her daughter and son across country from Sedona to New Orleans to shoot footage for her short film. With that footage and more—she wrote, produced and directed “Robin Hood of the Bayous.” For this work she won a number of awards at ZGI.

Since graduating in June 2010, Karin—as a “99er” whose benefits will run out shortly—has worked tirelessly to create a place for herself, not just land a job in filmmaking. Starting the film production company, All of the Above Productions, LLC with her daughter Abby, her husband Roger and two other friends, Karin is working to live the motto: “Make a good living helping other people.” That has translated into a website, that Karin created highlighting her company’s services. Yet another example of Karin’s hard work: creating an internet presence using all the tools available to anyone with a desire to learn them.

This month (January), her production company is launching its second effort with Pepsi Refresh to procure financing with the goal of creating commercials for struggling small businesses on the Gulf Coast impacted by the oil spill. Look for "Be Robin Hood for the Gulf.” You vote; we give." at Pepsi Refresh’s vision through crowd financing gives folks like Karin the opportunity to do good work in the world. The public can vote (no donations, no pledges, just vote) three ways on a daily basis. Folks can go online to to check out Karin’s inspiring project and make comments. It’s also possible to vote with Facebook and by texting Pepsi (73774), message: 105401.

Karin is an inspiration. Using technology and the latest funding sources to create work she believes in, Karin is positioning herself to help others in the Gulf Coast (and that’s just one of her company’s projects.) Her story is the story of what makes this country so unique even in times of recession. When I told Karin I wanted to write about her for this blog, I asked her if she had any advice given her age and the economic times. She said “giving into despair becomes paralyzing...take action everyday.” She also told me her favorite quote by Ruth Gordon: Never give up. And never, under any circumstances, face the facts.

Words to live by when things feel difficult or otherwise.

Happy New Year to my hero and all the other heroes in our midst who work to make the world a better place.

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