“I think what makes Desirae stand out is her passion for this and her genuine dedication to this work. It’s difficult work, but she always goes above and beyond in everything, even in the things she does outside of CARE. I don’t know how she does it,” Caroline Nelsen, co-worker and nominator. “Desirae has been my boss for six years and I always thought if anyone deserves to be nominated it would be her, as a wife, mother, minister and advocate,” Lana Hadzajlic, co-worker and nominator. Not one to stand in the lime light, this year’s Caring About Women Locally Award winner has been quietly impacting the lives of women for more than a decade. Capital Area Response Effort (CARE) Program Coordinator/Advocate, Desirae Kelley-Kato has helped thousands of domestic abuse survivors rebuild their lives. Kelley-Kato grew up inspired by the dedication her family showed to volunteering and bettering their community. This inspiration grew into a passion to help those around her. “It stems back to how I grew up. My grandparents, mom and uncles taught me hard work and giving back to the community,” Kelley-Kato said. “They would pull me along when a neighbor needed help or anything like that. I learned to look outside myself to find people in need.” Kelley-Kato carried this passion with her when she pursued her degree in secondary education with an emphasis in sociology, history and phycology, with a minor in communication at Spring Arbor University. “I was looking to obtain a teaching job because I think it gives such a dynamic insight into human interpretation of what life is for them and how they grow,” Kelley-Kato said. After finishing college, teaching opportunities were scarce forcing Kelley-Kato to take what she describes as “the worst job ever.” But with a contagiously positive spirit Kelley-Kato found the light at the end of the tunnel. “That job didn’t match my personality. I was too caring and empathic for that job, but it taught me more about myself,” said Kelley-Kato. Kelley-Kato moved on to another job and started a family, but still found that she wasn’t filling the void left by not being involved in her community. “I hadn’t found my passion. I had a job that filled the basic needs to pay the bills, but I still had this void that wasn’t being filled,” Kelley-Kato said. “I started doing midnight shifts at the Listening Ear and EVE, which allowed me to focus on what I needed to do and listen and be there for people. Then, I got a job at the Library for the Blind. When I got the position it tied work in with volunteerism. Volunteering can be a segway to find your fit, your passion, your job and the work you like doing.” Following her work with the Michigan Library for the Blind, Kelley-Kato started working with CARE and again found a way to connect her work with her passion to give back. CARE is an organization that was formulated out of a community need. Local police, advocacy groups and lawyers all saw a need for a unique organization that could do more for the victims of domestic abuse. “The beauty of CARE is that we meet our clients where they are. We aren’t waiting for them to come to us … We meet them where they are not only physically but emotionally as well,” Kelley-Kato said. “We listen and concentrate on the ‘Three E’s.’ Empathy, by listening; education, by teaching them about power and control as well as giving them resources that can help and empowerment, by helping them find their voice in their own life and in regard to their future.” Kelley-Kato has found her life’s passion in giving back and CARE allows her to do so in an extremely impactful way, which is why she values her position and embraces her role with the organization. “I’ve never gotten up in the morning and said ‘I don’t want to go in to work today.’” Kelley-Kato said. “My desire is to help heal the entire family. It’s really bigger than just women; it is the family and the community. When the family is healthy, you have a healthier community and you break that generational curse of domestic violence.” Kelley-Kato’s involvement with CARE has truly impacted her life for the better. Being part of an organization that supports and celebrates women when they need it most is deepened her appreciation for the human spirit and her appreciation for being a strong woman. “I think it’s an honor being a woman. We are giving and forgiving. You can talk to a woman, any woman, and she knows something. She’ll tell you there is a sale somewhere, someone is going to bring up a recipe, or know a good mechanic. We are resourceful individuals and should be celebrated,” Kelley-Kato said. “My passion comes from helping women that need to be celebrated. I think what we see in our clients is that human spirit is awesome and I am honored to give them a ray of hope and walk along side them.” Kelley-Kato’s pride in what she does is evident in how passionately she talks of her career and her life’s purpose. That pride is shared by her husband and her two daughters who support Kelley-Kato in everything she does. “(My husband) is quite proud and my family is respectful of my clients’ confidentiality,” Kelley-Kato said. “I sleep with my pager by my bed with the most obnoxious sound on and everyone knows when it goes off. He honors the confidentially, they don’t know my passwords and they don’t talk about things.” But the support from Kelley-Kato’s family stretches far beyond her work with CARE. When working toward becoming an ordained minister, Kelley-Kato’s daughters where her biggest cheerleaders. Kelley-Kato hopes to pass on that same encouragement to her children as they grow. “There is always a need to pass it on to your kids. They need to know they are the right person, in the right place at the right time. I want them to find their calling, find their fit and keep the faith,” said Kelley-Kato. Kelley-Kato not only encourages her children to find their place in the community, but also women looking to find their passion and get involved. “Women should get involved because they have something to give. It enhances them as individuals and it becomes contagious, it makes each generation better, by giving they get so much back.” Kelley-Kato said. Those same positive messages are ones she shares with her co-workers and the ones that inspired them to nominate Kelley-Kato for Capital Area Women’s Lifestyle Magazine’s, Caring About Women Locally Award. Their touching submission about Kelley-Kato made quite and impact, just as Kelley-Kato has on the community. Although not one to talk about herself, she shared with humility her reaction to winning this award. “I was really surprised and taken back. I like working behind the scenes, I don’t like to have the lime light on me. To get all these congratulations, I constantly look over my shoulder and say ‘Who me?’ I can’t do it alone, but it is an honor to be one of the she-ros in the community,” Kelley-Kato said.
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.