It is often said that the key to success is finding work that you are passionate about. For Kathryn Stephens, her passion for art has brought her both success and admiration. Stephens, who currently serves as the director of development for a nonprofit organization, A Reason to Survive (ARTS) was recently selected by the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary as one of 15 recipients of the annual Women of Dedication Award. The Award seeks to honor the generous contributions of women in the San Diego community.
“They surprised me in mid-September with a gorgeous bouquet of yellow roses,” Stephens said. “I was of course deeply honored and very happily surprised.”
Stephens, who has been involved with non-profit organizations and philanthropic efforts for nearly two decades, signed on full time with ARTS in November 2010. She has since worked diligently to raise awareness and funds for the unique program, which provides arts education and uses all forms of art as a vehicle to transform the lives of children who are affected by adversity. The National City-based program accepts students from ages 3 to 23 who are battling a variety of hardships, ranging from homelessness and domestic violence to bereavement and serious illness. They are able to serve more than 3,000 kids per year. Housed in a 20,000 square foot facility, ARTS features an art gallery, music room and performance space.
“I wanted to do something where I could give back on a deeper scale,” Stephens said. “When you’re in an affluent area, a lot of people don’t realize the crisis of arts education. These kids don’t have that support, and I feel so strongly that all kids should have access to creativity.”
Stephens first heard about ARTS while working with the New Children’s Museum to promote their arts education center. Although she was not sure exactly how she would become involved in the program, she immediately knew that she was interested.
“The bottom line is that I’ve been an artist my whole life,” Stephens said. “I’ve wanted to do something to promote art and youth. Although I’ve done that with my owns kids, this gives me the opportunity to help an entirely different population. It’s a perfect fit for me.”
Stephens’ work as the director of development for ARTS is just one of the many roles that put her in the spotlight to become a Women of Dedication award Nominee. In past years Stephens has worn many hats, ranging from working as an art teacher at Bird Rock Elementary to serving as chair of the 61st annual Las Patronas Jewel Ball to working to find donors and plan events for the New Children’s Museum. And while recognition by the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary is a big honor for Stephens, her greatest reward comes from her own work.
“Interacting with the kids is by far the highlight of the day,” Stephens said. “You get to know some of these kids who are battling great challenges. You would never know it by looking at them. They want to be regular kids and they want to be treated with respect, which is really what we all want.”
In her two years as director of development, Stephens has seen many success stories come from the ARTS program, from 23-year-old Kyle Bowen who used art to retrain his brain following a severe skateboarding accident to 18-year-old Inocente who has gone from being homeless to travelling the country showcasing her art. It is these stories, she says, that make her enjoy her position so much.
Going forward in the new year, Stephens hopes to heed her own advice and make more time to do some painting of her own. She will receive the Women of Dedication Award on March 8, 2013 during the Auxiliary’s 48th annual Garden of Giving luncheon.
"I just feel flattered and deeply honored, and I look forward to getting to know the women in the Salvation Army," Stephens said.