“She Says” with Kathleen Flynn-Barnett

“I am good.” “I am strong.” “I am open.” “I am present.” “I am clear.” “I am generous.” “I am grateful.”

These are the personal mantras that encompass who Women Employed donor, Kathleen Flynn-Barnett, is. The founder of the Ora Kathleen Flynn-Barnett Family Foundation, Kathleen is someone who understands the importance of human development and self-awareness. With her foundation, she aligns with organizations such as Women Employed to support them in taking risks and developing new opportunities for others and new levels of awareness of their impact.

In this installment of “She Says” Kathleen shares how she was introduced to Women Employed, her approach to making an impact in the world and why supporting Women Employed is part of that impact, and what she’s done in her professional career that she’s extremely proud of.

Tell me a little bit about you and your background.

I was born on a working farm in northern Kentucky. We were subsistence farmers and had our own vegetables and meat, and just took care of ourselves. While in college, my options were to be a secretary, nurse, or teacher, and I wasn’t interested in any of those options. So, I went to school for a year and a half, and then I worked for a telephone company. I soon discovered what the degree was in wasn’t as important as just having a degree in terms of increasing your income. I later married and went back to school full-time, majoring in early childhood education, which helped with raising my children.

My husband worked in Corporate America, so I had the classic corporate life. We moved around six or seven times, and I volunteered with various social service agencies. I was always interested in theology, but not necessarily organized church hierarchy. So, I went back to school, but I went to seminary because I wanted to do chaplaincy work. For me, that was more about meeting people where they were in their faith journey and being someone who could offer support rather than theology. My motto used to be, “Show up and breathe.”

I later divorced and had a very good therapeutic process during that time. I learned about myself and how I was influenced, in terms of the impact of those influences, and made some significant changes. After looking at both of my sons, who now have families of their own, I realized that there were key factors that I wished I had known. So, I formed the Kathleen Flynn-Barnett Family Foundation with one of the key points being human development. Everyone needs self-awareness to know and understand themselves enough to recognize the impact of what you say and what you do. And that that’s a good place from which to operate.

I wish that I had been encouraged to take more risks and trust my ability to accomplish anything I wanted to do. So, I wanted to look for something that would offer women the opportunity to develop that self-awareness, take risks, and recognize that everything they’ve been taught isn’t necessarily the whole truth. Which encourages you to question and wonder and to trust your own sense of intuition if something didn’t make sense. And that’s why I wanted to support agencies that are aligned with the mission of my foundation.

How long have you been a supporter of Women Employed (WE)?

I got involved recently. My daughter-in-law was helping me with organizing my foundation and introduced me to WE. She saw that WE aligns with the mission statement of my foundation and from there, we looked into it. And after having a few conversations with different staff members, it just felt like the right thing to do. So, I helped to sponsor this year’s Summer Leadership Program.

I’m not looking to recreate the wheel, but I look for opportunities to follow the mission statement of my foundation. My theory is if you help people get to a new level of awareness and understanding of themselves and opportunities, then they will do the same because they will have gotten a leg up. It affects your life, it affects your family, it affects your community, it affects everything around you. And WE happens to be doing exactly what I am looking for.

Since becoming involved with Women Employed, what are some things we’ve done that you’ve been extremely proud of?

One of the things I’ve learned about Women Employed is that by providing internship opportunities to women, you’re helping them to see how they can make a difference on the governmental level. WE has broadened my thinking in the context of being interested in making a difference for one person. Because if you can make a difference for one person who is a part of a group, and learning and doing the work to affect the larger picture―in terms of the local, state, or even federal, then you’re making an impact. I really appreciate that expansion of people’s awareness and opportunity.

Speaking of impact, what do you hope your impact will be?

Well, primarily, I am supporting what you have established and that you are providing leadership opportunities. You are also providing a community for your interns to learn from one another. And it’s a growing opportunity. And that’s what appeals to me. So, to be a part of something that helps make that happen, is personally, very satisfying.

What are some things you’ve done throughout your professional career that you’re especially proud of?

I am a really good friend, I show up. I can offer a presence for people. Not a gift. But my personal presence of being there and listening. I’ve learned to be a good listener, a better listener than I might have been in my younger years.

I also think what I brought to the theological training that I had in seminary at 50, along with the Clinical Pastoral Care, is something remarkably different than what I would have brought at 28. There were times when I thought everything was crystal clear. This is right and that is wrong. But I’ve learned there’s a lot of gray and that everyone’s circumstance is different.

A personal mantra of mine is, “I am good.” Meaning, all of us are good. We are valid human beings. Another mantra is, “I am strong.” I am indeed stronger than I’ve ever known. Also, “I am present.” I listen. I am willing to talk and be open. I’m very clear about what I think. I have a lot of gratitude. And I try to be generous. Those are just some characteristics that I encompass. But if I had to say it in one phrase, it would be, “I show up.”

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