United Way marketing director says overcoming adversity is all about having a positive attitude

Amadeus Smith

For Kathy Baker, non-profit work is all about attitude, specifically the right one.

Baker, director of marketing and communications for the Portage County United Way, talked to students in the Human Service Management Student Association about all of the obstacles she has had to overcome.

She explained that having been through tough situations herself, she can relate to people in need even better.

“Pain causes you to not only learn compassion, but how you can get such joy from the little things and how little it takes to help those in need,” said Baker, author of Leaving Adversity Plaza: You Don’t Have to Stay There.

The book acted as a guide for Baker as she rattled off stories about her family, cancer and her Ohio State-fanatic mother who also advocated voting.

She discussed her former husband’s battle with Multiple Myeloma, an incurable form of cancer.

Her former husband visited the hospital 13 times in the first year after the diagnosis and almost died twice.

“It was weird pushing my son in a stroller into the oncology department every week,” she said.

Baker was let go from her marketing job at Brockman, Coates & Gedelian CPA firm within the year.

She said all of the negativity left her feeling helpless.

“Everything that mattered to me was gone,” she said. “I thought to myself ‘I’m like a turtle on my back.'”

She wasn’t just talking about a typical family life or a career. She missed happiness. She realized she couldn’t control her situation, but she could control her attitude about it.

After explaining her revelation, she moved to Thanksgiving dinner. Before feasting on roasted turkey and other goodies, she asked her three children to pray or give thanks.

She paused for a second and smiled to herself, thinking of what was to come. She said one of her sons said that he prays the food isn’t cold by the time they get done with prayer. Her other son just wanted his mom to accept them the way they are and stop trying to get them to pray.

But topping it off, her daughter was thankful her step-father had been able to resist the illness. She said, ” He just won’t die.”

The family sat in silence, Baker said. Nobody knew what to do and she and her children all looked at her husband for a response. Until that point, the family had tip-toed around the illness.

Baker began to laugh after a while, and the rest of the family joined in. She said she realized that even though cancer is a serious issue, they finally found a way to laugh.

Kendra Roberts, president of Human Service Management Student Association, said Baker’s type of optimism is crucial for non-profit work.

“In our field, there are a lot of times you get weighted down by the disparity of a community. You feel like ‘I’m never going to get above this,'” Roberts said. ” But just like she said, you have to just stop and laugh.”

Baker also discussed her mother’s death.

Baker’s mother, whom she described as an edge-of-the-footstool Ohio State fan, would always preach the importance of voting. Baker would drive her to the polls every year – she never missed an election.

Baker said she and her family were caught off guard after her mother died in the hospital a day before she was scheduled to be released.

It was an election day. Baker and her siblings sat in a circle on the kitchen floor, pondering the oddity of their mother’s death.

A few weeks later a piece of mail from the state government arrived at the house. The post was a thank you to Baker’s mother for her absentee vote.

“She had known she was going to die and got her vote in anyway,” Baker said, laughing.

Jennifer Combs, service chair for the student non-profit group, said she could apply Baker’s attitude idea to things outside of non-profit work.

“I’m applying to grad schools right now, and if it doesn’t work out, then I can just let it roll off,” Combs said.

Baker said overall everyone must treat each day as “a party in your honor.”

Contact School of Exercise, Leisure and Sport reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected]kent.edu.