by Rachel Johnson
I grew up in good old Wheaton, Illinois, alongside the beautiful Kendall Ciesemier. Ever since I’ve known her, Kendall has had a passion for serving others. She has an altruistic nature and a servant’s heart. Even during Kendall’s darkest times, she has strived to come to the aid of others. Specifically, her heart goes out to orphans in Africa. At a young age, she decided she could not sit idly by while children on another continent suffered so severely. Kendall knew she needed to take action – so she did. Read her story below and learn about how Kendall continues to make a difference in the lives of children all over the world.
Q: Kendall, we’re so thrilled to feature you on the Wonderfully Made blog. Start out by telling us about your experiences with Kids Caring 4 Kids, the non-profit organization you started.
Kids Caring 4 Kids works to inspire and empower kids to raise money and awareness for highly vulnerable children in Africa. The organization started after I saw the Oprah Winfrey Christmas Special in December 2003. The show highlighted the struggle of African orphans with AIDS. I immediately decided to sponsor an orphan with $360 of my own money.
Six months later I underwent two liver transplants. In lieu of gifts and flowers, I asked my family and friends to donate to help care for a community in Zambia, a project that I supported with the help of World Vision. By the end of that summer, I had raised over $15,000 for the project in Zambia and Kids Caring 4 Kids was born.
To date we’ve inspired over 7,000 kids to raise nearly 1 million dollars for almost 7,000 individuals in various regions of Africa. I’ve even been to Africa to see four of the eight projects we’ve been able to support.
Q: What motivated you to continue serving others even though you were undergoing numerous health procedures? So many people in your same situation would have quit and focused on themselves, but you were committed to your goal.
For me, Kids Caring 4 Kids is such a blessing. When I started it, I was undergoing the worst struggle of my life. It provided the positive focus and sense of purpose I needed to get through my transplants. It has allowed me to define myself not by my medical condition but by the work I am doing.
Q: Because of the impact your story made, you received many honors and recognition, including an appearance on the Oprah Show with Bill Clinton and a feature as Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year. How did those experiences shape you, and how did you maintain humility?
Obviously those experiences are thrilling and fun but they are absolutely not the reason that I created Kids Caring 4 Kids. But it is awesome that other people are exposed to the crises in Africa through my experiences and my hope is that when they see my story, they feel inspired and empowered to act.
I know that Kids Caring 4 Kids would not be what it is today without the divine inspiration and aid of God. The experiences that I’ve had in my life are so far beyond any exception or goal I could have for myself. I know He is behind the work that I’m doing. Plus I always have very humbling chronic illness that lurks around every corner.
Q: How has your vision changed now that you’re no longer living in Wheaton and you’re a freshman at Georgetown University?
During my first semester I’ve kind of put Kids Caring 4 Kids on the back burner and taken a much-needed break. It’s been really beneficial for me and for the organization because I now have more of an idea of where I want it to go in the future. Next semester I will start my work back up and hopefully create a team of peers to help with the cause.
Q: Tell us about the cool new gigs you have writing for Maria Schriver’s blog and serving as an MTV Global Correspondent. What’s the best thing about each opportunity?
It’s very exciting to be able to pursue opportunities that will help me gain experience in the journalism field, especially because I hope to find a career in that field someday. I’m having fun and learning a lot!
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
That is easy – back to Africa! What can I say? It’s where my heart lies. There is nothing like a swarm of kids on both of your arms pulling you down to the ground with love and laughter. There is nowhere else I’d rather be.
Q: What plans do you have for your second semester of college, besides keeping up with your current workload and launching on on-campus organization to support Kids Caring 4 Kids?
Um…sleep more? Haha. I don’t ever really have plans. I like to live in the moment and see what comes my way.
Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to host a talk show. Yes, I know that’s a weird dream…but hey, I’m just putting it out there. I mean, I wouldn’t mind anchoring the Today Show either…