Inspired by her son, Kathy Speight ’88 developed a non-profit organization that fosters young hearts and minds for service. It is called Friends in Action and it grew from a simple idea that sparked on a rainy afternoon.

 

At first, her son Camden was disappointed. The rain meant he couldn’t play baseball. But as the 7-year-old watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfold on the television, he began to understand that the weather’s impact reached far beyond his own back yard.

“It troubled him that people didn’t have clean water to drink,” Kathy says about that August day in 2005.

That’s when an idea came to him. “He opened up our refrigerator and announced that he wanted to give our water to them.”

Camden shared his idea with classmates and teachers. Soon, the effort grew to be a school-wide service project for Jesse Wharton Elementary.

Students donated water and wrote messages on labels that were affixed to the bottles (another of Camden’s ideas). On the day the water was collected, Thomas Built Buses sent not one, but two buses to load all 360 cases. The seed for Friends in Action began to sprout.

A few weeks later, a letter arrived. It was from the Landry family in Erath, LA. Camden and his classmates learned that their gifts of water and support had brought hope.

“I love the open heart of a child who says, ‘Why not? When we have something someone needs, why shouldn’t we give it to them?’” Kathy says, thinking back.

Over the years, as the exact details of the event faded in young Camden’s mind, Kathy decided to write a book about it. She solicited the help of author and fellow UNCG alumna Ellen Bryant Lloyd ’88. Eventually, “Imagine If…I Could Calm a Storm” was published and won the national Mom’s Choice Award in the category of inspiration and motivation.

I think if you got a bunch of middle schoolers in a room, they would say, ‘Don’t sell us short. We can be unified. We can commit to a cause.’

But the story doesn’t end there. “Imagine If…” will soon be a series about outreach efforts of young people across Guilford County. That’s also when Kathy and her family started an organization to inspire and equip young people to make a difference. “My husband and I had a conversation about what kind of legacy we want to leave our children. We developed a family mission statement around serving others.”

If service is the Speight family motto, then Friends in Action is the living, breathing example. Kathy is leaving a career in training and development to pursue her “forever job” as executive director.

She and Camden have shared Camden’s “Four Steps to Action” with schools and organizations like Girl Scouts of the USA. They visited adjunct professor Linda McMasters’ elementary education class in which students looked for connection points between Kathy’s service-learning workbook and North Carolina’s teaching curriculum. And most recently, Friends in Action developed a leadership development camp, which found an immediate following. The camp kicked off last summer with more than a hundred kids from 19 different middle schools. Twenty percent of the campers received scholarships – a number Kathy hopes to increase each year to encourage greater attendance among students who might not otherwise have this opportunity.

Kathy believes in the ability of young people to make a difference in their homes, their communities and even across the globe. That’s what Friends in Action is all about.

“I think if you got a bunch of middle schoolers in a room, they would say, ‘Don’t sell us short. We can be unified. We can commit to a cause.’”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations