She fought for her life, now she fights for theirs. Born with a rare liver disease, Kendall Ciesemier understood the human struggle at a young age. At age 11 as she underwent two liver transplants, Kendall started Kids Caring 4 Kids (KC4K), a non-profit that raises money and awareness for highly vulnerable children in Africa by inspiring youth worldwide to care for others in need. Since its founding, KC4K has grown to support eight projects in four countries in Africa, helping better the lives of nearly 7,000 Africans, by inspiring over 7,000 kids to raise nearly one million dollars and has even attracted the attention of Oprah and President Clinton.
Kendall has been honored as Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year Reader’s Choice Winner, one of Glamour Magazine’s “20 Amazing Young Women” Chicago Magazine’s Chicagoan of the Year, a Prudential Top Ten Youth Volunteer, a Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Hero, a Discover Financial Top Scholar, a Nordstrom Scholar, a Gloria Barron Young Hero, and most recently a Google Zeitgeist Young Mind. In September of 2007, she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show with President Clinton highlighting his bookGiving and her work as a young activist.
Today, Kendall is a freshman at Georgetown University studying Sociology. She hopes to pursue a career in broadcast journalism so she can use her voice to create effective stories that inspire others to act. Last summer, she began to expand her experience in journalism by working as an intern for Oprah Radio and today she works as a MTV Global Correspondent, and as a blogger for Maria Shriver and Huffington Post.
Tell us about your organization, Kids Caring 4 Kids. When did you start it? Why? How can others get involved?
The images on the television screen shook my 5th grade reality. As I sat watching an Oprah Winfrey Show highlighting the plight of African AIDS orphans, I began to imagine myself, 11-year-old Kendall Ciesemier, alone, living in a mud hut, caring for my younger siblings and grieving the death of my parents. Having experienced struggle in my own life, their pain resonated with me and I was in awe of what appeared to be their unwavering hope.
That night, I knew I had seen the opportunity I was waiting for—my chance to give my life more purpose than the chronic liver disease I had grown up fighting against. Online after the show, I found World Visions’s orphan sponsorship program and I met Benite, an 8-year-old girl from Mauritania who needed my help. Months after sponsoring Benite with $360 of my own money, I received a letter from her about starting school for the first time. Witnessing the newfound hope in her life led me to believe that with a little help, I could change many more lives.
That summer, as I underwent two liver transplants, I asked that in lieu of gifts, friends and family donate money to help more children like Benite. With their generosity I sponsored the village of Musele, Zambia. By the end of the summer, I had raised over $15,000 as kids from across the country, hearing of my effort, started their own fundraisers. As a result of this snowball effect, I decided to officially organize my effort, calling it “Kids Caring 4 Kids”, and in January of 2005, Kids Caring 4 Kids (KC4K) became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The mission of KC4K is twofold: first, to raise awareness and money for highly vulnerable children in Africa, and second, to inspire kids in America to care for those in need.
To that end, I have spent the last six years working to educate and motivate American youth. I have spoken to schools, youth groups and service organizations, challenging them to get involved in order to make a difference in another child’s life. Kids across the country have answered the challenge, holding KC4K fundraisers as diverse as penny wars, basketball tournaments and karaoke contests to raise funds to support the effort.
What obstacles (if any) did you feel you had to overcome in making your vision a reality?
My greatest obstacles are my physical obstacles. At only eight weeks of age, I was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia, a rare liver disease that plagued my life with illness, surgery and uncertainty. Within the first year of my life, I saw twelve different specialists for a variety of medical conditions. At age 11, I underwent two liver transplants, the hardest challenge I have yet to face. Today, I still face medical challenges necessitating a procedure under general anesthesia every eight weeks.
For this reason, Kids Caring 4 Kids has been 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 that summer. It has allowed me to define myself not by my medical condition, but by the work I am doing.
What advice do you have for other young women who might also want to start an organization?
1. Find your passion because everything will flow from there.
2. Ignore haters—they are just looking for a reaction, don’t give them the satisfaction.
3. When you lose your way, get back up again and try something different. Redefine failure and do not be afraid to fall flat on your face because you will get there.
4. Love what you are doing because if you lose the love, it’s not worth it.
5. Check in with yourself. Are you doing this for the right reasons? Are you still following your initial purpose and heart action?
Who are your role models or mentors and what effect have they had on your life?
I look up to incredible change-makers like Bono, President Clinton, Oprah, Lisa Ling, and Mattie Stepanek.
What is the most fearless thing you have done?
Committing to raise 1 million dollars for highly vulnerable children in Africa
What’s your fearless vision for the future?
I aspire to host a talk show so I can tell stories that will inspire and empower change in our world.
- A year after having two liver transplants, I joined my middle school cross-country team. In one year I progressed from not being able to get out of bed, to running a two-mile race. Each time I would cross the finish line dead last and unembarrassed. To me, there was no failure in taking last place. Failure would have been not having the courage to participate or failing to try my best.
- In high school an activity advisor sat me down to yell at me and proceeded to say: “You are determined, not willing to take no for an answer, and you are perseverant.” I sat there thinking to myself: “Well, geez, those all sound like compliments to me!.” Don’t let others get you down!
- I love to sing everywhere, despite having the WORST voice ever.
There are many ways to get involved in Kids Caring 4 Kids. Please visit our website: www.kidscaring4kids.org. Like our Facebook page: “Kids Caring 4 Kids” and follow us @kciesemier and @kidscaring4kids for more information. www.kidscaring4kids.org