Do we know why we’re here? Do we know what to do with ourselves and our gifts? All of us are on a journey. Sometimes we’re blessed early on to see the signs and hear the messages that give our lives direction. Kim Chernecky devotes her life to helping others through the charity that she established and through the motivational services that she offers. She tells us how she got there.
From a very early age, you were subjected to a myriad of circumstances that you had no control over. For instance, you were moved so much that you attended a total of 11 different schools. You chose not to be a victim. At such a young age, how did you know not to be a victim of your circumstances? Who taught you to look at things objectively and to learn from them?
Like so many people, I come from a broken home. My father and my birth mother were just kids when I arrived on the scene. They weren’t ready and didn’t know how to be parents, but they did their best. My birth mother’s mother (my maternal grandmother) offered her no support. She was, let’s see how we can say this…not a nice woman. I learned later that her mother’s abusive behavior was the reason she got pregnant in the first place; to escape from a miserable home life. I don’t really know the details, but she never gave us the warm, grandmotherly-loving feeling, for sure.
Fortunately, my paternal grandparents were much more supportive. Disappointed, perhaps, but still loving and supportive. They loved her like their own daughter. With my grandparents’ help, she and my dad married and settled into the proverbial “happy married life”, but it wasn’t long before things fell apart. As is typical of teenage love, the relationship quickly became strained. My dad went to work full time and my mother threw herself into being a full-time mother, singing songs with us, taking us to the park, even ironing my diapers! But unfortunately, in my experience, babies raising babies almost always ends in failed relationships. After just a few short years, my birth mother, who was still just a kid, just couldn’t handle raising what was, by now, two small children. Overwhelmed by marriage and motherhood, she left to find herself.
Throughout the turmoil of these very early years, my grandparents, especially my grandmother, played a big part in my life. My grandmother was my rock. Our relationship has always been more of a mother-daughter relationship than grandmother-grand-daughter. (My grandmother passed away recently but I know she is still with me and I still turn to her for guidance.) When my father was drafted into the army, my grandparents became our legal guardians and we were blessed to live with them for a while.
My father’s decision to remarry so we could “have a mother” was a big turning point in my life. His second wife wasn’t any more prepared to raise children than my birth mother. In fact, because we weren’t her children, she was probably even less prepared, and we suffered for it. At first, we idolized her. She was a beautiful woman, tall, brunette…she wore fancy makeup. In the beginning, she tried to be nice and fill the “mom” role. But soon it was obvious she resented our presence and the attention our father gave us. I did my best to be the perfect kid, always being extra helpful but it would never be good enough.
Without going into details here, let it suffice to say that it didn’t take long before I became depressed and suicidal. I fantasized about running away and living in a cave in the woods, just to escape. But it was during these years that I think my character was really tested. And it was during these years that I learned just how strong I really was.
The defining moment for me came when I was just in the 2nd or 3rd grade. I can remember exactly where I was standing, at the foot of my bed with the sun shining through the window. I could see the house next door out the window. My beloved Siamese cat was on the bed. At that moment, I had the thought that I should go to the kitchen, get a steak knife, and slit my wrists. I pictured doing it. But in that second, I also got a distinct message that told me “it’s not you, it’s her”. Maybe it was a message from God or maybe it was my guardian angel that showed me in that moment that the problem was her, and that I didn’t deserve the abuse I was experiencing. Killing myself wasn’t the answer. I never considered suicide after that.
As a life coach, you help others fulfill their “soul satisfaction.” How did you get started with helping others to achieve their dreams?
I think many coaches will agree that our nature is to help others, so coaching and mentoring become a big part of who we are. We tend to go through life helping and coaching, as volunteers, as friends, as family members, and ultimately as paid coaches. For me, typical corporate jobs don’t offer the soul satisfaction I need. The opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of others is generally limited or non-existent in a typical working environment. Except in really unique jobs, I think we all tend to find ourselves searching for something more. My desire to coach as a profession grew out of that inner need to help others and to really make a difference. From a spiritual perspective, I believe we all have a purpose for being. We have lessons to learn, and lessons to teach. It’s a calling. I believe it’s part of my purpose here in this life.
How effective are your clients in creating change for themselves with your guidance?
A coach’s job is to offer guidance and support. My job as a coach is not to provide you with all the answers. My job is to help you figure out the answers on your own. Like a good leader, your team is strongest when you allow them to come into their own power. A coach’s job is not to micromanage or tell a client what to do and how to do it, per se. My job as a coach is to empower my clients to find and create their own solutions.
We all have the power within us to create the life we want. The problem is most of us let our fears, our doubts, and even the fears and doubts of others to hold us back. Change hard and taking a leap of faith is incredibly difficult for most people. For most people, the pain of their current situation must outweigh the discomfort that comes with change to take that leap. It’s easy to be complacent. While we may not be happy with our current situation, taking steps to change requires real effort and can be very scary. Success comes in baby steps. It comes from changing your mindset and believing you can. My job as a coach and mentor is helping clients take hold of the power within themselves. We all have everything we need to be successful in life.
Is there one thing that people may struggle with the most? What is it and how do you help them overcome it?
I think self-doubt and procrastination are probably at the top of the list and definitely go hand-in-hand. In my opinion, both carry equal weight when it comes to personal struggle. So many people doubt their abilities, underestimate their talents, listen to negative talk from others around them, and these things result in constant, negative self-talk. The result is we convince ourselves it can’t be done. Rather than finding reasons that something can’t be done we need to focus on what we can do. The self-doubt ends up resulting in chronic procrastination because when you don’t believe something is possible, you have no incentive to make an effort to achieve it.
I approach personal goals like business. Starting with what’s known as a SWOT analysis, if we examine a problem, obstacle, or sticking point from this perspective, we can determine what our: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are. We then create a plan of action taking all of these things into account. Often, just by making a list of strengths and opportunities, it reinforces just how capable we really are. That’s a mindset change! Being aware of the weaknesses and threats to achieving your goal simply allows you to plan accordingly. You don’t have to go through the mountain. You just need to know it’s there and find a way over or around it.
Let’s talk about Compassionate Community Services. What is your overall goal with the organization?
My primary goal with Compassionate Community Services is and always has been to help individuals on a one-to-one basis. Our public assistance programs fail to reach far too many people in need. Red tape, lack of transportation, language barriers, social stigma, pride…these things all come into play for many people who really need assistance. My overall goal is to allow others to replicate what we have done all around the country. We have been able to collect and distribute millions of dollars of in-kind donations to those in need with an all-volunteer staff. No salaries, little to no overhead. It can be done.
But another very important aspect of what we do is how our organization impacts our donors. Accepting help is a tremendously humbling experience. It is incredibly difficult for many of our recipients to ask for and receive assistance. Critics will point fingers and accuse people of milking the system, but the truth is these are often our friends and neighbors. Of course, there are those that systematically take advantage, but the majority are just people who fell on hard times.
Many of our recipients are struggling middle class families, who suffered a job loss, fire, illness, death…We help the homeless, single moms, elderly, chronically ill…It is often said that you get more from giving than getting, and in so many cases I really believe that’s true. The expression, “there but for the grace of God, go I” often runs through my head. And for my donors and volunteers, I think their involvement reminds them how blessed we all are. It has always meant more to me on a soul level to be able to help than it does to “have stuff”. I am not a material girl!
There is a scene from Schindler’s List at the end of the movie when he realizes he is still wearing a ring and a pin that could have saved the life of another person. The personal anguish is palpable in this scene and just thinking about it makes me cry. As an individual, I understand that anguish. I know how much it pains me not to help when someone needs it. We can all do something. My organization has allowed and encouraged others to reach out and help in whatever way they can, big or small. To know we can do something to help is empowering and gratifying to all of us. As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”
Why did you start it?
My girls were little at the time. Janice, the oldest was about three and Jennifer was just a baby. My boys came along later. They all grew up with the organization. I remember sitting in my living room and literally having an epiphany. That’s the only way to describe it. The idea just popped into my head that I should do something to help others who didn’t have anything. It was almost like, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we need to get milk and eggs.” The idea was just suddenly there. I started with small collections and it quickly grew.
Your organization has been active since 1988. Is it easy to find and maintain funding in this economy?
It’s never easy to raise funds in our society. Raising money can be a full-time job, unless you have connections in really high places. But to me, that’s wrong, anyway. We are all familiar with pork projects and lobbyists. If getting needed funds is going to depend on compromising integrity, it’s not worth it. We see many non-profits that have huge budgets where only a fraction of the money taken in goes to the actual cause.
We don’t work like that. We function at a grass-roots level, on the front lines. Person to person. In our case, we have been fortunate to have been able to function on a shoestring budget. Because it’s an all-volunteer organization, there is no need for high overhead, big salaries, bonuses, rent, etc. People just come together to get the job done because we want to.
It’s always been quite easy to get donations of things. Donors appreciate the fact that everything they donate is given directly to the people in need. You have boys clothes that don’t fit your child? We have a little boy that needs them. You have food in your pantry to share? We have families that are hungry. You received a gift you’re never going to use? We have a single mom that would love to get a bottle of cheap perfume. Your church wants to provide Thanksgiving baskets to families that need it, we can drop it off for you. It’s personal.
One of the things that keeps our donors motivated is sharing stories of individuals that their donations have helped. One story I often share is about a little, 8-year-old girl. Each Christmas we match donors from the community, and a dedicated group of BIC Corp. donors and volunteers with children and families they can help. We give each family a wish list where they can tell us the child’s sizes, and any toys they might want. One year, on the wish list, when asked what she wanted for Christmas, this little girl wrote “washcloths”. She didn’t ask for toys. She didn’t ask for a fancy gadget. She just wanted washcloths.
To me, this is a perfect example of the disconnect in America. The haves and the have-nots. When an 8-year-old living in the wealthy Northeast asks for washcloths for Christmas, something needs to change. And this simple story reminds us all that we can all do something to help, and we should all feel morally obligated to do so because we can. It’s these kinds of scenarios that happen over and over again that make me want to keep on helping.
Unfortunately, getting donations of money is harder. But we have been fortunate to always have enough to make a real difference. And when a specific need arises, we can count on our long-time supporters to help by just simply putting the word out. Getting people to volunteer their time is the hardest. Many of us have good intentions but life gets in the way. But for those that do volunteer, they are in it for life.
CCS has helped lots of people. What kind of help do you need from others?
My vision for the organization has always been to replicate what we have done in Connecticut and help others around the country. Rather than focus on one area of the nation, I would love to see others start similar programs and organizations where they are. Look around you. The need is there. A guide is in the works to help others who are interested in creating their own organizations in their local communities. They are welcome to reach out to me for more information about that.
I recently moved to Florida, and the need here is just as great, if not greater. The baton has been handed off in Connecticut to capable volunteers who continue to help those in need. I still hear from many of my CT clients on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I definitely foresee new programs here in Florida.
I am currently working on a nationwide youth leadership program that will enable at-risk kids to lift themselves up and break the cycle of poverty. It is a coaching program specifically targeting young people. The goal is to make the program available to inner-city schools around the nation, where many of these kids live. I am seeking corporate sponsors for the program if anyone is interested in making a contribution to this worthwhile cause. All donations are tax-deductible but more importantly, it will change lives for generations to come. I would love to hear from anyone interested in helping with this much-needed project. (They can contact me directly through Linkedin.)
Maintaining a positive outlook for your organization and helping others to find brighter horizons for themselves takes energy. How do you recharge yourself?
Creative people will understand when I say this, but doing this type of work is actually energizing! It pumps me up! When you are passionate about what you are doing, the energy just flows. My advice for anyone looking to feel that energy: get involved! Start your own program! Help someone else! It’s better than a bottle full of adrenalin! Helping my clients excites me. I can’t wait to see what they can accomplish!
Not long ago, I was attending a baby shower and struck up a conversation with the woman next to me. It turns out she desperately wanted to write a book. In fact, she had been dabbling in it for years, a novel. Our conversation energized us both. I was so excited for her and gave her advice and encouragement to pursue that dream. I even gave her some assignments to do when she went home to keep her on track. She ended up having a mini-coaching session right there at the shower!
I believe everything happens for a reason. We experience the things we need to experience so we can learn and grow. We meet the people we are meant to meet. Maybe they are here to teach us lessons. Maybe we are here to teach them lessons. Some are in our lives for a lifetime while others come and go. The point is, each of us has a purpose in life and if we hold ourselves back, whether out of fear, ego, procrastination, or what have you, we are squandering the gifts God gave us, and we aren’t serving that purpose. Our souls remind us of what we really want and what we are here to do. I would advise anyone who feels themselves pulled in one direction or another to go for it! There’s a reason.
Kim Chernecky’s Links:
TwitterSeeking Soul Satisfaction
Compassionate Community Services