One act of kindness has the potential to grow into something much larger, and Ruth Reimer has been seeing the ripples of that effect.
Reimer’s daughter Kaitlyn was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and after seeing a badly beaten child brought into the children’s hospital, she wanted to make sure that child received a teddy bear so they knew they weren’t alone.
This was the start of Katie Cares. Kaitlyn came up with a slogan: See It, Believe It, Achieve It, and the charity handed out bags of supplies to help sick kids get through their days at the hospital.
Kaitlyn passed away in 2012, but today her legacy lives on in her charity and in a new book that came out a few months ago.
Author Marilyn Hart heard the song Lindsay Rae produced for Kaitlyn called Love Like Katie, and said it would be the perfect idea for a book. At the time, Reimer said they put the idea on a shelf, and about two years ago the time felt right to start the project.
It took the full two years to hone Kaitlyn’s story and make sure it was presented properly. “We wanted to present it in a light that was friendly to children, easy to understand and that people could share,” Reimer said. “It’s all about giving back to your community, to make your community a better place to live.”
Love Like Katie: The Girl with a Dream went through seven rounds of editing to make it just right, and Reimer said they made a conscious decision not to include discussions about death. “Those questions I’m sure children do have, but we didn’t want to tackle those,” she said. “Those are very specialized things that you want to talk about. What we wanted to zero in on was Kaitlyn’s vision to give back.”
Instead, the book focuses on examples of how people can give back by thinking of others and not yourself.
Illustrator Ruth Hiebert tied the book together, and it was printed at Friesens in Altona. The book has traveled as far west as Calgary and as far east as Ottawa, and Love Like Katie will be launching with McNally Robinson in Winnipeg in the new year. Locally, the book is libraries in Western and Garden Valley School Division.
The impact of Love Like Katie has already started to be felt in the community. Reimer recently accepted a donation from three young girls in Manitou who read the book and decided to put on a fundraiser at their school. The girls organized a hat day, charging a dollar to wear a hat for the day.
They raised over $200, and then went on to urge the high school to hold their own fundraiser.
“It just warmed my heart to know that three little girls read the story and then from there decided to do this fundraiser,” Reimer said. “All because these three little girls had read the book and grabbed on to what Kaitlyn believed. I was so moved by what they had done.”
Ultimately, Reimer said she hopes the book inspires everyone who reads it to give back to the community. “When we give back we make our community stronger,” she said. “We make them a better place to live, and that’s for everyone. That’s for everybody to be able to live and thrive and know that my neighbour cares about me and I care about my neighbour.”
“That’s how Kaitlyn saw life,” she added. “She really did. She wanted to give back in so many ways.”
Katie Cares gives out about 500 teddy bears a year, and hands out Beanie Babies to kids for short-term emergency visits. All kindergartners getting immunized receive Beanie Babies when they visit.
Reimer stressed that giving back can start as a small act. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious when you give back,” she said. “It’s not that you have to start a charity, it’s about doing the little things. It’s about opening the doors for someone, saying good morning with a smile, shoveling your neighbour’s driveway who might be sick.”
Reimer said at times it can be overwhelming to see Kaitlyn’s legacy living on. “It’s overwhelming and yet for me it’s therapy,” she said. “It’s selfish to think I can get therapy out of this, but then I can also give back. I want to give back as much as I can, whenever I can so that people have a soft place to land. I know how important it is to have that.”
“When we were at Ronald McDonald [House], they supplied that for us,” she added. “Now we can do that for our community here. Boundary Trails is a regional hospital and growing, and we’ll be ready when those needs arise.”
Reimer was quick to point out that Katie’s Cottage is a team effort. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers and the staff that work so hard to make sure that Kaitlyn’s dream lives on,” she said.
Reimer said when Katie’s Cottage was built, she never dreamed it would have such an impact on so many lives.
“I feel that it has served a purpose and we’re now part of Boundary Trails Hospital in that we can provide a service that wasn’t provided before,” she said. “We’re close to the hospital. We’re here just so that people have a soft place to land.”
Reimer said she thinks Kaitlyn saw potential in the charity that she didn’t. “I think Kaitlyn saw something that I wasn’t seeing or her dad wasn’t seeing, that it was going to be a big thing,” she said. “She knew that. We just let her think that, because what does a 15-year-old girl know at that time? But she was right. She was right.”
The cottage has seen about 720 visitors this year, some from as far away as Nunavut, England and Australia. In a few days, a visitor from the Yukon will be stopping in. “All have left with a piece of Kaitlyn that they can take and pay that forward,” Reimer said. “The book just gives another way of holding on to that.”
Reimer said sometimes all people need is a listening ear, and while none of the staff or volunteers at the Cottage are trained counsellors, they are always available to listen.
Copies of Love Like Katie are $16 and are available at Katie’s Cottage, in Winkler at Bible Book Shop and Gingerwood Lane, in Morden at Pharmasave, Marni Luhu and The Olive Tree, and at The Prices Rite in Carman.