ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WFRV) – Congratulations to Kathy Kurowski, Northeast Wisconsin’s Remarkable Woman of the year! Read her full story below and watch the big reveal here.
It’s storytime for kindergarten students at Cormier Early Learning Center in Ashwaubenon, and longtime teacher Kathy Kurowski has all eyes on her. For 27 years, she has taught kindergarten students; five-year-olds who are new to the school and eager to learn. It’s a job she loves. Says Kathy, “I want to instill the love of learning in these kids, and have the kids view themselves as readers and writers and lifelong learners.”
Anyone who knows a teacher knows the days can be long. You might think that Kathy goes home to a well-deserved rest after a day of teaching energetic youngsters. But that’s when another effort to help others begins – a charity called ‘Handbags for Hope’. It’s an organization that collects used purses and fills them with personal hygiene and beauty products for women. The bags are all tagged with a distinctive forget-me-not flower logo. It’s a fundraising effort started by Kathy and a couple of her fellow teachers.
Kathy explains, “We saw a post on social media about having a handbag filled with sanitary items in your car at all times so it’s always there to give to a woman in need, a homeless woman. We thought about that, and we know there are homeless women in Green Bay, but they are not as visible as they are in Seattle or Chicago or other major cities.”
So Handbags for Hope donates to local homeless shelters, to mission trips, to programs for women in need — any place they can fill a need. The effort started in February of 2016, and they’ve already given 2500 purses to women in need in eight states. Kathy says the community has been eager to help, not only donating hundreds of used handbags, and hygiene items, but also joining in the effort to fill the bags and distribute them. Those volunteers have included athletic teams, Girl Scout troops, dance teams, and her co-workers.
Kathy’s husband of 25 years, Jeff, is proud of what his wife has accomplished, and says he doesn’t mind the stockpile of purses and supplies that have taken over the dining room of their house. He calls Kathy ‘remarkable’ and points out that she handles her career, her charitable work, and her family, while also managing a chronic condition – Multiple Sclerosis. Kathy was diagnosed with the disease when she was 23 years old. Kathy explains, “I take a daily injection every day. I have some flare-ups here and there, and I sometimes need pain management. But I’m 49 years old, and I’ve had MS half of my life. I think I’m doing pretty well.”
It was Jeff that nominated Kathy as a Remarkable Woman. Says Jeff, “I was joking with her because I won a radio contest in the 90’s writing about her. So I had to come back in twenty years and write about her again!”
You can find out more about Handbags for Hope, including how to donate, on their Facebook page.
And for other women dealing with Multiple Sclerosis, Kathy encourages you to be your own health advocate, and do research about treatment options that can help.
READ THE NOMINATION LETTER SUBMITTED ON KATHY’S BEHALF
Kathy Kurowski has plenty on her plate as kindergarten teacher at Cormier Early Learning Center in Ashwaubenon. She has taught kindergarteners for 27 years and goes the extra mile to make sure her students have the best opportunities for learning and development. Drive by the Cormier parking lot on Sunday afternoons and you will likely see Kathy’s vehicle in the lot as she is preparing for the next week.
A number of years ago, she wrote a book about the positive effects of dramatic play for young students. She practices what she preaches. The dramatic play area in her classroom changes regularly to enhance the creativity of the young learners.
Outside of the classroom, Kathy is dedicated to helping women in need. She is the driving force behind Handbags for Hope, an organization that collects used purses and fills them with personal hygiene products for women, especially women in shelters. Not only has Handbags for Hope given out hundreds of purses in multiple states, but it has provided opportunities for individuals and groups to get involved, including dance teams, athletic teams, Girl Scout troops and co-workers.
Kathy’s dining room has been turned into the Handbags for Hope supply room with wall-to-wall shelves with bins containing various items waiting to be stuffed into purses.
She takes no credit for the success of this effort. The Facebook page is a great example. It is filled with messages from Kathy thanking those who donated. She has networked to set up deliveries in other communities, including regular donations to two centers in Madison. In Green Bay, Kathy sets up a couple times a year at Paul’s Pantry, the Hope Center and at the Whatsoever You Do Inc. block parties at Whitney Park to distribute filled purses to women. Seeing a smile on a recipient’s face is her great reward.
Kathy, who has been married for 25-plus years and is the mother of two adult sons, serves her students and the community, while dealing with multiple sclerosis.
She was diagnosed with the disease at age 23. She does not let it define her in any way. She deals with fatigue, numbness and pain from MS, but wants to serve as an example that you can live your life to the fullest with this disease. She recently reached out to a young woman diagnosed with MS and offered to meet with her to answer any questions and offer support.
Kathy returns to her alma mater UW-Platteville as a volunteer speaker in the education department. She not only speaks to the college students, but makes sure they do a kindergarten project in the class. They all walked out wearing “bat hats” made from construction paper after one session. It is just another way she gives back.
She is remarkable with very little fanfare, but a servant’s heart.