KATHLEEN KAISER '70
"It is a rare life that is dedicated to social justice," said Deborah White Burke '70 of her college roommate and friend Kathy Kaiser.
That describes the life of Kaiser since she followed up her Marygrove degree in Social Work with a Master's in Social Work from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She has been a licensed clinical social worker in Illinois for more than 15 years, counseling adults and children, including those referred from the Department of Family Services.
Kaiser joined Gamaliel Foundation, an organization known for rigorous training in community organizing with a faith-based approach. Her particular mission as a community organizer has been to improve funding for education in the State of Illinois.
Since the early l980s, Kaiser has been active in JACOB, the Joliet Area Church-based Organized Body, through her parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. JACOB advocates and acts on a number of social justice issues. Through JACOB, Kaiser was instrumental in establishing the Covenant Scholarship program for Jobs and Education, which provides up to $3,000 in financial assistance to needy students from member congregations to attend Lewis University or the University of St. Francis, both in Joliet. She also chairs the Covenant Scholarship program, now ten years old. It has a 97 percent graduation rate.
In l990, Kaiser joined the Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations (MAC), an umbrella advocacy group in Chicago. Kaiser is co-chair of the Education Task Force and a Board member. Kaiser has used her persuasion skills in meeting with former Governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones as well as Speaker of the House Mike Madigan to promote the message of equality and justice for all students in the state. She notes that Illinois is the eighth richest state but second to last in funding for education. "Why should some students in Illinois receive much better education because they live in wealthy communities? The disparity in per pupil funding is as much as 4 to 1, stifling equal opportunity," says Kaiser. Although complete school finance reform has not happened, under Kaiser's leadership, the Education Task Force has convinced the legislature to allocate additional support for the state's neediest districts.
According to fellow organizer Jan Gehrig, "...when MAC hosted a 5,000-member 'Rolling Thunder' event, Kathy coordinated a strong legislative presence that included now U.S. Senator Barack Obama. From the quiet person who found it difficult to give an announcement, Kathy has grown into a respected leader."
Kaiser recalls, "Sister Christina, head of Marygrove's Sociology/Social Work Department, challenged us to combine knowledge and action into social work practice while Sister Amata Miller set in motion an understanding of social justice from an economic standpoint. At Marygrove, I was surrounded by countless role models of successful women who lived life deeply and fully, touching the lives of many others in positive ways."
According to her pastor, Father Raymond Lescher, Kaiser and her husband Paul have been invaluable members of the congregation. Kathy Kaiser has participated in voter registration and get out the vote campaigns, joined in creating a "sacred zone" and helped close crack houses in the vicinity of the church, participated in racism workshops and helped fund Youth Ministry projects.
She received the de LaSalle Award for community organizing from Lewis University in 2003 and the Rainbow/PUSH Award for Political Activity in Civil Rights in 2004.
In living her life, Kaiser has adopted the motto of the Catholic campaign for Human Development "If you want peace, work for justice."
Kaiser's says her two passions are love of family and love of learning. "I am very proud of a marriage of 36 years and of raising a daughter and son who are bright, educated, successful, but most importantly, caring people. Education was crucially important to my immigrant parents and my education at Marygrove was a reflection of that...The same appreciation of education motivated me to be involved in the fight to reform school funding in the State of Illinois."