In this month’s Spotlight, Katie Bagale takes to the orange chair to share a few of the many things that make her world go round.
Having traveled and lived all over the globe, Katie finds herself back in one of her many childhood communities, sharing her love for our small town with her family, and her many lessons learned along the way with the greater Marshall area. Please read on to see how, from an early age, she learned the value and beauty diversity brings to life, and why she works so hard to help others embrace it today.
YPC: Hey Katie, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today.
KB: It’s a pleasure, and thank you for the opportunity!
YPC: To kick things off, where are you originally from?
KB: I was born in Dearborn, Michigan and then we moved to Ann Arbor until I was seven. We lived in married housing at the University of Michigan, which was really cool because there were students from all over the world raising their kids there. Our friends were kids from Pakistan, India, and Nigeria.
YPC: So, you grew up around a lot of diversity.
KB: Yeah, and I think about that a lot now given my work. I was really normalized to diversity in my early years.
YPC: So, you were seven when you moved to Marshall?
KB: No. From Ann Arbor we moved to Washington State, then to Delaware, and then back to Michigan where we lived in Hillsdale until 5th grade, Marshall for 6th grade, Cheboygan for 7th and part of 8th grade, and then back to Marshall. My Dad worked a lot of different environmental jobs.
YPC: You mentioned something about the work you do now. What is your current occupation?
KB: My title is Family & Community Outreach Coordinator for the Burma Center. There are about 2,500 Burmese refugees that live on the west side of Battle Creek. The Burma Center is a non-profit that services the needs of the refugee community. I do a lot of home visits, all family assessments. Another big part of what I do is gather mentors and volunteers to partner with [the families] to help with homework, life skills, and language development. I also run a creative expressions class for the Middle School kids there.
YPC: Can you talk a little bit about some of the other community/charitable organizations that you are also involved with other than your work at the Burma Center?
KB: In 2012, I read the book Half the Sky, which is about the oppression of women and girls. I had been really interested in that line of work and studied anthropology in college, and had worked with a lot of marginalized communities and displaced people by that point. I read the book and thought, we should do something in this community to help. So, I organized a chapter for Half the Sky here in Marshall. We meet once a month and organize projects and fundraisers to support all sorts of front-line nonprofits that drive the advancement of women and girls. The topics range from anti-human trafficking initiatives and fighting against domestic violence and assault to educational initiatives. We are now in our sixth year.
YPC: But that’s not all! You are also on the Gordon Elementary School PTO and run the Gordon Goes Global campaign.
KB: Yeah, Gordon Goes Global sort of grew out of our Half the Sky Chapter! Out the gate, we knew we wanted to have an educational component. So I thought, with the Gordon Elementary School PTO already established as 501c3, we could get funding into it easily. Everyone seemed to be really on board with supporting Room to Read and liked the idea of a global educational initiative for the district too, because Marshall is such a small, homogeneous town. Parents here want [diversity] for their kids, that global-mindedness, and starting in the classroom at those young ages is really crucial. It was all really well accepted, so I did some grant writing to get funding for global resources for our classrooms (e.g. maps, books, computer programs).
YPC: We’ve talked about your work for the Burma Center, Half the Sky, Gordon PTO, Gordon Goes Global, and Room to Read, what’s this other group that you’re part of? This group of vagabond women that go around fixing each other’s homes?
KB: Haha! “Ladies” Get Things Done, you mean? Our friend Sara Huggett started that. She thought it would be a great idea to take time once a month to go to each other’s homes and tackle projects. A group of us all bought old homes and we needed help stripping wallpaper, fixing floors, and doing home repairs. So we get together once a month and it’s really fun! Once a year we take a month off and celebrate our hard work by going out to dinner together.
YPC: Well, that sounds like a great club. When did you first start doing charitable work?
KB: It was a big part of my parent’s ideals growing up. They are very community-oriented, and my Dad was always on city boards and writing grants. My parents really pushed for that. My degree in anthropology, and while I was in college I started learning about different groups where you could help kids and displaced people. I helped homeless kids with studying and doing homework.
YPC: What was your first paying job out of college?
KB: The fish canneries in Alaska, to save money to go to Europe. After that, I worked for a family in Ireland bartending. I did that for two summers. One of the first jobs in my field was Gateway Community Services up in Lansing, where I worked with homeless youth.
YPC: What is your dream job?
KB: Honestly, what I do now. Working with the refugee community really combines my anthropological studies in college with working with displaced people, a group of people that have a completely different history, background, culture, and language. I really love that. I would like to see how this job can grow, as I would like to see more funding for nonprofits that focus on refugees across the country.
YPC: Can you give us a timeline of all the different places you’ve been or lived?
KB: Let’s see… I went to a Junior College in San Diego, California, worked in Yosemite National Park, I did a semester abroad in Ireland my Junior Year in college, toured around Ireland, Scotland and all over Western Europe. I did almost a year of touring Western Europe with my sisters, living out of a tent and in hostels. We went to Malta, too. My mother is from Malta and we have family there. After I met my husband, Adrian, here in Michigan, we decided to go back to Europe where we traveled through different parts of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, France and Germany. We came back to Michigan and got engaged. We lived and worked in Lansing for a few years, got married and moved out west. We lived in San Diego and then in San Francisco for about four years. Then Adrian got an opportunity to move to China. We both thought it was a great opportunity, so we moved there in 2006. We lived in China for three years and then moved back to Marshall in 2008.
YPC: Why did you come back to Marshall from China
KB: Family. We had been raising Joni in China without any relatives, and we wanted our kids to have that deeper relationship with our family.
YPC: What is your favorite thing about Marshall?
KB: We love that we can have a home with a huge backyard and still be close to downtown. We love outdoor rec, we like to bike and hike with our kids and we can do that right from here. It’s so easy and convenient to get around, and we love the community of people. It’s so easy to connect with people here.
YPC: If you could change anything about Marshall what would it be?
KB: I think there’s a lot of good change happening, and I think a lot of people are attracted to moving back to Marshall, like we were, to be closer to family. I think it’s good that we have a lot of younger people moving back to this small town with a lot of energy, that have lived in other places, and that are really focused on making things better. I would say I would like to see Marshall be more invested in diversity. [There is] the Albion-Marshall Resilient Communities Project, where there is talk about actually inviting Albion families into your home and making connections on a more intimate level, which would be great to see.
YPC: What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
KB: I’m putting advice together from several people, but to put yourself out there and not be afraid. Embrace adventure, embrace life, and embrace opportunities.
YPC: If you could master one new skill, what would it be and why?
KB: Acting. My daughter is really into theatre and has a great voice. That was something I didn’t do growing up, and something I would like to get into.
YPC: Do you have any parting thoughts? Shout outs?
KB: I’d just like to say that, even in this little town, how amazing it is to be able to engage with people of different backgrounds that are very close to this community. I think if more people could connect with people of an entirely different background, different culture, different religious beliefs, different way of thinking; if they can connect with people like that on an intimate level, and help guide each other, that things are going to click in this world. That’s what has to happen. It’s going to be key that we provide those opportunities for our kids because I don’t think you can really grow and learn as a person unless you are really pushed out of your comfort zone.
A big YPC thanks to Katie Bagale for carving out some time chat with us, and for sharing her selfless contribution to our local and global community. Your energy and passion for people are a huge asset to our community, and thank you for finding your way back to Marshall!
If you are unfamiliar with the Burma Center, Half the Sky, or Room to Read, please check them out. Each organization has a great mission and would love to have your support.