Meet: Katherine Keith
Katherine Keith is a long-distance dog musher, author, wilderness athlete, Iditarod and Ironman triathalon competitor, Alaskan and mother. Asked about her trusted adults, she told us: “I had two key role models during middle school and high school that I would LOVE to tell you about.”
In middle school, Mrs. St. Germaine was Katherine’s geography teacher and trusted adult. At 12, while weathering life through her parents’ tumultuous divorce, Katherine found solace and reassurance in Mrs. St. Germaine’s classroom, a place Katherine referred to as a sanctuary. Mrs. St. Germaine expressed compassion, did not judge, shared appropriately about herself and her life, and created a safe space for all. Katherine recalls two active ways that Mrs. St. Germaine did this. One strategy was a journal system; students in her class could write back and forth with her. Katherine still has this journal! In re-reading it as an adult, she can remember the comfort, support and guidance that was provided through this ongoing opportunity. Her teacher celebrated positive behavior, did not diminish the weight of any middle school problems that Katherine was facing, and provided an outlet for processing her feelings. The second active strategy that Mrs. St. Germaine used for building trust with young people was an after-school leadership program. In the leadership program, students were able to spend time with her that was not centered around the problems that they were facing, but instead around problems they could solve. She encouraged character and citizenship development, all while creating a space where students could come together on leadership and community service projects.
Mrs. St. Germaine was not Katherine’s only trusted adult. Cheryl Knight , a friend of her mother, did not work in a professional capacity with Katherine, but over the years has been THE person who has always showed up for Katherine. Cheryl is a co-founder and former CEO of AbleNet, and someone Katherine has admired for as long as she can remember, mostly because she modeled a spiritually grounded person and because her leadership style has always mirrored who she is – holistic and ethically sound. As Katherine said, “she gave me the courage to define my own spirituality, my own personality, and my own path.” Cheryl built trust with Katherine in many respects as Mrs. St. Germaine did – provided a safe space, made no judgment, showed interest, offered forgiveness, wrote letters, and seemed to enjoy time spent together. Katherine found she wanted to be just like Cheryl, and she still does. When she attempts to thank Cheryl, or return favors, Cheryl’s reaction is to tell Katherine to pay it forward. And she does.
Katherine had the best of both worlds when it comes to trusted adults in middle school and beyond – the kind that showed up in the everyday, and the kind that showed up in the big way. Her ongoing, and daily, relationship with Mrs. St. Germaine at school provided her with a regular reprieve, ongoing encouragement, and predictable interaction. Her connection to Cheryl provided Katherine a model for adulthood that she has held onto ever since.
When considering her own role as a parent, and her daughter’s need for trusted adults, Katherine said: “The most difficult determination I have come to as a parent is – I am not enough. And I have to be okay with that. I must surround my daughter with strong adults who care for her, are willing to tell her the hard truth, and who are willing to just listen when she is sad, angry, or even just pouting. I need to hand her over and let her be free. I cannot do it all. And I am not always the one she wants to listen to. My job is to surround her with the right people, at the right time, and make sure she knows I am here for her all the time.”