Tuesday, November 19, 2013

After Berkeley Humane: Kyle Smitley's inspiring story

Tuesday is our usual "After Berkeley Humane" blog post day, and today we'd like to take a different angle and tell you about a particularly special volunteer's "After Berkeley Humane" story. It’s no secret that the volunteers at the Berkeley Humane Society are making a difference in this world. It takes heart, compassion, and dedication to be a volunteer for any non-profit, and we’re constantly humbled by the selfless work that our friends do to enrich animals’ lives here at Berkeley Humane. Our volunteers do so much good here, and it’s always impressive to learn of the good work our volunteers do outside of our doors, too.

Kyle Smitley
Meet our former volunteer, Kyle Smitley.  Kyle is an amazing entrepreneur who not only made a massive impact on us here at Berkeley Humane, but since having left the Bay Area almost a year ago, she has gone on to found the Detroit Achievement Academy--a game-changing charter school in downtown Detroit--as well as establishing a foundation to support schoolchildren and orphans in Haiti. 

Prior to Kyle’s arrival at Berkeley Humane, she’d already achieved success by founding a multimillion-dollar ecofriendly, organic children’s clothing line, Barley & Birch, and she was in her second year of law school in San Francisco.

By the time she’d started volunteering at BHS, she had already been named one of Inc. Magazine’s Top Coolest Entrepreneurs Under 30, and one of Fortune Magazine’s 25 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs. The Huffington Post named her the “Greatest Person of the Day” in 2011. And just last week, Kyle was on the Ellen DeGeneres Show where she was presented with $50,000 from Shutterfly and Ellen DeGeneres herself to help fund the Detroit Achievement Academy’s next year of operations.

As luck would have it, back in 2010, after the devastating fire that shook us here at Berkeley Humane to our very core, Kyle stepped up and adopted one of our longest-term residents who had survived the fire: Oreo. Oreo was a special dog who spent close to a year in our care waiting for someone to fall in love with him. He’s a very handsome pooch, but when he came to BHS his little ears had been cropped rather badly. The poor baby needed three surgeries to repair the damage, but despite all he went through he could not have been a sweeter pup. Kyle couldn't have cared less about what his ears looked like because she was completely smitten with his happy-go-lucky, cuddly nature. It was a perfect pairing and she took Oreo home for good.

You can imagine our elation when this young, highly successful entrepreneur then asked if she could clean a few cages for us and become a volunteer!
Oreo and his ball! Photo by Kira Stackhouse.

And clean she did. Kyle threw herself into every volunteer job available, from dogwalking to helping us ready our living spaces for new animals, and our animals and staff loved her. Soon after she began volunteering, she lent her professional expertise to us by helping launch several big-picture projects—all while still taking time every week to give our shelter dogs some much-needed love and attention.

Kyle is in fact directly responsible for this blog you’re reading now—she launched many of our our social media efforts, and was instrumental in helping us become early adopters of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. She encouraged us to seek new ways to engage our community of supporters online in as many ways as is possible; we can’t thank her enough for that support.

Oreo, loving life

A few years later, Kyle began to feel she wanted do even more to directly impact communities in the world. At Barley & Birch, she had been donating over half her company’s profits to nonprofit organizations like charter schools and orphanages. She was already dedicated to running her aforementioned foundation to help orphans in Haiti, too. But she knew firsthand from her volunteer experience at Berkeley Humane that she enjoyed the immediacy and poignancy of everyday, hands-on nonprofit work.

She connected with the mission of a charter school in Chicago, to which she had donated through Barley & Birch, and she bravely decided to take the charter school model to Detroit, where she co-founded the Detroit Achievement Academy.

The free, public school offers high-caliber curricula and teachers to the local students who attend. Families in the Detroit metro area are often forced to send children to underfunded public schools, because there are few other viable options. Being from the Midwest, Kyle and her co-founder Chris Robb recognized this gap in high-quality education options and were determined to fill it. Detroit Achievement Academy’s first year started this September, with forty students and high hopes for the coming year. Already, the DAA has attracted media attention from outlets like the Huffington Post, and their success in their first few months of operation has marked a turning point for education reform in the Detroit area.

We here at Berkeley Humane are all so inspired by Kyle’s achievements and her amazing new venture and are thrilled that she has been given the recognition that she and her school so profoundly deserve. We’re proud she has been such a dedicated part of our team. Furthermore, we’re impressed that she’s using all the amazing energy and dedication she gave to the animals at Berkeley Humane to now improve the lives of children in Detroit and the world over.

Kyle is forever a part of our family, even from afar, and we’re continually grateful for the support she has given to us.

This giving season, in addition to supporting Berkeley Humane or your local animal welfare organization of choice, we would love for you to consider making a donation to the Detroit Achievement Academy as well. If you’ve ever donated to the Berkeley Humane Society, you know that your dollars go to directly benefit homeless animals in the East Bay. Your generosity will make a huge difference to the students at the Detroit Achievement Academy’s. It’s early in the school’s history, to be sure, but we’re confident that the DAA will continue to be a leader for years to come. Donate to the Detroit Achievement Academy, and while visiting their website, click around to learn more about the incredible opportunities that this school is offering. 

A gift box for Oreo, from Ellen Degeneres! And the Detroit Achievement Academy.

Congratulations, Kyle, on making your mark on the world. We can’t wait to hear more about your future successes! (And we can’t wait to see more Oreo photos on your Instagram. He is pure gold!)

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering why "An Oreo a Day", http://anoreoaday.tumblr.com/, was no longer being updated. It turns out his mom was busy making the world a better place. Awesome.