“Kaman Strong” is a collection of stories featuring Kaman employees demonstrating extraordinary efforts going above and beyond as the Coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic continues throughout the world. We thank these employees from the whole of our heart and are proud to be your coworkers.
In addition to helping pay utility, medical and other bills, the group offers emotional support for parents, patients, and siblings, as well as more unique activities, such as free memberships to museums and amusement parks. “We want them to make memories they should have been making all along,” says Brianna Baskerville, founder of Wichita’s Littlest Heroes. “We want the kids to get their childhood back, and for mom and dad to be able relax.”
WLH’s origins go back to 2014, when Brianna’s life changed overnight. She was working for her family’s construction firm and raising two children: 13-year old Shea and four-year old Tristan. Both were happy and seemingly healthy.
Then, one day, Tristan got sick. Weak, in pain, covered in splotchy rashes, and unable to walk, “it was like he went from 4 to 84 overnight,” said Bri in a recent interview.
Doctor after doctor were stumped by Tristan’s sudden turn. Finally, Bri and her family got the news: Tristan has dermatomyositis, an autoimmune disorder somewhat akin to arthritis in the way it impacts skin and joints. It’s very painful and treatment can be intensive.
Brianna soon quit her job and spent the bulk of her time in hospital rooms with her son. It was a painful, stressful time: “We had half the income and double the bills,” and not to mention the guilt of not being able to spend more time with their daughter. But one of the things that got Bri and her family through was a friendship Tristan struck up with another kid in the hospital, Egan. Together the boys navigated the trials and tribulations of getting healthy again.
While Tristan was soon in remission, Brianna knew she couldn’t go back to “normal.” She’d experienced the challenges of nurturing pediatric patients in Kansas; she saw there were gaps that needed to be filled. “We have one of the lowest healthcare systems in the nation, and it shows, mentally, financially, and emotionally.”
Thus, Brianna founded Wichita’s Littlest Heroes, and has dedicated her time to alleviating the economic and emotional tolls long-term illnesses can take not just on the child, but on the entire family. “We want the family as a whole to benefit,” said Bri. “If mom and dad aren’t in a good place, the family isn’t in a good place. And the same goes for siblings of sick kids.”
In terms of finances, WLH sets side $4,000 a month to help families – about 500 of them at the moment – pay utility, car, or other bills. (This is a marked departure from some other groups, which reimburse families after the bills are paid, a system Bri says is inherently flawed: “Hello! People don’t have the money; how can they pay to be reimbursed?”)
WLH also connects the siblings of ill kids with one another, so that they can talk to people going through similar situations. And WLH also has a number of internal clubs and groups: an LGBTQ support group, offers art therapy, and they’re working on an Xbox Club. But no matter what activity the patient or family wants to partake in, the message remains the same: the kids are heroes who fight the good fight for themselves and their families. And to prove it, each little hero gets their very own custom-made cape!
Touched by WLH’s good work and infectious spirit, we wanted to help Bri and WLH when we heard about their story. So, we called her up and got to work. That was in September 2019. Since then Kaman team members have helped WLH with a fence rebuild, and have organized food and diaper drives, the latter one of which raised a six-month supply. Bri jokes, “Kaman was covering butts for six months!”
More recently, Kaman donated a fridge for WLH’s new office, and Kaman team members has also sourced a portable oxygen concentrator.
While we at Kaman don’t do this for public recognition or accolades, we would like to share the following quote from Bri: “You guys have done so much for us. You’ve set the bar for all of our sponsors. Our minds are blown all the time by Kaman’s generosity. In one year, you’ve changed the dynamic of the group.” We’re happy to help
Looking ahead, Bri and Wichita’s Littlest Heroes hope to open chapters Denver and Nebraska, and to further expand their model of support to any other place people are in need. “We need to serve people no matter where they’re found,” said Bri.
Thank you Bri and the rest of Wichita’s Littlest Heroes for delivering kindness and solidarity to families in need – and for being such an inspiration to all of us here at Kaman!
In the two stories below, we highlight to Kaman team members who are helping Wichita’s Littlest Heroes thrive.
If you would like to support Wichita’s Littlest Heroes, please follow this link.
Volunteering has always been important to Malissa Nesmith, a senior director of biz dev for Kaman Aerosystems.
For years she’s supported groups like Fresh Hope, which assist single mothers and struggling families. But few efforts touched her heart as much as Kaman’s ongoing work with Wichita’s Littlest Heroes, a non-profit that which offers financial, physical, and emotional support for families with sick kids. Malissa’s drawn to WLH not just because it’s a great organization, but because she understands the stress that families and patients are under when a little one’s sick: her own son was diagnosed with cancer at age 3.
“We spent years in hospitals,” said Malissa. “I remember all the amazing support from school and neighbors, which I needed, and I wanted to return the goodness for that. I wanted to find ways to help on a personal level.”
Determined to help Wichita’s Littlest Heroes, Malissa and her Kaman colleagues recently organized food and diaper drives, the latter of which brought in a six-month supply for almost 500 families, and plans on support WLH in any way possible moving forward.
In addition to lauding WLH’s good work, Malissa says that while she’s been always impressed by the amount of volunteering at Kaman, she’s particularly heartened by an uptick since the pandemic began.
“We’re seeing much more volunteering,” she said. “It’s nice to see how many people are willing to reach out, whereas before we many may not have dedicated a Saturday to buying diapers.” And Malissa cites this generosity as one of many reasons Kaman’s consistently an inspiring place to work: “It’s nice to be part of a company that’s interested in the community.”
That’s the key word to Malissa: community. She volunteers and donates to larger, national organizations, yes, but few things compare to seeing the immediate and local impact of assisting close to home. “On the local level, when working with community organizations, you see the impact on the family, which is rewarding.”
Malissa looks forward to more opportunities to help her community in the future. And as for her son – the one who was diagnosed with cancer at age 3, he’s now a 19-year old college student!
Are you able to help Wichita’s Littlest Heroes? If so, click here.
A few months back, Wichita’s Littlest Heroes asked Kaman for help rebuilding a family’s fence. The fence had fallen and the family of eight needed assistance desperately: in addition to both parents being physically unable to fix the fence, they have a child with a compromised immune system and had recently experienced a number of trespasses on their property – an unsettling event at any time, but particularly during a pandemic.
Hearing about their need, Travis Zimmerman was happy to help.
“I just jumped on board. I said ‘Yeah, I can absolutely help you with this and we can knock it out,’” said Zimmerman, an EHS Specialist at Kaman Composites in Wichita who used to build fences professionally. He was more than willing to apply his skills and expertise to the job.
That’s just the kind of guy Zimmerman is. A former marine who performed community service in Japan and Virginia, he’s always willing to dedicate time, labor, and skills to helping others. “When I have something to offer, I want to help.”
And that’s one of the many reasons Zimmerman appreciates Kaman: the team’s dedication to under-the-radar volunteerism. Zimmerman previously worked for another company for three years and not once were employees asked to volunteer. He’s been at Kaman one year and already two opportunities have come along: in addition to the fence build, Zimmerman donated his time and labor to move another Wichita’s Littlest Heroes family’s belongings from one storage unit to another. “It’s a good feeling when you help others out; not for recognition – just to help,” he said.
Yet, despite his enthusiasm for volunteering, Zimmerman admits, “I’m not good at seeking out opportunities.” That said, “I’m willing to help if people reach out.” It just goes to show – it never hurts to ask; in fact, it very often helps!
Thank you, Travis, for helping your community, and for helping keep Kaman strong!
Most of our Kaman Strong stories so far have revolved around team member using their time, resources, and kindness to help others during the pandemic. This story, from Kyle Keeley, shows how Kaman’s strong for its broader community, too.
Kyle is the Senior Team Leader with Kamatics’ Grit/Chem division. His neighbors name is Patty Davis and she heard how the CDC was recommending everyone wear a facemask while out in public. Wanting to do her part for Kyle, his colleagues, and all their families, Patty volunteered to sew them some homemade masks.
Inspired and moved by Davis’ generosity and thoughtfulness, Kaman offered to donate money for supplies, but Davis declined: Instead, she asked if we could donate to the JDRF, a foundation that funds research into Type 1 Diabetes.
As long supporters of diabetes research, we were excited to help JDRF’s important work, and to honor Davis with a donation, so we very happily sent JDRF a check for $300.
If you too would like to help this good cause please visit JDRF’s website.
And if you or someone you know is also stepping up for good during the pandemic, please let us know – we would love to hear from you.
Frank Gonzalez works in Kamatics’ Non-Destructive Training Department. His wife, Nicole, works as a Clinical Admissions Director for Genesis Health Care, which operates three nursing homes in and around Windsor, CT.
Like many long-term care facilities, Genesis’ staff have been burning through their limited supply of personal protective equipment. Things became so dire that they started sterilizing and reusing their PPE.
While hygienically this is fine, it’s less than ideal.
Hoping to help his wife and her team, Frank asked if Kaman had any PPE to spare – we did, and we were more than happy to share our extra supplies. But we wanted to go beyond just PPE, so in addition to sending face shields, masks, and lab coats, we donated $250 gift cards for a staff raffle – just a small way of thanking hardworking people tackling a big job.
Thank you, Frank, for bringing Genesis Health Care’s need to our attention. And thank you to Nicole, too. We’re always thrilled to help our communities.
We’re proud to call Lawrence G. Smith a member of the Kaman family: The Integrated Logistics Support Coordinator in the Air Vehicles division, Smith was recently going through his woodworking supplies and came across some unused N95 masks – six of them, to be precise.
Rather than hoarding them for himself, Smith donated them to Hartford Hospital. This may not sound like a lot, but, as Smith reminds us, “Every little bit helps” — especially when facing such a daunting challenge, and we can almost guarantee those masks will help save someone the pain, or worse, of catching the coronavirus.
Thank you for being such a generous person, Lawrence. And thank you to all the Kaman team members who are going the extra mile to lend a hand in these trying times. Together we will survive this – and thrive, too!
And remember: a little kindness goes a long way.
Jacques Virasak is another Kaman team member whose kindness and generosity brings us joy
In addition to being an engineer in the Air Division, Virasak’s also an active member of the Vertical Flight Society. Hoping to help out during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, Virasak and his VFS friends are challenging themselves, and others, to use 3D printing technology to create face shields for frontline workers.
At the moment Virasak has his prototype ready to fly; next stop: production!
If you have a 3D printer and are able to help this cause, please reach out to Jacques at Jacques.Virasak@kaman.com.
And even if you’re not able to help, please thank Jacques for his kindness. It’s people like him and other kind hearts who make Kaman such a positive, special, and uplifting place to work.
Kaman Composites Vermont is rocking it in terms of helping local healthcare workers at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center!
First, the team donated 480 desperately needed N95 masks.
Then, eager to do more, the team’s Charitable Contributions Committee joined forces with Meal Train, a Burlington-based group that organizes meal delivery for families who could use a little support, to deliver fresh Elm Street Market lunches for frontline workers at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s Occupational Health Services Team and the Diagnostics Imaging Services division.
It’s just a little – but actually very big – way of thanking healthcare workers who are going above and beyond to fight the good fight.
If you’re interested in signing up to support this great initiative as an individual or through a KCV team you can learn more at Meal Train. And even if you’re unable to help out right now, we hope you’ll continue sending positive thoughts to our caring, compassionate, and hardworking healthcare workers.
Thank you to all healthcare and other frontline workers – from nurses to delivery drivers! We literally couldn’t live without you.
Here’s a prime example of why we’re proud to call Kaman a family: one of our senior leaders was leaving work last month when he ran into an employee known for her bubbly, positive attitude.
This day, however, she was anything but – as this person writes, “I was surprised to hear her say that she was very sad. She went on to tell me that after shopping for groceries a few days prior, when her back was turned, someone actually took bread right from her grocery cart. Being the genuinely kind person that she is, she was clearly saddened and disappointed by the selfish act of another.”
Our friend then noticed something in the woman’s hand – a freshly baked loaf of homemade bread. It turns out the woman had told another Kaman employee about the bread thief; that employee in turn told their spouse, and the spouse baked bread for the woman.
“It was a small, but very thoughtful gesture that genuinely speaks to someone’s true core values,” writes our grateful source. “I share this story because, during these very difficult times, I want you all to know that you work with kind people.” Truly.
If you have a story of Kaman kindness to share, please do – we love hearing them, and telling them, too!
It’s really gratifying when Kaman teammates tell us about new ways to help the community. For example, Matt Lessard, Director of Applications Engineering, recently asked if we could donate to MakerspaceCT, a community organization that’s enlisting volunteers of all ages, from Boy Scouts to architects, to make PPE for the pandemic’s frontline workers.
We were happy to donate $500 to great cause, and even more happy to receive a gracious note from MakerspaceCT telling us how the donation is being used. It’s inspiring: In addition to 3D printing hundreds of headbands, MakerspaceCT’s volunteers have produced and distributed over 1,000 face shields to vital local organizations, including:
- Hartford Fire Department;
- Hartford Healthcare;
- West Hartford Fire Department;
- Integrated Anesthesia Associates, LLC;
- Town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS;
- Simsbury Police Department;
- Numerous local nursing homes;
- Mental health care workers.
That’s really incredible work in a mere few weeks! And MakerspaceCT isn’t done yet: With donations like the one Matt suggested, Makerspace is now working toward a goal of 5,000 face shields a week.
Thank you, Matt, for helping us help this great cause. If anyone else out there would like to help Makerspace reach its goal, visit their website.