Making a Difference: Kathy “MK” Brooks

2nd Story Goods

December 2021 Issue
Part of Paisley's "Making a Difference: 4 Women Who Care" Special Section
Photography by Mike Force Photography

MD KathyKathy “MK” Brooks

Founder, Head Cheerleader at 2nd Story Goods, Author, Painfully Honest: The Tale of a Recovering Helper

Golden Isles

Tell us about your career:

  Originally from Atlanta, I’ve spent a good portion of my life working with people who find themselves in the margins of society. I find myself drawn to the edges.

After college my husband and I moved to Vancouver Island. He was a Pastor in a local church.  We spent some years living in community and experienced the great highs and heart wrenching lows of trying to help people in desperate situations.  We brought homeless people into our house, in hopes of restoring them to health, often to see them leave within hours or days. We spent countless hours counseling others, hoping to convince them of God’s great love for them and their own great beauty and worth.

But, if success meant what I had in mind … that people enter a strong Recovery program, become secure in their living situations and restore broken relationships, then we were mostly unsuccessful. There were a few folks that made their way out. Though likely not because of anything I did, but because of the decisions they were ready to make for themselves. Ultimately that is what matters.

After 10 years and the birth of four sons, we moved to St Simons.  Here I needed to take a break from my quest to save the world to be a mom. I realized that I needed to be present and real with my own children, lest they too grow up and doubt their great worth.  This, as it turns out, is the greatest adventure of all! And it was here that our daughter was born.

We eventually moved out to The Farm, about 25 miles west of St.Simons. Here we explored, built tree forts, did math, wrote essays and called it homeschool. It turns out we are all avid learners, so I didn’t actually ruin my kids with this approach to education!  By the grace of God, they turned out to be kind, intelligent, beautifully interesting adults!

In 2004 we took our first trips to Haiti. My first impression was, “the world needs to see these amazing people.” I had never met humans like them. And the next thought was “how can such poverty exist so close to Miami?” I had never seen anything like it.

Eventually we moved to Gonaives, situated along the coast, about a three-hour drive north of Port Au Prince. Here I began to see the holes in my way of thinking about helping.
There were many.

The biggest take away is that there is no such thing as: The helpers and the helped. The haves and have nots. The healers and the healed. In truth, each of us is all of these things.
We realized real change comes to people asking for help when we change the question from “What do you need?” to “What do you have?” That levels the playing field. That reminds us to enter the conversation with respect, knowing that the people in front of us know stuff we don’t know. They tend to know the way out. They just need an advocate that will believe in them.

I soon realized the best thing I could do was to start a company with the talented people around me, so we did. We fashioned a beautiful company culture and a whole lot of lovely jewelry, sewn home goods, baskets and leather goods. Today this is 2nd Story Goods. These lovely goods are sold to stores and individuals across the US. And the Makers in Haiti are making a huge difference in their communities!

We’ve recently moved back to the Golden Isles from the Caribbean. This summer I published my first book, Painfully Honest. It is filled with ridiculously honest stories depicting my journey from a helper with a savior mentality to doing the good work that fosters lasting personal and community development.

Have you had a calling in life?
I’m beginning to think the real calling in my life is to spread connectivity. I think we can change our mindsets so that we stop seeing one another as “other”. This will be a huge step in getting our Helping to a place to do more help than harm!

What is the best advice you have ever received?
Ask good questions and then close your mouth and listen!
What advice would you give to those who want to make a difference?  Stay curious. Understand that the person you are seeking to help knows stuff you do not know. They likely carry the solution to the problems at hand.

Who has been a mentor to you?
Jesus, the Christ. What a wildman!  What a lover of people and crasher of mucked up systems. I’ve been a devotee for many years. I can’t shake the call to life of intense beauty that sits equally with the suffering. I love that God is findable in both.

Helping others can be hard work. How do you get through the difficult days?

When things are dark and difficult, I jump on my bike. Riding gives me back my equilibrium. I rode daily in Haiti too. It is imperative for my mental well-being. I also need to write to process the hundreds of thoughts in my head!  Dancing helps too!  And sitting on the porches of good people, talking about everything and nothing.

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