Ki-Ai McBride

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Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a 34 year-old mother of two; Bridger is eight and Madison is two.  Bridger loves to ski and says he wants to be an engineer when he grows up. I think he needs to pursue theater because he is hilariously brave.  He could probably tone down the sarcasm though, which I am certain he gets from his dad Ricky.  Madison is a little pistol, she shows the same amount of empathy as she does sass and loves to run wild.  She is her father’s daughter – a lover of animals and the outdoors and will likely enjoy many nights camping and fishing by her dad Drew’s side.  They are both smart and adventurous Montana kids, they also love to dance – which is all me.

I was born in Prescott, Arizona and moved to Helena, Montana as a toddler by way of my dad’s career.  For more years than not I have lived in Montana; I will die in Montana.  There is something magical about this state and I am never leaving.  I didn’t think I’d plant my roots in Helena, my teen and early adult years were quite troublesome. I didn’t think I’d recover.  But unbeknownst to them, my family taught me how to be resilient.

I am the daughter of a very hard working and kind Irishman.  My Dad Dale is the most giving person I know and I believe that he deserves all the good in his life because he has never given up on himself or anyone else for that matter, despite challenges.  I believe that his wife Dawn is the best partner for him; their individualities complement one another in a balance that I admire.   Their relationship has also given me a step-brother and six step-sisters who are all incredibly supportive, loud, and adventurous.

I am the daughter of a Korean War baby who was a part of the first wave of international adoptions in the United States.  My mother Roxanne has taught me patience and empathy and because of her life experience a fire for social justice was lit inside of me.  She and her husband Mark have created a life together that they love and I am happy for them.

My little sister Morgan is my hero; her beauty is effortless and everyone who meets her is noticeably magnetized to her energy.  After losing her 26 year old husband to brain cancer I have watched her pull up her bootstraps and live every day with intention.  She is a woman of action and I admire the commitment she has to her word.

I love my family, our journey together has never been boring.

As a child I was always energetic and loved to socialize. It got me into trouble in a variety of ways, but is now my greatest strength.  Today, right now, in this very moment I feel the most secure in my own self than I ever have before.

Professionally, I get to cultivate relationships and as the Community Engagement Director for YWCA Helena.  I also have experience working in children’s mental health and federally subsidized housing.  I attended the University of Montana where I studied Psychology.  I love people.  We live in a hard and fast world; in varying degrees we all make poor choices, experience loss, are accomplished, live fearlessly, and love.  This is why I love people.  But I want us to permit each other to be vulnerable.  It’s difficult and looks different for each of us, but as I watch the women who are living at YWCA Helena let their hair down and allow themselves to breathe something really beautiful happens.  They become free.

I always knew I wanted to work in the helping profession but what I didn’t expect was the personal growth I would experience as a result of allowing my own walls to break down.  As my children go through all of life’s stages I hope to be able to guide them fearlessly.

What I love the most about my job at YWCA Helena is that I get paid to be me.  I get to welcome women who are in crisis into our home and then I watch them blossom into independent, contributing members of our community.  They give strength to each other and strength to me and I get to invite and share that energy with Helena.

Your photo here is taken in front of Bryant School in Helena. Tell us about why this place means something to you.

I attended Bryant School during my elementary years and grew up in a house just down the street.  When I think about Bryant the first thing that comes to my mind is that the majority of the children who attend this school live in the 6th Ward.  There’s a lot of history in Helena and the 6th Ward is where the roots of rebellion, unions, public housing, lemonade stands, and the railroad begin.  When I think of Bryant School I think about all of the hard work my parents put forth to ensure that our family could thrive.  I watched my dad work, a lot.  He worked his way up the ladder of state government and he never gave up.  Bryant is a school where close to 100% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch programs.  The house I grew up in was the only house I ever had when I was in elementary, middle, and high school.  It’s not like that anymore.

When I think about Bryant I think about my experience working with families who live in subsidized housing, because most of them attend Bryant.  I support the development of mixed income housing in the 6th Ward.  We must invest in the progression of all the children in Helena.  Investing in education reduces risk to substance use and crime, but we also learn from each other.  We will be investing in all of the children of Helena’s potential when we invest in where they live.  Mixed income housing provides anonymity and social growth for all.  The 6th Ward is now in the first phase of being a part of Helena’s fist TIF district, which will allow for commercial development and small business entrepreneurialism to prosper and generate taxes that will not go into the general fund but will improve Queen City Crossing – 6th Ward to Last Chance Gulch.  This is exciting.  Invest in the 6th Ward, and see what kind of magic happens for our children!

The passion you have for your work is contagious. What drew you to your career at the YWCA?

The Executive Director of YWCA Helena is Kellie Goodwin McBride (no we are not related but we are soul sisters). I’ve been trying to figure out a way to thank her, she has this amazing ability to recognize people’s strengths, she saw something in me that I didn’t know existed and when I least expected it I found my voice.

This is what we do at YWCA Helena; we empower women. If she is addicted to methamphetamines, if she is experiencing chronic homelessness, if she is a new business owner, if she is incarcerated and has no aftercare plan, if she is an up and coming relator, if she is awaiting trial and it’s not a viable option for her to go to jail, if she is an aging retiree looking to connect, if she was evicted from her apartment and is at risk for losing custody of her children, if she is the neighborhood barista, or she is you; at YWCA Helena we empower women.

I love my job and I love the women I work with and the women we serve.  This is my dream job, and I now know that the best way to thank Kellie for empowering me and so many others is to keep the fire of our mission alive.

YWCA Helena is not a place where women have to fit inside a box but it’s also not a free ride.  There’s a lot of sweat equity that goes into the programs these women work, it is a gift to be chosen to live and to work at YWCA Helena.  Our building has been in service to women and children for almost 100 years, our programs depend greatly on the giving of others, and Helena has made it clear that we are here to stay.  I feel grateful to be a part of something so loved by our community.

Describe your perfect day.

No day is perfect. Every day is a gift and I am grateful for every lesson I’ve been presented because it makes life brighter.  I do however, love morning snuggles with my kids followed by a big cup of hot coffee.

What was the last movie, TV show or book that really impacted you and why?

It’s been a really long time since I have felt moved by a book, but there is one that I think everyone should read and re-read during different stages of life – particularly teenage girls, because that developmental stage can be so demanding.  If Life is a Game These Are the Rules by Chérie Carter-Scott. Someone introduced the book to me when I was in high school and I still pick it up when I feel like I need to reset.

Do you have a favorite quote?

I’m kind of obsessed with quotes.  A recent favorite: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

What kind of women do you admire?

The kind that feel comfortable in their own skin.  The kind that honor each other’s choices even if they don’t align with their own. The kind that raise each other up.  The kind that love hard.  The kind that live adventurously.  The lady boss kind.  The eloquent kind.  The kind that have survived and have learned how to move forward despite challenges.  The kind that show up.

What are some words your friends would use to describe you?

Positive, fun, caring, a good mom, funny, smart, wild, reliable, an old soul, motivated.

What do you value most in a friendship?

When there are zero expectations.  Just do you, and if your lifestyles are similar the relationship will be genuine.

Coffee or tea?         

I’m a big coffee drinker but will occasionally drink Sleepytime tea.

Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate with everything, all day, every day.

Introvert or extrovert?

Extrovert for sure!

Rural or urban?

I think I would have chronic panic attacks if I had to live in a metropolitan city but I also thrive in a place where there is a decent population.  So, Helena is my answer.

Dress up or dress down?

I love getting dressed up but when I am at home there’s nothing better than a comfy pair of sweatpants and a hoodie.

Sunrise or sunset?

I prefer sunsets because I can then reflect on everything that happened during the day.

Call or text?

I multitask parenting, working on projects, meetings, and community events, so text works well for me.

Fiction or non-fiction?

Non-fiction, I also love a good journal article.

What do you love most about Montana?

I love that people from all over the world pay money to have the “Montana experience”, which is the life we get to live every day.  I love that we breathe clean air and can see the stars every night.  I love that we care about our neighbors. I feel protective of our state; we are rich with land and water that can fuel the soul something fierce.  We really are the Last Best Place.

What’s a lesson you are currently learning?

When you love yourself first anything is possible.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

I feel grateful for all of the lessons I’ve been presented because they have allowed me to grow.  I always want to be learning and growing into a healthier version of myself.

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