“Roots or nothing.”
Kathy Schuth’s leadership comes, in part, from her childhood experience of her family trying to “reconcile outsiderness.” Kathy reflects that she’s always “felt in transition” and likes “places of transition” even as she affirms the importance of growing roots.
The child of a preacher and a pre-school teacher, Kathy’s family moved from Washington state to Bedford, Indiana, a small town where everyone knew each other for several generations back, leaving Kathy’s family to feel like “outsiders.” In high school, Kathy was “steered toward architecture” and, after graduation, she enrolled at the University of Notre Dame to study it. While at Notre Dame, Kathy joined the percussion band where she played the glockenspiel, which helped her to be cool even though, as she put it, “I wasn’t cool.”
As she was approaching college graduation, Kathy asked herself: “Who do I want to spend most of my time talking to and living life with?” She realized that the traditional route of working in an architecture firm with people of wealth wasn’t her interest as she wanted to “do it for my people.” She took a job with the Hope VI program in Pittsburgh where she helped craft the vision and design for mixed-income living spaces that could remove the high-rise barrack type style that had dominated public housing for decades.
When the attacks of September 11 occurred, Kathy was in New Jersey – close enough to see what was happening but far enough away not to be physically in danger. As news of more attacks came over the news, she felt a “strong desire for community, a power of feeling like you belong.” She was pulled to move closer to home and “stop flying around myself…to get more involved in the actuality of things instead of the visioning of things.”
In 2002 Kathy returned to South Bend “kicking and screaming, but understanding it was where [she] needed to be.” In reflecting on that move, she said, “It was a calling I didn’t understand.” Over the next ten years, Kathy worked as an architect and purchased a home in the Near Northwest Neighborhood. In 2014, she accepted the position of director of Near Northwest Neighborhood, Inc., making a “big leap from being an architect to a professional non-profit director.” In her role as director, Kathy works to help fulfill the three-part mission of the organization: property development, community engagement and organizing, and advocacy for the neighborhood. One of her goals is to help create partnerships within the community and help facilitate others’ goals for the neighborhood. The Local Cup, a pay it forward coffee shop, was one of her first goal facilitating projects. When initially approached by four neighbors who shared the dream of the coffee shop, Kathy responded, “I want to help you run your coffee shop; I don’t want to learn how to make your coffee.”
Kathy helps to generate “social wealth” in the neighborhood by creating space and opportunities for dreams like The Local Cup to come to fruition. Remembering what it felt like to be an outsider, she strives to find ways to talk to the people who are hardest to talk to. Kathy observes that everyone should feel like they belong because, “Your existence matters.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by the Michiana Women Leaders Project.
Kathy was a 2018 CMWL honoree.