A Conversation With Kayann

It is with great pleasure that we introduce Kayann, CUMAC’s newest team member. Kayann was hired in December through the AmeriCorps program and we are excited about the wonderful talent she brings to our team. If you’ve been around our building recently you’ve most likely seen Kayann giving tours, leading volunteer projects or helping out in the office. Wanting to get to know our new Volunteer Liaison, I sat down with Kayann to learn more about her life and what led her to CUMAC. I walked away amazed by her story.

Several years ago, Kayann and her family fell on hard times. After losing her job, Kayann struggled to pay the bills and couldn’t afford to keep their apartment.  “We fell into a long cycle of being homeless, on and off, that lasted for a few years” says Kayann. The instability created by not having a place to call home was hard on their family, and Kayann often didn’t know where they would stay or how she would feed her children. Fortunately, Kayann found CUMAC, and the groceries she received allowed her to keep food on the table during times of great need. She remembers how scared and embarrassed she was when visiting CUMAC for the first time. She had never needed help in her life and suddenly she was no longer able to provide for her family. It was terrifying. But Kayann’s concerns disappeared the moment she walked through CUMAC’s doors. She remembers the care and attention of the staff, that immediately made her feel at home.  

“Not having a home, there were opportunities I had to pass up” says Kayann. “Commuting was a nightmare because I didn’t know where I was going to be from night to night, or how was I going to get to work the next day.” This made finding and keeping a job extremely difficult. At times she worried her family’s situation would never improve, but Kayann remained sanguine. Finally, after years of instability, she and her family found a place to call home. She hoped a job would soon follow. She searched for jobs constantly, but had little luck. Still, she kept applying. Months later, she eventually found herself back at CUMAC — this time for an interview. She’s been helping us fight hunger ever since. 

For Kayann, working as our volunteer liaison has been an incredible learning opportunity. With just a staff of 20 and limited resources, CUMAC’s work is largely made possible through the efforts of our volunteers and our supporters. As a client, Kayann never realized how many people were fighting hunger in her community. “It’s given me hope. You might think that nobody cares about anyone and then you see all the volunteers, big groups, coming here on their own, holding food drives and wanting to help. It changes your perspective.”

Kayann’s time with CUMAC has also been an enlightening experience for our volunteers. Being able to hear firsthand from Kayann about hunger helps shine a light on a silent crisis affecting over 1 million people in New Jersey. It also gives many a new appreciation for the project they’re working on. Kayann tells us that she’s really enjoyed the opportunities to educate others and have meaningful conversations around hunger and homelessness. “I always hated telling my story,” says Kayann. “But now I realize there’s power in telling others.”

Over the last two months we’ve seen Kayann really grow into her position. She says that support from the staff has boosted her confidence to new heights. She’s passionate about her role and excited for what lies ahead. She tells us that she’s interested in pursuing a career in the nonprofit world, and would like to use her new found voice to become an advocate within her community. 

“This has been really good experience for me and for my children —especially for my oldest. I feel great setting an example for her. I get up, go to work, and I think it shows her that you just keep going, no matter what. I hope that I’m a good role model and they see that mommy didn’t give up even when she was scared or upset. I hope that sinks in with her and with all my kids.”

When I ask Kayann about what CUMAC has meant to her, she puts on a big smile. “I love how everyone is treated with such dignity. I know what it feels like when you’re down and low. At CUMAC, you feel like you’re not being judged at all. You’re just getting the help you need. It’s almost like neighbor to neighbor. You need a bag of food? Here you go! And that touches me in a way that’s very powerful. It means a lot to me.”

Kayann, thank you sharing your story and for all that you do to help feed people & change lives. We’re lucky to have you on our team!