As head of Kids Help Phone, Katherine Hay is helping the charity evolve with technology and culture.

Katherine Hay

By Karen van Kampen

 

When Katherine Hay was a teenager, her mother recertified her nursing credentials so she could continue supporting Katherine and her younger sister as a single mother. Katherine’s older brother had just died in a car accident at the age of 19.

“My mom was and is the epitome of strength, courage, and grit without ever losing her warmth or ability to cast a safe and loving family net,” she says. 

Katherine remembers volunteering with her sister in the chronic care ward where her mother worked. “Those were good early experiences that were anchored on some tough family times,” she says. “Young, early experiences shape a bit of the mettle you might take into your adulthood.”  

Volunteering was something they always did as a family, which Katherine carried on through her own family with her two children. When Katherine decided to make a career in non-profit, “It felt deeply satisfying for me,” she says. “I knew that I was going to move the needle in some way, shape, or form.” 

For more than two decades, Katherine has been driving social change. As President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation, she led record-breaking fundraising efforts to support women’s health. In her current role as President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, Katherine is advancing Canada’s mental health service for youth as a virtual health innovator that connects with young people online, by phone, and text. Katherine is an inspiring and passionate leader, and she is being recognized for her achievements. 

Katherine was the 2021 winner of the Social Change Award, National Impact, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an exceptional leader of a registered charity, social enterprise, or not-for-profit who is dedicated to their unique brand of social change.  

“I knew that I was going to move the needle in some way, shape, or form.” 

Katherine describes her journey toward her current work as a very wavy line — “I was amassing experiences,” she says — and she didn’t start out with a vision to work in the not-for-profit sector. Katherine left university and got a job as a bank teller. She worked her way up in the bank, taking on a management role and running branches. “I learned so much in those early days in banking about customer service and team experiences that I put into play, day in and day out,” she says. 

In the mid-nineties, Katherine’s journey took a different turn when she moved with her family to São Paulo, Brazil. With her kids at school and husband at work, Katherine thought about what to do next. She finished her BA in psychology and economics remotely from the University of Waterloo. Katherine approached the Consul General in São Paolo, offering to volunteer. They created the Canadian Foundation and Katherine was appointed president of the fundraising volunteer organization. The goal was to raise approximately $25,000 for HIV/AIDS. At the time, mortality rates were high and there wasn’t fundraising to help families impacted by the condition. Katherine approached multinational corporations doing business in São Paolo. The foundation raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It was incredible,” says Katherine, who describes her experiences in São Paolo as “transformational.” 

In 1999, Katherine and her family returned to Canada. After many years of volunteering, sitting on non-profit boards, and doing fundraising events, Katherine realized that she wanted to make a career of it, “knowing that the work I would do could very well enable something so much bigger than me or my world,” she says. 

Katherine began doing strategy work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She remembers making $17 an hour and thinking, I am a paid professional in this sector. “I was very proud of that,” she says. Katherine gained experience working with Families and Children Experiencing AIDS (FACE AIDS) and University of Toronto Mississauga. In 2004, Katherine was appointed Director of Advancement at the University of Toronto. Then in 2014, she became President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation. 

“If you make decisions outside your values, outside your place, and it doesn’t work out, those are your mistakes.”

Reflecting on her journey, Katherine says that while there wasn’t a specific end result in sight, she had a clear feeling that she was taking the right steps for herself while also helping others, which was important to her. 

Katherine’s mother used to tell her, “Stand in the right place, and you’ll be ok.” If Katherine aligned herself with her values, then she would find her way. “If you make decisions outside your values, outside your place, and it doesn’t work out, those are your mistakes,” she says. If you get back to your values, says Katherine, most things will find their path. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know fully what you want, she says. But you should work hard to know who you are. 

Katherine has explored the values that are integral to who she is. “If I didn’t have them, I couldn’t be me,” she says. Katherine writes her values on the inside of every notebook and looks at them often, including before she goes into a tough meeting. 

Working in the not-for-profit sector requires a steadfast belief in what you are trying to accomplish. “This is not a job,” she says. “It has to be authentic and genuinely inside you.” When Katherine was appointed President and CEO of Kids Help Phone in 2017, she was compelled by the meaningful work of the organization, which was a pioneer in virtual health, as well as the youth mental health crisis. While there is an often-cited statistic that one in five youth face mental health challenges, Katherine believes that one in one young people are impacted, whether it be personally or through a friend or family member.  

When Katherine joined Kids Help Phone, it was a well-loved organization with a solid foundation. Yet maintaining a steady state was not an option. “We’d be the Kodak of the not-for-profit sector because we have innovation and technology right in our hands,” says Katherine of Canada’s 24/7 virtual mental health service for youth. The organization needed to evolve along with technology and the fast-paced world in which youth were navigating.

“We will continue to evolve and grow, and that’s what drives us.”  

Katherine drove a new strategic direction for Kids Help Phone, positioning it as an innovation technology driven charity with a razor-sharp focus on youth mental health. Kids Help Phone connects with young people where they are, including gaming sites, social media, online chat and peer-to-peer forums, as well as by phone with professional counsellors, and text with crisis responders.  

When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, Kids Help Phone was ready. “The world shut down,” remembers Katherine. “We did not go dark or silent. Not for one minute.” The organization went from 708 crisis responders to more than 2,230 responders active on the platform monthly. During COVID-19, Kids Help Phone trained more than 5,000 crisis responders, enabling the high number of crisis responders to be on the e-front lines. Since January 2020, Kids Help Phone has interacted more than 11.3 million times with young people in every province and territory in both official languages; a dramatic increase from its 1.9 million interactions with young people in 2019. Wait times remain on average five minutes. 

While COVID-19 has exacerbated young people’s anxiety and mental health challenges, there is a youth mental health crisis beyond the pandemic. Canada has the third highest youth suicide rate in the industrialized world and suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in Canada. The silver lining is Kids Help Phone, says Katherine. “Not only are we here,” she says, “they’re reaching out.”  

In the future, Kids Help Phone will continue to find innovative ways to connect with young people and provide mental health support. “We will continue to evolve and grow,” says Katherine, “and that’s what drives us.”  

Lessons Learned: My first year of building a business as a personal stylist.

Cheryl

By Cheryl Nomdarkhon

 

I’ve had a love of fashion since I was a teenager. I grew up watching Jeanne Bekker from Fashion Television interview the original 90’s Supermodels, trailblazing designers, and household names backstage during fashion week — New York, Paris, Milan, London — every week on CityTV

She would have access to the most coveted runway shows, and intimate conversations with everyone and anyone in the industry. Apart from watching FT, I collected numerous fashion magazines like Mademoiselle and Glamour. I especially liked the before & after photos and fashion do’s and don’ts.  

Fast forward 25 years to March 2020, and I found myself laid off from my full-time job for a global training & development company. It was a time to reflect and reinvent myself and start over. I’d worked in several industries, from IT to health and wellness, but nothing came close to what I wanted in a truly fulfilling career. I wanted to have a real work-life balance and a job where I could make a lasting difference with people.  

“It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling.”

While I was decluttering at the start of the pandemic, I found a black and white picture of my dad in my photo album. I was struck by memories of my dad, who passed away in December 2001. It was a photo of him sitting on a bench, probably at the time when he worked for the Jamaican Customs. He sat crossed legs, his pants starched and crisp, his black shoes polished and shined. 

I remembered his clothes, his closets. He always kept his clothes in immaculate condition even though he wore a uniform to work. On his days off, he always looked sharp. When we first moved to Canada, he took us to the Eaton Centre to go shopping. It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling. My dad significantly influenced my decision to embark on my new journey.   

Getting Started as a Stylist.

Starting my business, Uncover Your Style, during the pandemic meant that marketing and networking would look very different from my past business as a holistic nutritionist ten years ago. I made it my goal to share what I was up to with the people in my life — family, friends, past work colleagues, and my connections on social media. I attended weekly networking events over Zoom and had coffee Zoom meetings with other business owners and female entrepreneurs. Last year I joined an online organization for Black stylists called Black Women Who Style. Although I’m the only member from Canada, the group’s organizer, who’s been styling for five years, is very gracious. She’s created a platform where stylists help each other, not bring each other down.  

As the pandemic meant moving back and forth between lockdowns and re-openings, the most realistic way to conduct my business was virtual. The handful of clients that I had was through word-of-mouth. To gain experience, I practiced with family and friends doing consultations over Zoom, including closet/wardrobe edits. I had a few inquiries from my website, but nothing significant.  

“How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee.”

I also had to learn to navigate and use social media, like Instagram. Because what I do is visual, I had to learn how to present myself to people. How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee. I was always the one working behind the scenes in my job. There were opportunities for me to speak in front of large groups of people and present myself as someone professional and knowledgeable, but being out there and having people ‘watch and judge you’ anywhere in the world was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

I’m still not 100% confident and used to putting myself out there. I sometimes overthink what I will create on Instagram and TikTok and how I come across on camera. Is what I’m presenting educational, informative, and fun? Will people get it? Imposter Syndrome comes up a lot. Another pitfall is that I automatically compare myself to other stylists and how many ‘likes’ they get and how great their content is compared to mine.

My Lessons Learned. 

One of the biggest mistakes in my first year in business was signing up to advertise for a Yelp promo account. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I registered to use several hundred dollars in (Yelp credits) to advertise personal shopping for the holiday season.  After six weeks of ad promos, there were no new clients or leads. I cancelled right away when I saw my bill the following month. Sometimes things may sound enticing, but it doesn’t automatically lead to success for your business. I learned this the hard way financially. I still get solicited to advertise, and I politely decline the offer.

I made the other mistake of saying “yes” to everybody for styling. There were times when I said yes to working with a client who was very difficult. Early indications were that the client wouldn’t be fully ‘coachable’ or agreeable, but I ignored my inner voice. I now know the importance of vetting and interviewing potential clients before we agree to work together. 

My Goals For The Future.

One of my goals for the future is to create a one-stop-shop experience for clients — like a boutique image consulting service with other stylists, designers, make-up artists, and photographers.

Sometimes, I pinch myself and wonder how I got here. I’ve spent the past 18 months hustling — giving away my time, knowledge, and expertise to get somewhere. There are many times that I’ve been disappointed about not booking that client, not getting that opportunity on a grand scale. There are also days when I feel like giving up on my dreams. The conversation in my head is that “It’s too hard, nothing is working, nobody wants what I have to give.” The biggest challenge is having that winning mindset and keeping it going, no matter what. I belong to a Mastermind group and a meditation group that helps during those difficult times.

The truth is that I haven’t yet achieved the publicity, notoriety, and good client base that I want to commit to being financially and personally fulfilled yet. I’ve created action plans and revised my business plans and goals for 2022, and I continue to plant the seeds for the next chapter — and I’m looking forward to what I will harvest in the next few months.

Cheryl Nomdarkhon

Cheryl Nomdarkhon

Cheryl Nomdarkhon is a Certified Personal Stylist and founder of Uncover Your Style, a Toronto-based style consultancy offering both in-person and virtual services. After 10 years as a Training & Development Manager, Cheryl was inspired by her late father’s style sense and her own love of fashion to pursue her new career, launching her business in 2020. Believing it is never too late to reinvent yourself, her aim is to help people discover their style sensibility, and dress easily and confidently. Connect with her on Instagram and uncoveryourstyle.ca for style advice and to book a personal session.