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Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Hope Caldwell of KLH Group Is Helping To…

Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Hope Caldwell of KLH Group Is Helping To Change Our World

In this new light, it became more difficult than ever for me to understand why some of us are so fortunate, while others are living in hunger, sickness, and desperation. While my experiences in Uganda were extraordinarily profound, it wasn’t until I came home that I realized my life had changed dramatically and I was ready to blend my gifts as an event producer with my desire to serve others through social impact.

As a part of our series about leaders who are using their social media platform to make a significant social impact, we had the pleasure of interviewing Hope Caldwell.

Hope Caldwell was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated cum laude from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island with a BS in Hospitality and Tourism, a major in International Travel & Tourism and a minor in Event Management.

Hope has successfully produced luxury corporate events for many Fortune 500 companies throughout her hospitality career, having spent over a decade working various roles at a five-star property in the luxury event industry, and eventually launching the KLH Group, a full-service destination management and luxury event production company.

Passionate about serving the underserved, Hope leads medical missionary trips to Africa annually with One World Health, was honored with the 2018 Social Impact Award by Local Choice, founded Doors to Dream, a 501C-3 working to mentor and employ underserved high school students and co-founded The Spokes Group Charleston, a 501C-3 whose mission is to put deserving children on bicycles to promote health and wellness in communities.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 2012, I was enjoying the early fruits of my hard work and hustle at a top-tier provider of destination management services. Backed by academic cred and anecdotal kudos, I had built a name for myself in the realm of tourism and hospitality, but a mission trip to East Africa took my spirit for a spin. Embraced by a community almost the antithesis of American society — people achingly impoverished in possessions but resplendent in kindness and character — left me reeling … then rapturous … then resolved.

The trip re-framed my view of the world and my role in it. Neither compelled to abandon my career nor called to full-time philanthropy, I was determined to find space for both good enterprise and good humanness. I painstakingly blended and balanced these duo-purposes and harmonious virtues. By autumn of 2015, the vision that emerged was vivid enough to claim my undivided attention. The next year, I founded KLH Group.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Yes, but what’s even more striking about this “beginning” story is how it came right back around to me earlier this year. How’s that for a teaser?

Our very first clubhouse build partner was Rubbermaid. Our R&D to that point had been the construction of literally one clubhouse and the circulation of some bare bones marketing. But it was clear from our earliest planning calls that Rubbermaid’s leadership was all-in — an enthusiasm I would soon learn had been galvanized by the experience of one of their own, who had shepherded his daughter through three years of cancer treatment to eventual remission. The cause was dear to his heart and had touched the Rubbermaid family. On the day of our big build event (12 clubhouses handcrafted in one day for 12 pediatric patients), there was a charge of camaraderie and compassion in the air, and tremendous pride as all dozen precious play spaces rose up from the worksite. But gusto and high fives don’t get 1,000-pound clubhouses delivered — nor, turns out, does my buddy’s modest pickup truck.

Tail between my legs, and prayers erupting from my mouth, I drove to Lowe’s and was met at customer service by Dan. Halfway through my pitch (plea), he put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Hope, we’ve got you.” He mobilized a team, led by a man named James, who would go on to assist with our clubhouse campaign for the next three years. And here’s where it gets goose-bumpy…

Eight years after that first build event and logistical rescue, we learned that James’ daughter had been diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer. Weeks ago, we built his family a clubhouse. It is not only a full-circle story, but one that highlights how cancer strikes: many and often. A client who could have been a recipient. A recipient that had been a team member. Overlapping stories and lives that, while they are often born from painful circumstances, allow for the deepening, beautiful human connection.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we were just a tiny team of two, we traveled to Chicago for an event, and it dawned on me that Boeing — another company known for philanthropy and CSR — is headquartered in the city. Somewhat mistaking proximity for opportunity, I had the idea to make a cold call to their head of social impact. In a stroke of incredible luck, I learned a local friend knew the Boeing executive. In short order, he’d set up a meeting for us.

Riding rented bikes (before it was climate-conscious and cool) to our event the day before the meeting, we passed a tee shirt print shop, and had the idea to tap into what we’d been told was the exec’s great sense of humor. In agreement as to what we considered pretty hilarious, we commissioned a custom tee with a screen-print image of our tandem team. With our thumbs pointing at ourselves. And the text “Blazey plus “US”(photo of us) = impact” Yes, even as I re-tell it, I see all the red flags.

As we rode the elevator to Boeing’s 86th floor office, we were electrified almost as much by the epic gift as by the prospective partnership. In our favor was the fact that the head of social impact was disarming and kind. Not so much? He was fit as a fiddle, and we had bundled in a ribbon a size XL shirt.

Though we didn’t get the gig, it wasn’t due to poor sizing. The gesture landed well enough to get a good laugh, and he even tried it on — confirming that two of him could have fit in it. But Boeing had an entire team already dedicated to the design and mission of our pitch, so in the end we had to pocket it as a practice round. And the lesson learned was that there’s not much downside to humor, even (especially?) in the scenarios that seem like long shots!

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Know your WHY and develop core values based on this why — that way you have a solid foundation to make decision from and lead your team from this foundation.

Also, I just started to pray about it and do the next best thing. Take it one day at a time. It WILL be a rollercoaster — prepare yourself and surround yourself with people who support you during the highs and lows.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

I started an event production firm that specializes in creating high-end social impact experiences for our clients through customized engagement opportunities. Our clients want to make a positive impact in the communities and causes they care about. We carefully curate causes to align with company values or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

It’s cool because at KLH, we don’t just check a box to make sure our clients CSR objectives are met. We integrate our clients core values into extra-ordinary events, creating shared experiences that inspire guests and make a difference.

I KNOW there is strength in numbers and I’m not the first to say it, and I’d never deny it.

Whether it’s hands on deck or dollars in the budget, when our client’s teams work together, they have the power to set in motion the most beautiful synergy we could ever imagine. Acknowledging a need. Putting ideas into action. Effecting change collectively. Creating a ripple effect of generosity.

I know this muscle — and hustle — is there not because it can be quantified, but because I’ve witnessed its real impact in our CSR programming. And believe me when I say it is contagious.

In unmistakable ways, team-based social impact opportunities engage employees, attract talent and create consumer loyalty. All which leads to a more successful business. And that’s not just our selling point. Research shows that 78% of Americans believe companies should pursue more than just profit. Our clients’ consumers expect them to have a positive impact on society.

When we partner with organizations that match our passion for doing good, our influence is amplified. Time and again, we are reminded that there is no shortage of good companies doing great things. Many hands making light — and life-changing — work elevates the lives not only of our beneficiaries, but of those company leaders and employees who engage in our perfectly planned (and undeniably fun) social impact events.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

When you don’t know your life to be any other way, does that make the pain that punctuates it less detectable? The restrictions that limit it less confining? The setbacks that repeatedly threaten it less frustrating… or terrifying… or wholly unfair?

Luna knows no other life than the one that is punctuated by pain, limited by patient protocol, and threatened by unrelenting malignancy. At just nine months old, she was diagnosed with high-grade glioma brain cancer and began a 15-month regimen of chemotherapy right away. Halfway through, her doctors discovered a second mass on her brain and she immediately underwent surgery. Six weeks later, the tumor had returned, bigger than before. Months — and then years — that followed would be peppered with biopsies, surgeries, and multiple rounds of chemotherapy in a constant race to beat back the rapid growth and spread of tumors.

Luna is now five. And the childhood developmental milestones she’s achieved — scooting on knees before taking first steps, babbling first words before uttering full sentences, playing peek-a-boo before playing pretend — all happened in the hospital. It was her home away from home, but it looked, sounded, and smelled nothing like home. It was the safest place for her, but also the place associated with the most suffering. It was her normal. But it was nowhere near normal.

And yet… all that time, in that place, she did grow, and learn, and love. And LAUGH. She wasn’t distracting herself, or “using” humor, or being joyful in spite of her circumstances — she was simply being a kid, doing what kids do, finding wonder and silliness without even trying.

Today, she still is. Being, doing, finding — all of it. But she still has to do it under mitigated conditions, which often means isolation, due to her compromised immune system.

Luna’s story illustrates in perfect, painful detail the “why” behind KLH Group’s signature impact event program: The KLH Clubhouse Build™. A place for imaginative and uninhibited play is vital, and for kids like Luna it must also be extraordinarily safe. Moreover, kids like Luna just need that place — free from tests and treatments, hospital stays, and talk of pathology and prognosis.

Partnering with some of the nation’s most compassionate corporations, KLH has been hosting Clubhouse Builds™ in Charleston, SC, for years, but has recently begun offering an affiliate-style program where we take the whole shebang on the road to give clubhouses to brave kids like Luna in other communities. And this November, KLH is bringing a Clubhouse Build™ to the showroom floor of IMEX America in Las Vegas for hometown hero Luna. IMEX America is the premiere global meeting industry event, and we were ecstatic to not only give Luna her very own clubhouse, but to demonstrate to event attendees the significance of the Clubhouse Build™ experience so we can help more warriors like Luna who are fighting chronic illnesses across the country receive their special sanctuaries.

Over three days of the conference, guests will have the chance to add a nail, swipe of paint, or a bit of muscle to the construction of Luna’s sweet sanctuary. What is usually crafted in a single afternoon will be stretched into a slow-motion transformation, with many hands making light work and many hearts blessing little walls.

This fall, Luna will start school. The next phase of her life will begin to frame another “normal.” And perhaps the way she sees the world around her and her place in it will begin to shift away from that which she’s known to this point. In this time of transition, that little door, those tiny flower boxes, that precious play space… those will be hers to reclaim and retreat whenever she wants.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

You bet! I shared earlier that my work in East Africa has been instrumental in my decision to build a company based on social impact. I can recall one specific moment during a trip to Uganda when things changed for me. We were a group of medical professionals offering medical care in the villages outside of Massindi, Uganda. We had been on this trip for four days, and on the fifth day, we were in the small, isolated village of Rinyanna, located among beautiful mountains. It had been a long day and we had seen over 250 patients. My role on these trips was to help lead the team, make sure they were taken care of and had everything they needed. At this point we were getting ready to pack up and I looked over and saw a woman under a tree with a baby in her arms. The team said she had been there all day and hadn’t moved, not for water, for restroom relief, or just to stretch her legs. Her baby seemed to not have moved either. I approached the woman to say hello and ask if I could pray for her because we were not seeing any more patients for the day. What I found was a woman who hadn’t eaten in days and a child who was so malnourished his bones were popping out of his skin. The woman was young, and it smelled like neither she nor her baby had bathed in months. The baby couldn’t even keep his eyes open, and he was so malnourished that he had blisters on his skin and cracks all around his mouth. I sat with her, and she took my hand, and with tears in her eyes told me she could no longer care for her baby.

That was A LOT to digest for anyone, but at the time, my husband and I had started the international adoption process so the comment she made was extra gut wrenching. She said that she was so young, and didn’t have a home, food, or water. And then she said something so profound that it still rings in my ears every single night before I go to sleep. She asked if I would take her baby home with me. Of course, I couldn’t take this woman’s baby — this isn’t the way things work, and it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But this moment changed the way I thought about adoption. Years later we have a beautiful son from China, but this moment prepared me for the very real trauma that happens during adoption. While adoption is a beautiful thing, something traumatic often leads to a mother or caregiver willfully giving up her child. It often means that the biological parent is so desperate that they have no hope and no remaining options. So, what does this mean for impact?

In this new light, it became more difficult than ever for me to understand why some of us are so fortunate, while others are living in hunger, sickness, and desperation. While my experiences in Uganda were extraordinarily profound, it wasn’t until I came home that I realized my life had changed dramatically and I was ready to blend my gifts as an event producer with my desire to serve others through social impact.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Reach out to KLH Group to schedule purposeful events (i.e., signature clubhouse events nationwide)
  2. Tie donor dollars to specific recipients (share their story)
  3. Email campaign for events/donations

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

Our strategy has been to design memorable events that deliver huge impact. When you bring a group of people together, you can create magical momentum.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Making an impact and making money are not mutually exclusive
  2. Know your WHY — eat, sleep and breathe your why — that way when shit gets tough you know who the heck you’re doing it for.
  3. You will NOT do it perfectly. You WILL fail — it’s all about how quickly you recover
  4. There will always be nay-sayers. Expect it. Pray for them 🙂
  5. Your voice doesn’t have to be the loudest — it just has to be a contributor

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Tailored events such as the Clubhouse Build™ Signature Event can build serious momentum and make it fun and easy for anyone to contribute with KLH Group providing a step-by-step guide on creating a purposeful event.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I know God will never give me more than I can handle…. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much. “Mother Theresa”

I love this quote. It’s humorous from someone unexpectedly funny. It also reminds me that humor is ok even when things are heavy.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a power lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Oprah Winfrey and share with her how big of an impact we are making through service work. I feel like she would be all over it!! And lunch with Dave Ramsey — to let him know his program has helped my marriage tremendously and has allowed our company to stay debt free which frees up more money and time to give generously.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Hope Caldwell of KLH Group Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.