November 20, 2012
A fond farewell to Kathy Kiddy, who is ‘retiring’
after almost two decades of shepherding Hatteras teens
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
hear stories all the time, especially this time of year, about people
whose actions have a profound impact on the lives of others. The
stories are familiar—the teacher who never gave up on them, the mentor
who helped them find their way, the stranger whose unsolicited kindness
altered, however permanently or briefly, the way they saw the world.
in spite of the clichés, and sometimes in spite of ourselves, we almost
invariably come away with that warm fuzzy feeling—the one that
refreshes our stores of good will toward men and reminds us, if only
for a moment, that we are, or at least can be, much more than just the
sum of our parts.
Whether they’ve told them or not, many
people have their own personal versions of these stories tucked
away. And for a lot of kids and families from Hatteras Island,
those stories probably involve a woman named Kathy Kiddy.
the better part of two decades, “Miss Kathy” put all of her time and
every ounce of her effervescent energy into running the Cape Hatteras
Teen Association, Inc. -- or, as it was more affectionately called,
The organization is probably best known for
sponsoring social and cultural activities for local teens. Visitors to
the island likely remember seeing or visiting Locomotion’s Changing
Tide thrift store in Buxton, which Kiddy started as a way to raise
funds and increase visibility for the organization.
the teen association wasn’t Kiddy’s idea—she wasn’t even one of its
founding members—her name has become synonymous with the organization.
It was Kiddy who stepped in to save the organization when it was about
to fall apart, and it was Kiddy who spent the next 15 years of her life
as a tireless advocate for the kids who needed it.
She was the engine that powered Locomotion. And she had a terrific run.
she is getting ready to retire and give up her leadership in the
organization. And she is fervently hoping someone else will step up to
the plate to help Hatteras teens.
It all started back in 1994,
when a group of students at the high school, who were frustrated by the
lack of extracurricular opportunities available to them and who
ultimately wanted to have a safe, inclusive space within the community
where they could go to hang out, came up with the idea for a teen
They approached the local Kiwanis club with the
idea, and the Kiwanians immediately jumped on board. Together, they
raised almost $40,000—an impressive sum by today’s standards, but a
small fortune in 1994.
The excitement was palpable, and things moved pretty fast from there.
a year, a board was formed to oversee the association’s operations, and
they were quickly granted 501(c)3 non-profit status. Soon after that,
they purchased insurance to protect officers and directors from
personal lawsuits, and they secured the old Brew-Thru building in
Frisco to serve as their headquarters and as the recreation space the
students had wanted.
By 1995, the necessary repairs to the
building had been completed, and the teen center—located in what is now
the Frisco Sandwich Company—opened its doors.
It offered students food, drinks, music, pool tables, ping-pong tables, and plenty of space in which to gather and socialize.
building operated as a drop-in center, and it was supervised entirely
by volunteers who were organized by board-selected volunteer
coordinators from Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras villages.
Kiddy got involved by serving as the village volunteer coordinator for Buxton.
In addition, she and her husband Russ were members of the parent support group that met at the teen center.
were a group of parents, myself and my husband included, who felt that
our teenage children were doing things that they shouldn’t,” said
Kiddy. “Whether it was smoking pot, drinking beer, partying, or
whatever...we were concerned,” she said. “The basis for the teen
organization was to catch them before they fall off the mountain.”
quickly realized what an asset the teen association could be to the
community—not just as an outlet for the kids, but also as a resource
for the parents.
And then the money ran out.
upset, and she contacted a local preacher, Rev. Jim Huskins, and asked
him if he would do a funeral service for the teen association.
don’t know if I was being coy or flip or just sad,” she said, “but I
said, ‘It’s all but dead, so we might as well go ahead and bury it.’”
Huskins didn’t do the funeral service. Instead, he gave Kiddy some
advice. He suggested that she go to the county commissioners and ask
for some money. So Kiddy and her husband took the idea to the teen
association board, and they gave her permission to approach the county
on behalf of the organization.
Kiddy, Jackie Leeling, and
Debbie Martin drew up a proposal and took it to the Dare County Board
of Commissioners at their next meeting. The county gave them $5,000,
and Kiddy and her husband offered to pay all of the organizations
outstanding bills out of their own pockets.
The teen association was out of the red, but it wasn’t exactly in the clear.
had to give up the building they had been renting, and without the
drop-in center, which had been the focal point of the organization,
they knew that their whole approach would have to change.
That’s when “Locomotion” was born.
idea was that, instead of having a fixed location, they would organize
different types of events and activities all over the island—and
beyond—and they would use county vans to transport the kids to and from
But a venue wasn’t the only void left by the
sacrifice of the teen center. The building had given the association a
kind of identity—something with which people could associate the
organization, something that grounded it in the community. They needed
an equivalent for Locomotion, a brand ambassador of sorts.
They needed Kathy Kiddy.
see, working with young people—teenagers especially—is one of those
things that is a universally acknowledged good, and yet, is something
that few people actually want to do and even fewer people can actually
If you have teenagers, know teenagers, or
remember being a teenager, it’s not too difficult to understand why. As
a crucible for maturity, adolescence is a painful and exciting and sad
and fun and terrifying and confusing and chaotic experience.
of us barely made it out alive the first time, and it’s a person with a
rare cocktail of virtues—along with a spirit of adventure, an infinite
supply of optimism, and maybe just a dash of plain ol’ foolishness—who
has the guts to go back in.
Fortunately, Kathy Kiddy is just that kind of person.
husband uses the analogy that I’m like a beagle,” she said with a
smile. “I just squint my eyes and jump in the briar patch.”
for the Cape Hatteras Teen Association, she was willing to jump in the
briar patch for half of what they had paid her predecessors.
be fair, the board offered her the same salary they had paid the other
directors. But Kiddy knew their financial situation and knew what it
would take to run the organization. So, she agreed to take half the
previous director’s salary with the idea that, when the organization
was more financially secure, they would renegotiate.
And then she got right down to the business of rebuilding the teen association.
her first event, Kiddy scheduled a Bingo game at the community building
in Rodanthe. Never one to shy away from a challenge, she chose Rodanthe
specifically because her dad had always told her, affectionately, that
the tri-villagers were “tough nuts to crack.” Naturally, she wanted to
Only four kids showed up.
Her family was
worried about her when the event was over. They were concerned that she
would feel hurt or defeated by the outcome. But it was just the
opposite—Kiddy was on cloud nine.
“I was riding on high coming home,” she said, laughing. “I was thinking, ‘I had four kids! I did it! I cracked the nut!’”
importantly, though, she said the experience helped her see the big
picture, to get some perspective on what she was doing. “It set me up
to understand that, if what I did personally, professionally—if what
locomotion provided—was but for one child, then it was worth it.”
Of course, she then spent the next 15 or so years trying to reach every child on the island.
There just aren’t a lot of people like that.
was never a time that she didn’t provide us what we asked for,” said
Jean Taylor, the principal at Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal
Studies. “It was never ‘I don’t have time.’ It was ‘When do you need
it?’ We always knew we could call Kathy.”
That kind of dependability is part of what made her so good at her job—in more ways than one.
it gave her professional credibility, but it also wasn’t lost on the
kids she worked with. Teenagers are more perceptive than we adults tend
to give them credit for. They know the value trust, and they trusted
In turn, their trust was something Kiddy never took
lightly. “I think that is why I have been successful as a director,”
she said. “Yes, I’m over-the-top, but I know when to keep a confidence.
And breaking a child’s confidence is something that should never be
But the ability to gain the kids’ trust, though critically important, wasn’t the only thing that made Kiddy so successful.
had a way of getting students to volunteer to do things,” Taylor said.
“She had a way of getting you so captivated that you’d say yes.”
Under Kiddy’s direction, Locomotion flourished.
organized school dances, for both middle and high school students, as
well as pre-prom events like Cinderella’s Closet, where Kiddy collected
all manner of formal wear and finery and allowed prom-bound students to
go “shopping” in the Locomotion thrift store for free. There were also
after-prom events, including trips to the Busch Gardens theme park.
held fundraisers, like the annual Seal Swim and orchestrated
school-related events, such as the bi-annual principal’s list
receptions and yearly graduation celebrations.
helped bring supplemental educational opportunities to the students,
including a presentation about abstinence and teen pregnancy through
East Carolina University’s Baby Think it Over (BTIO) program and
seminars about the importance of self-esteem and the effects of
bullying, which Kiddy led herself.
Kiddy also pushed hard for
cultural activities and artistic outlets for the students. When she
could, she would get tickets to plays at operas that were showing at
the Scope Theater in Norfolk, Va.—shows like “The Phantom of the Opera”
On one of those outings, she and another
adult had taken a group of sixth-grade students to see a play that
starred Alan Thicke—who, in case you have forgottten, is famous for
playing the head of the Seaver household on the TV show “Growing
As they were leaving the play, Kiddy spotted Thicke, who was heading toward his bus, and pointed him out to the students.
I don’t care how old you are, or how cool you think you’ve become,
catching a glimpse of a genuinely famous person is pretty exciting,
especially if you’re from a small town and especially if that person
used to be Jason Seaver.
So Kiddy encouraged them to get
out their playbills and ask Thicke to sign them. They were all nervous
and little bit unsure of themselves, and Kiddy was getting worried that
they would miss out on the opportunity.
But just before Thicke
stepped onto the bus, one of the kids worked up the nerve to ask him to
sign his booklet. Thicke said he would be honored.
their classmates’ success, the other students ran over to get their
playbills autographed, too. Then they loaded the bus and headed
to the Golden Corral for dinner, which was their tradition on such
By the time they got to the restaurant, Kiddy said, their general excitement had morphed into full-blown celebrity fever.
“They were so star struck. And it just kind of hit me like a ton of bricks—you gotta cool this fire off.”
cooling down a sixth-grade fire can be a bit tricky, Kiddy chose her
move very carefully. She got their attention, and asked all of them to
sign her playbill.
And while they stared at her in confusion,
she validated them by acknowledging the utter awesomeness of getting to
meet someone famous, then she calmly explained that each of them was
just as awesome, and every bit as important, as Alan Thicke.
Playbills started flying around the table, everyone clamoring for everyone else’s signature.
when the waitress, a fairly young woman and a complete stranger to
everyone in the group, came to the table, the same intrepid young man
who had first approached Alan Thicke, looked her dead in the eye and
asked if he could have her autograph, too.
She was stunned,
but she stayed at their table until she had autographed every single
one of those kids’ booklets. After they had all eaten, the kids
got together and decided they wanted to give her a really big tip. They
ended up leaving her $40.
Not too long ago, that boy, now a
full-grown adult, saw Kiddy out and about one day. He came up to her,
gave her a hug, and said, “Miss Kathy, I sure do love you.”
When you hear Kiddy tell that kind of story, it’s hard to imagine that she’s retiring. But that’s exactly what she’s doing.
“It’s time for me to step back,” she said. “Time for me to step away.”
the county gave the teen association that first $5,000—and after seeing
how important and beneficial their work had been—they were able to work
the organization into their annual budget. She is grateful for
the support of a Hatteras Island commissioner, the late Mac Midgett of
Rodanthe. In the years that followed, the organization received
about $18,000 from the county, and raised the rest of the $30,000
operating cost on its own.
Then the county funds dropped to $10,000, then to $6,000, and eventually, the county cut out funding for Locomotion altogether.
a couple of years, Kiddy managed to operate the organization on what
she brought in through fundraising efforts and by running the thrift
Then came Hurricane Irene.
In the wake of
the storm, Kiddy was flooded with calls requesting food and clothing
for island kids. She helped whenever and however she could, until
eventually, she couldn’t afford—either in time or money—to keep the
store open. She had to give it up.
Not having the store really
decreased Locomotion’s visibility, and what funds were left in the
organization’s coffers began to quickly disappear.
And then this year, sometime in October, the teen association’s insurance expired, and there was no money to purchase more.
That was the final straw for Kiddy.
had jumped in a lot of briar patches, and she may have been willing to
jump in a few more, but running a non-profit—especially one like
Locomotion—without insurance was one patch she wouldn’t touch. It was
just too dangerous, no matter how hard she squinted.
15 years of dances, fundraisers, plays, seminars, and faithful service
to a community that loved her just as much as she loved it, Kathy Kiddy
is walking away from The Hatteras Island Teen Association, Inc.
a tremendous loss for Hatteras,” Taylor said, adding that, without a
doubt, “the lives of the students whose spirits she touched are much
richer because of her...there won’t be another Kathy Kiddy.”
It’s a legacy that Kiddy is rightfully proud of.
know that everything I’ve done, I’ve done for the right reasons,” she
said. “I’m leaving with my joy, and I’m living with no regrets.”
she is taking the name “Locomotion” with her, she is leaving the
association itself intact and in good standing. And she desperately
wants to pass the torch to a new generation of community leaders. There
may never be another Kathy Kiddy, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be
another director of the organization.
“My greatest hope,” she said, clearly starting to choke up, “is that it won’t die.”
has said that she hopes the community will realize the impact a
non-profit organization focused on helping kids can have, and that they
will come together to form another board and revive the association.
though she noted that she would be more than willing to help guide
someone through the process and be available as a resource, she was
adamant that she will not sit on another board, nor will she run
She’s serious about retiring, and she has big plans for this new chapter in her life.
and her daughter, Christy Oberbeck, recently opened a new thrift
store—a for-profit store—in Frisco, and when asked what she was going
to do now, she said, confidently and happily, “I’m going to run my
business, love my husband, and,” she paused for a moment and smiled,
“and I’m going to continue to help with fundraising for children’s
If you would like to support the community’s efforts in
the absence of The Hatteras Island Teen Association, Inc., Conner’s
Supermarket has set up a fund called “Fueling the Future.” Anyone can
donate and all proceeds will be used to benefit the youth of Hatteras