Helping is the only option for local
LAUGHLIN — A lifetime of giving keeps one Laughlin resident rolling.
“I just can’t see not helping people,” said Kathleen Whitehead.
That simple declaration sums up Whitehead’s life of service, not only the 14 months in the U.S. Air Force or the years she spent working as a counselor, but also the many hours she’s dedicated to volunteering throughout her life.
For Whitehead, born in Bremerton, Wash., the journey to avid volunteer began as a student. She attended Catholic school where giving to your community was doctrine, she said.
“I went to Catholic school 10 years out of 12 and one thing they pushed was volunteerism,” said Whitehead.
Her dad was an alcoholic and her mom worked long hours as a waitress to put Whitehead and her five siblings through Catholic school, she said.
Whitehead was shy but in the sixth and seventh grade her principal pushed for students to become involved.
“So I started out making mission rosaries,” the mother of two sons said.
She continued making those rosaries at another school and even into adulthood, said Whitehead, estimating she’s made half a million rosaries over the years.
Whitehead was influenced by he father’s membership in the American Legion and the Elks Lodge, she said.
Throughout her youth, she was exposed to people who would offer help, ensuring the financially strapped family made ends meet, Whitehead said. As a young girl, she started the school year with only one dress.
Whitehead joined the U.S. Air Force in 1969, carrying on a family tradition, and was honorably discharged in 1970 when she became pregnant with her first son, she said.
Whitehead eventually earned her master’s degree in counseling from Chapman University and continued her efforts to help others through her work.
She remembers her time at the Tucson state prison fondly. While Whitehead lived in the Tri-State from 2001 to 2004, she moved back to Tucson because her son, Jeff, became ill with Hodgkins Lymphoma.
“He should have died,” said Whitehead. “His chest was black with cancer.”
At the time she was working at the prison and the guys from the mental health/substance abuse house decided to do a prayer circle for her son when they found out why she’d been absent, said Whitehead.
“They got with the corrections officer and said they would do a prayer circle once in the morning and once in the evening,” said Whitehead. “They were told no and they said ‘yes we are or we’ll riot.’”
And so they did — they prayed twice a day while Jeff was in treatment and even signed a card for him, she remembered with a smile.
“Within six months, Jeff was cancer free,” Whitehead said. “It was a miracle.”
What happened with those men is a testament of what can happen by helping others, said Whitehead.
Whitehead’s latest project includes spearheading a crocheting group that makes a variety of items for local organizations, including prayer shawls for oncology patients, baby items for neonatal intensive care units and blankets and lap warmers for victims of domestic violence.
The neat thing about the afghans donated to the Bullhead City Domestic Violence Shelter is that the afghans are given to the women, she said. When the women leave, they can take the afghan with them.
Whitehead, who is always looking to ease suffering was given a piece of advice she’s taken to heart by a women she encountered while working on a community newsletter.
“She said ‘you need to look around your own community and see what you can do for others,’” said Whitehead.
So, that’s what Whitehead did, she said.
“I always wanted to do a prayer shawl group,” said Whitehead.
She started the newly renamed Loving Hands Knit and Crochet Group, formerly the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Prayer Shawl Group/Tri-City Community Prayer Shawl Group. The group has changed its name several times in order to find one that best fits what they do, Whitehead explained.
The group started out with just Whitehead, then it was two women. At this point, the group is 15 to 20 women knitting and crocheting various items for donation, Whitehead said.
The group started with prayer shawls and those simple gifts hold a special spot in Whitehead’s heart, she said.
“It’s a shawl, or it can be a stole, and whoever’s making it says a prayer for whoever the shawl is going to be for,” said Whitehead. “We make it big enough to wrap around you.”
All the shawls are blessed by a priest before they go anywhere, she said.
Whitehead takes them to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on El Mirage Way on Sundays to be blessed and that is usually when she is approached by those who find comfort in the group’s work, she said.
One woman approached Whitehead for a shawl for her sister who had cancer. The women’s sister wore the shawl all the time and the cancer went away, said Whitehead.
“So that’s why we say ‘it’s full of hugs, prayers and love,’” she continued.
Whitehead doesn’t stop with crocheting, knitting and rosary making, sometimes helping is about making connections.
Whitehead connected 4-H community based instructor Will Douglas with the American Legion Richard Springston Post 60 so the Post could donate funds to get students to summer camp; she also spoke with the Legion Post about supporting the Shop With a Cop program and a dinner was held to raise money for it.
Whitehead attends Laughlin Town Advisory Board meetings because she often hears neighbors and community members complaining about things, she said.
“My motto is — ‘see something, say something, do something,’” Whitehead said.
Despite still being shy, Whitehead approaches different people and simply asks what she can do to help, she said.
And that’s how she keeps rolling from one project to the next.