Kidscapes creator says being laid off gave her the chance to follow a dream and honor a beloved cousin
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
Shannan Wilkerson-Brown fell victim to corporate downsizing last Nov. 4 for the third time. But this time, she said, she didn’t cry or get upset. Instead, “I actually felt good,” she said. Where others might have seen only a devastating setback, Wilkerson-Brown saw an opportunity, and she reached out and grabbed it with both hands.
And by Dec. 18, the 39-year-old mother of one had launched Kidscapes Foundation, fulfilling a dream and honoring the late cousin she had loved like a brother.
“I had had this idea in my head for a long time. But I never had the time to really get it going,” Wilkerson-Brown said. “Then the day I was laid off, I stayed up until 6 o’clock the next morning and got all the text ready for the website.”
That next morning, she sent the text off to the web designer, and by Dec. 1, the Kidscapes website was up and running. And on Dec. 18, the foundation was officially launched.
The mission of Kidscapes Foundation, Wilkerson-Brown explained, is to “change the landscape of a child’s life” by working in three areas: providing financial assistance to children who are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, providing free life insurance policies to economically disadvantaged children and enriching children’s lives through programs focusing on education, fitness and art.
Wilkerson-Brown said that finding ways to help children impacted HIV/AIDS is perhaps the primary motivating factor behind Kidscapes, because she started the foundation to honor the memory of her cousin who died of AIDS at the age of 23.
“He was such a beautiful man, and we were so close. I am an only child, and he was like my brother. It was just devastating to me when he died,” she said.
Wilkerson-Brown launched Kidscapes last Dec. 18 with the “Back to Life” campaign that collected backpacks and school supplies to children from low-income families. On Valentine’s Day this year, Kidscapes held the Act of Love Day during which those backpacks and school supplies were distributed. And earlier this month, Wilkerson-Brown staged the foundation’s first fundraising event, the Hugs and Love Happy Hour at Kenichi sushi restaurant.
But this week has been perhaps the most hectic yet as Wilkerson-Brown rushes to handle the last-minute details as she gets ready for the foundation’s biggest project so far: Art Camp, next Monday through Friday at the African-American Museum in Fair Park.
So far, she said, about 20 children are registered for the week of activities that include lessons in photography, painting, sculpture, music and dance. There is room for five to 10 children more, and plenty of room for artists in all media who want to volunteer their time.
“I could especially use some more performers for the final day of the camp to perform for the children,” Wilkerson-Brown said. “Performance time will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. next Friday, about 15 minutes for each person, and we’re looking for people to sing or dance or read poetry — anything like that to entertain the kids.”
Right now, Wilkerson-Brown is running the show on her own, with the help of a few voluntters. She said she would gladly welcome new volunteers who could help with any aspect of the foundation, from the administrative end to fundraising to outreach through social media.
“Right now, I really need to work on getting some grants, some funding,” she said, adding that she launched the foundation last winter using only $500 of her own money.
Now, though, she would like to secure more substantial funding so that she afford to hire a full-time staff member.
Wilkerson-Brown was forced to put the interview on hold for a minute as she answers a text from someone helping organize the art camp. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s just been so hectic this week, trying to get everything done.”
She paused for a moment and then continued, “It’s been tough. I’ve really been missing my cousin. This is going to be so wonderful, and I really, really wish he could be here to be part of all this.
“When I was laid off last November, I thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Wilkerson-Brown continued. “I truly believe a cure [for AIDS] is coming, and I want to create something that will be here for these children, the ones impacted by HIV and the ones whose families don’t have money. I want to build something that will make this community better for everyone.”
To volunteer for Kidscapes Foundation or for the Art Camp, or to register a child for the Art Camp, contact Shannan Wilkerson-Brown by phone at 214-394-4541 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the foundation, go online to KidscapesFoundation.org.