As a board member of locally based Wisdom Collective, a family of major nonprofits with the mission to inspire the next generation of community leaders, Heather Kirsebom says there’s one principle that has guided her professional trajectory to where she is today: “Everything you touch needs to have a lasting impression. You just have to show up.”
Growing up a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Kirsebom watched her parents navigate life in a hearing world, where they often had to fight to be acknowledged or seen. From a young age, she was taught how to take a stand and advocate for her loved ones, serving as her parents’ ASL interpreter in public spaces. Experiencing this type of “otherness” is what drew her to nonprofit work and led her to become an eventual founding board member of I CAN, an organization that empowers children aged out of foster care to believe in ideas and possibility.
The mission behind I CAN is to create infinite ripples of possibility. I understand that there’s literal and figurative meaning at play here. Can you elaborate on this?
A division of I CAN is S/Y Wisdom, a project that gives foster youth 100 days at sea to learn new life skills and passion. What so many foster kids lack, especially those aging out of the system, are opportunities to learn more about the world, try new things, and find new passions. There is less than a 3 percent chance for children who have aged out of the foster care system to earn a college degree at any point in their life. And one out of every two foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.
Can you tell us more about the program and give a glimpse into what that 100- day stay looks like?
When these kids come aboard [a 100-foot sailing ship named Wisdom], they get to see the world through a new lens. They not only gain experience exploring the Caribbean; they learn general seamanship, how to dive, CPR skills, and the fundamentals of marine biology. The goal is to provide an “I can” attitude, see what a passion-filled life looks like, and break the cycle. Through our foster care network, we identify individuals through a screening process and welcome six to eight kids aboard per trip. Wisdom sets sail three times a year; our maiden voyage left the port in April and will be at sea through July.
Why is this cause so important to you?
My mom was a foster care child, and while she was lucky to not hear the disruption of the chaos, she always craved a home base. Her mom loved her dearly but battled alcoholism and was unable to take care of her and her sister. As she moved from home to home, navigating lonely and difficult situations, her grandma instilled an “I can” mentality in her. Through her grandma, my mom learned that she can overcome adversity, she can learn new things, and she can be a successful woman.
Though you’re a born and raised Minnesotan, you lived in L.A. for quite some time. What brought you back here?
When the pandemic hit, I really started to crave being back in more natural spaces and into community. I almost lost sight of the benefit and value of being on water and how unique that is—it really reignited my love for the lakes. Getting out on the lake or into the woods is my secret sauce; it’s where I’ve learned balance.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’m all about purchasing better, not more. I’ve leaned into having a capsule wardrobe: mixing and matching high-low pieces that are functional, sustainable, and fashion-forward all at once.
Tell us about your Evereve fitting.
Well, now I wish I could have someone style me every day! It’s fun to have another individual push you to try new things that make you authentically you.
On Kirsebom: Dana tie sleeve jumpsuit ($118), Dolce Vita Paily sandals ($125), earrings ($36), from EVEREVE, evereve.com
This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine as part of our series, The Foreword, presented by Evereve.