We met Kaitlyn Chana because we all did the same program, The Congressional Award, and we reached out to talk to her more about what she did to earn her Gold Medal from Congress. Little did we know at the time how ambitious and accomplished Kaitlyn is. She currently works as a Multimedia Journalist at the NBC affiliate WLBZ in Bangor, Maine. Kaitlyn covers a range of stories, develops sources, delivers news to an online audience, and provides dynamic live coverage, among many other duties.
Kaitlyn has also run her own non-profit organization, so she knows very well how important time management and being organized is for success. Kaitlyn is generous with her time and advice, and it is clear how passionate she is about helping others. Read on to learn more about what it means to be a multimedia journalist, what it was like running a non-profit, and what advice she would give to her younger self.
*Fun fact about Kaitlyn – she is profiled in our book, Youth’s Highest Honor!
Kaitlyn Chana: For me, it means taking advantage of the opportunities around you. Be a go-getter; go after your dreams by putting yourself out there so you can learn and prosper. As a teen, stretch your resources, push your personal boundaries, and challenge yourself daily. No one can teach you about yourself, except you.
CJ: You studied Broadcast Journalism and Radio/Television at University of Central Florida. How did you determine what to study?
KC: Since 6th grade, I’ve wanted to be a storyteller. As a reporter, you need to build rapport and trust while informing the public and providing objective standpoints surrounding the community. I’ve always wanted to tell stories for a living. Journalism fuels my curiosity of wanting to know more, so in college I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve always known that journalism is my calling. Everyone in life has a personal story of excitement, love, desperation, hurt or a driven message. I want to be the journalist who strives for purpose, bringing truth, and helping others to open their hearts.
CJ: You have held many internships in journalism at places such as TODAY Show in New York City and WKMG in Orlando, Florida. What were these experiences like?
KC: Internships are key. I gained so much insight by observing and making mistakes. Yes, mistakes will happen, and that’s normal. But it’s important you learn from these mistakes so it doesn’t become a repeat offence. Interning at the TODAY Show was remarkable. I was involved in the news gathering process, setting up interviews, researching and working with the talent. Local markets, like WKMG in Orlando, taught me how to write short and concise stories. TV is all about sound, video, and images. Creativity is important in the news industry.
CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2010. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
KC: I found this program intriguing because it allowed me to set and achieve goals that build character, foster community service, personal development and citizenship. This three-year commitment propelled me to become a motivated goal setter while being an interactive team player. I learned how to sculpt my schedule so I could juggle all my responsibilities. My greatest takeaway is balancing my activities and managing my time.
CJ: You are the Founder and President of Love Letters: Random Cards of Kindness. What inspired you to start this international non-profit organization, and what does your role entail?
KC: My inspiration came from an extraordinary woman named Linda Bremner, who founded Love Letters Inc., when her son, Andy, battled cancer. Having participated in a Girl Scout activity for Love Letters, Inc. years earlier, I revisited it when I needed to complete a community service project in eighth grade. After contacting Linda through email and phone conversations we formed a very meaningful friendship. At the close of one of our phone conversations she told me, “It only takes one person to move a mountain and then others will follow.” While I didn’t know exactly what she meant at the time, I wrote her beautiful quote in my book to always remember. Shortly after that, I received word that Linda had passed away and at her request the national organization, Love Letters Inc., was closed. My hands gravitated to Linda’s quote and I instantly realized that it was my turn to be the one to move the mountain to help children with medical challenges. It then became my passion to carry on Linda’s legacy by encouraging others to create inspiring homemade cards for children with life-threatening illnesses.
So, in high school I became the Founder and President of Love Letters: Random Cards of Kindness, Inc. which was a 501 (c) (3) non-profit national organization whose mission was to create positive and inspirational homemade cards for children with life-threatening illnesses. Each card was unique because it was created by hand using stamps, stickers, scrapbook paper, and art supplies. Inside each one an uplifting message such as “Sending You a Great Big Hug” or “You Shine like a Star” was written to give children faith, courage and the will to survive.
Once the cards were created, I’d examine each card and hand deliver some to individual children going through the difficult times of treatments and surgeries and others to hospitals and organizations such as Give Kids the World, the Ronald McDonald House, and Keiki Cards so they could distribute the sincere messages. The remaining cards were sent with love through the mail to help lift children’s spirits. Doctors can’t prescribe love; it’s typically left to a volunteer to fill this prescription by restoring the patient’s dreams. Through Love Letters cards we were able to touch the lives of 120,000 children with life-threatening illnesses. I had to close the organization because I couldn’t continue the success of our mission and my full-time reporting job. My passion is in telling stories and I want to inspire people with my pieces, so all my energy is devoted to reporting.
CJ: How did you go about starting a non-profit organization, and what do you wish you had known before launching?
KC: Starting a non-profit is truly like running a small enterprise business. It’s a lot of work, yet with the right tender, love and care the imaginable is possible. I took a non-profit course during my high school years so I could have a strong understanding of the legal documents associated with my organization. My responsibility not only centered around the actual volunteering, but also the finances, management, recruiting of volunteers, working on grants, marketing my mission, and being an active presence with the organization’s brand. It was a 24/7 job.
CJ: In addition to running Love Letters, you are a multimedia journalist. What does it mean to be a multimedia journalist?
KC: A multimedia journalist or ‘one-man-band’ means you do the job of four people as one person. I have to enterprise my own story ideas, interview my subjects, write, edit, anchor that portion, write a web story, and have a strong social media presence. That’s all in a day’s work. It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination because there are many deadlines. Deadlines can be your best friend or worst enemy. You always want to stay ahead of the clock. You need to be tech savvy; sometimes I edit my stories in remote places and feed the content back to the station. Also, I set up my own live shots and lights for when I’m going live in the field.
CJ: What advice do you have for youth who are interested in being journalists, or who are interested in starting their own non-profit organization?
KC: Never give up! Always follow your dreams and passion. Don’t let negative comments steer you into a direction you disagree with. There will be days when you feel like you’ve been run over by a semi-truck. That’s when you are going to be tested the most. So, pick yourself up, get back on track and keep going.
CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on school and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?
KC: Currently, I work as a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Bangor, Maine. There is no general day! Every day is different depending on the story. Sometimes it’s an early morning live shoot covering breaking news or staying late to interview someone. The only thing that is constant is that we are live in our news shows from 5PM to 6:30PM. And I need to be ‘camera ready’ and look well-rested… news never stops and neither does my job. Every Monday is different. Once I go to bed, I get up the next day and get ready for another unpredictable day.
CJ: How do you stay organized and manage your time?
KC: Organization is key. If I wasn’t organized then I wouldn’t be effective or efficient, and I’d be left behind in my job. I’m very meticulous, to the point that everything in my office is color-coded and in similar binders and folders. My life revolves around calendars and sticky notes.
CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?
KC: At heart, I’m a perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect. But, how do we define perfection? I remind myself daily that being perfect all the time dampers the beauty of life. In reality, I want to be imperfectly perfect.
CJ: What is a book you read in school that has positively shaped you?
KC: In third grade, I read The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto, and it was almost as if the words on the page were speaking to me. The frigid temperatures, walloping snow, and miserable wind kept hounding lead dog, Balto, as he carried medicine to sick children miles away in Nome, Alaska. These incredible athletes were inspiring and moved me to want to be a musher in the Iditarod. For years, I studied the race, the remarkable dogs, and their mushers. As a reporter, I covered the Can-Am Crown 250 this year, which is a qualifier race for the Iditarod. I was beside myself as I got to see the sport in its entirety right before my eyes. A surreal experience; it started because of this book.
CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?
KC: Each day I allot time for me; to work out, read a compelling story, spend time with family/friends, or do something life-affirming. Structure is fantastic, but you have to have a little ‘wiggle room’ to breath and let lose. On those sour days, it’s important for me to break down my walls and do something physical. I reflect on my actions best when working out on the Stairmaster.
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
KC: Don’t rush yourself into growing up. Appreciate the ‘present’ and be in the ‘present.’ Learn to enjoy developing into the woman you’d like to see. It won’t happen overnight, so as you take detours and back roads reflect and appreciate all the avenues you’ve been given.
Images by Kaitlyn Chana