Heroes risk their lives to save others. They are often first in line when disaster strikes, like 9/11, United Flight 93, hurricane Katrina, Columbine, and the current pandemic.
Heroes sacrifice their comfort for others. Mother Teresa certainly embodies this. She devoted her life to serving the poor of Calcutta, India, and stood her ground against naysayers.
Heroes are empathetic and provide a voice for the voiceless. Princess Diana used her position of power and fame to give hope and comfort to the marginalized. Her humanitarian work left a long-lasting legacy of hope.
As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cherie Werner.
Cherie is co-founder and Chief Kindness Officer for KOYA, a radically new way to help you stay meaningfully connected to those you care about. She is also the GM for essentiallyKIND, a web offering making it easy to show gratitude to others. Cherie is a certified life coach, the seller of clean-crafted wines, a pre-marriage counselor, and served over 20 years as a home-based educator/facilitator. She was the inspiration for Bones in Motion, the first start-up to track distance, pace, and calories burned using the mobile phone’s GPS in 2003 and helped with their go-to-market strategy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
I was born on a military base in Amarillo, TX. Travel was a large part of my childhood because my father served in the Air Force. We moved to Germany for a couple of years and then back to the Lone Star State. When I was seven, my parents divorced, and my mom settled down in Opelousas, Louisiana to be close to her parents. My mother was resilient and worked hard to provide for my sister and me. She purchased and ran her own business, a community 24-hour answering service with the old cord-style switchboards. It eventually provided me with one of my many jobs in high school.
After high school, I became the first in my family to graduate from college, where I met my husband of 35 years. We currently reside in Austin, TX, along with our three adult daughters.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
While I can’t think of a particular book, two authors have been instrumental in shaping my life. Most recently, Brené Brown’s books have taught me what it means to be imperfect and vulnerable. I’ve learned how to brave the wilderness, dare greatly, dare to lead, and rise strong. Brené Brown’s value for vulnerability opened me up to try new things and new ways of being. I am grateful for her ability to simplify previously stigmatized words, including vulnerability. It’s incredible the impact this de-stigmatization has made within our culture.
Sally Clarkson’s books had a profound impact in shaping and transforming my life early on. Sally’s high regard for being a mom provided me with a north star. Becoming a mom was a life-altering experience for which I felt ill-equipped. I was always searching for purpose in my life. When I had children, I found my purpose as I loved being a mother. I’m forever grateful that I was able to cultivate a family bond that transcends time and distance through Sally’s teachings and words. Next to my husband, my daughters are some of my best friends.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time.” — Brené Brown.
I love that it is possible to be both brave and afraid in the same breath. After spending a few decades outside the workforce, I have recently jumped back in to co-found KOYA Innovations and, more recently, become the GM of Essentially KIND. Feeling unequipped at moments, I find solace in this quote.
“Unless we build a sense of heroism and sacrifice into the very values, nature, love, and oxygen of our homes, we will not have heroes in the next generation…” — Sally Clarkson.
It’s been a joy to watch each of my daughters mature into kind, compassionate, and loving human beings. Beginning with serving the homeless in our city when they were young to traveling overseas as humanitarians, they’ve each exhibited what selfless love looks like. Guess you can say I’m a proud mama. Motherhood has been my greatest achievement thus far.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
As I briefly mentioned, I am one of the co-founders of KOYA Innovations. KOYA started in 2018 to make it easy for friends and family to stay meaningfully connected. Within our platform, you can treat your co-worker to a class at their favorite yoga studio in New York or surprise your partner with a personal message at the park where you first met. It’s the little things that make people smile. We hope that KOYA brings people closer together while initiating moments of joy.
When COVID-19 hit, our hearts were moved toward first responders and essential workers. After searching for different ways to express our appreciation, we decided to create one.
We created essentially KIND for just one reason: to make it easier than ever to say “thanks” to first responders and essential workers. We sincerely appreciate their service as do others all over the world, and we wanted them to know.
In about the same amount of time it takes to make a coffee, people around the world can safely express their gratitude to first responders and essential workers. All you have to do is visit essentiallyKIND.com and record a video. You can also upload an original piece of art, poem, or type a thank you note.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
Heroes are everyday people doing extraordinary things. They are often afraid and show up regardless. Heroes live with integrity and incredible tenacity. One of the many reasons I respect first responders and essential workers is that they put their lives on the line to care for and protect others, making them heroic to me.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
- Heroes risk their lives to save others. They are often first in line when disaster strikes, like 9/11, United Flight 93, hurricane Katrina, Columbine, and the current pandemic.
- Heroes are resilient. When I think of resilience, Oprah Winfrey comes to mind. She was born into poverty, experienced abuse, ran away from home at the tender age of 14 because she was pregnant, and lost her only child after giving birth. Oprah didn’t allow her tragic past to stop her from becoming the world-changer she is today.
- Heroes sacrifice their comfort for others. Mother Teresa certainly embodies this. She devoted her life to serving the poor of Calcutta, India, and stood her ground against naysayers.
- Heroes are empathetic and provide a voice for the voiceless. Princess Diana used her position of power and fame to give hope and comfort to the marginalized. Her humanitarian work left a long-lasting legacy of hope.
- A hero is kind. In 2000, I was inspired by the movie Pay It Forward, where 11-year-old Trevor McKinney decides to launch a goodwill campaign known as “pay it forward” for a class assignment. The premise was for Trevor to do acts of kindness for three different people, asking each of them to do the same for three other people, and so on. A single act of kindness can create a chain reaction of kindness.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
Honestly, I don’t believe anyone sets out to be a hero. Frequently, people are recognized as heroes when they step in to help others. A true hero isn’t concerned with fame or glory. It’s possible to be a hero through simple actions. For example, one act of kindness can mean the world to someone who is fighting a tough personal battle.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that a heroic action needed to be taken?
We don’t consider our actions heroic; instead, we created a platform to celebrate and thank the true heroes of this pandemic. Many were risking their lives and wellbeing for others, and we wanted to make sure that they felt seen and appreciated.
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
I have previously mentioned several of my heroes. Today I view my husband and daughters as my greatest heroes as I know their hearts’ and their desire to serve others well day after day.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
I often find myself frightened by the unknowns and misinformation surrounding the pandemic. It’s hard to know who or what information to trust.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
Gen-Z values social justice and has the tools to use their voice for good. I hope that they will harness their empathy for more significant change. If they continue to speak up when systems are broken, future generations will live in a better world.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
Almost daily, stories highlighting selflessness during the pandemic inspire me. For instance, a 100-year-old British army veteran, Tom Moore, raised over 40 million dollars for the UK’s National Health Services by walking over 100 laps in his gardens. He then recorded the song; You’ll Never Walk Alone, becoming the oldest person to reach number one. All proceeds went to the NHS. Cartier Carey was a young boy who started a lemonade stand to help single mothers during the pandemic. All of the money went toward buying diapers for families in need.
It’s frustrating to see people blatantly disregarding social-distancing guidelines.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society?
The quote by Dale Carnegie comes to mind. “Two men looked out from prison bars, and One saw the mud, the other saw stars.” Despite this challenging time, I have prioritized focusing on kindness, compassion, and good in society. It’s been incredible to see so many people care for one another during this time.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I would love for society to value and prioritize their relationships. While I am grateful for technology, it isn’t the same as being with loved ones face to face. I think we all can agree that we miss these interactions and crave being in close proximity with friends and family.
It would also be incredible to see people continue to take care of themselves and find balance in their lives. I think working from home has somehow brought wellbeing into the forefront, and I would love to see this emphasis remain part of the conversation.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I learn a lot from young people and am grateful for their perspective on life. The one thing I would tell them is to please look up from their phones. It’s impossible to make eye contact with our eyes glued to devices. It’s even harder to offer a kind word or smile if you don’t notice the people around you. One small act of kindness can change someone’s world, but it requires intentionality and awareness of others.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love for KOYA to spread like wildfire. The COVID pandemic, along with social distancing, has amplified our need for human connection. At KOYA, we believe that moments of meaningful connection can deepen relationships. We hope that as more people learn to connect authentically, the loneliness epidemic will see a drastic decline.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Brené Brown. Knowing that she is afraid and still shows up has been an endless encouragement for me, and I would like to chat with her over some cajun cuisine. It would be incredible to hear her thoughts about KOYA and learn how to improve the experience.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!