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Kristen Powers on Making a Difference in Your Community

From being recognized by the White House to producing a documentary as a teenager, we can learn a lot from this young woman's fearlessness and drive

An idealist with big dreams at a young age, Kristen Powers has made it clear that just because you’re young and don’t have a car or job, that doesn’t mean you can’t change the world. Despite all of the difficulties life has thrown her way, that’s exactly what Kristen has done. She is determined to harness the fun essence of childhood as motivation to make a difference.

Kristen has always been an optimistic self-starter — even when faced with extreme adversity. When she was nine, her mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a debilitating and eventually fatal genetic brain disorder that leads to mental and physical deterioration. Kristen lost her mom to the disease in 2011 and learned she and her two brothers had a 50% chance of inheriting it. She underwent genetic testing to determine whether she had the mutated gene or not, creating a documentary in the process that highlights the social and emotional effects of genetic testing.

The documentary, “Twitch,” has been screened in 30 cities across six continents. In addition to producing “Twitch,” Kristen started the Green Tiger Club to make her high school more eco-friendly and constructed an organic garden in which produce was donated to gardeners and food kitchens and led the Huntington’s Outreach Project at Stanford University to increase public accessibility to information about HD in 47 different countries. In 2016, her father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and passed away. Following his passing, she ran for Alamance County Commissioner. Now, she organizes educational campaigns across areas including voting rights, criminal justice, environmental justice and youth justice for a local non-profit, the Southern Coalition of Social Justice.

After all the hardship she’s been through, Kristen continues to demonstrate her resilience and has already achieved more than most will in their entire lives. She’s a champion for those whose voices aren’t heard. Whether it’s by offering support to the HD community or advancing voter rights in her town, Kristen’s relentless spirit, fearlessness, and ambition aid her in bringing hope into the lives of everyone she encounters. At InHerSight, we believe inspirational women like Kristen deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

I had the pleasure of talking to Kristen about her accomplishments, inspiration and thoughts on how to be a leader in your community.

Cara:
Tell me a little about your childhood and when you developed your passion for helping others.

Kristen:
I had a tough childhood. My mum was really sick from a young age and it made for a lot of family drama and financial problems. My dad was my rock. He worked in animal welfare and had us volunteering from a young age, which eventually evolved into a passion for helping people impacted by environmental issues. My mum was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease when I was nine years old. At that point, my brother and I moved in with my dad who encouraged us to pursue our crazy ideas.

Cara:
How did you decide you wanted to produce a documentary following your genetic testing for Huntington’s Disease?

Kristen:
I knew I was at risk for Huntington’s disease at about age 14. For the four years between then and when I could test at age 18, I was adamant about testing right at 18, which is extremely rare in the Huntington’s disease community. I started doing research when I was 16 to better understand the process. However, all of the websites were so clinical and dry. I wanted to visualize and feel what I’d be going through and that’s how my idea for “Twitch” was born. Documentaries were an inspiring storytelling platform for me because you could both learn and be entertained at the same time. There was nothing like that for the HD community at the time.

Cara:
You were awarded the White House's Champion of Change recognition for your work through the Green Tiger Club. How did that feel?

Kristen:
The White House Champions of Change award was a huge deal. It brought so much more legitimacy to the work we were doing as a club. I was so thankful for that recognition and forever indebted to all the fellow students who made our work so great.

Cara:
You’ve influenced so many people and have achieved so much in your life already. What’s been your proudest accomplishment thus far?

Kristen:
Honestly, I think my proudest moment was two of my dad’s. I tricked my dad into helping me with my computer one day without telling him that I had left up the acceptance letter to Stanford on the screen. When he saw it, he danced and screamed so much. As a single dad for most of my life, all his sacrifice and hard work for me was tangibly paying off.

I graduated Stanford with two degrees in 2016. My dad had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few months before. Despite his illness, he was so excited about my graduation and traveled all the way to California for it, which was quite a feat for him at the time. For one of my ceremonies, the twelve graduates’ families or friends were allowed a few minutes for a speech about the students. My dad gave my speech. He was so excited and happy and it took everything not to cry because I knew we only had a few months left together.

My dad died over a year ago and I am so thankful we shared those moments.

Cara:
Your philosophy is that you can use the power of fun to save the world. How do you incorporate fun into your work on a daily basis at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice?

Kristen:
As the Advocacy Coordinator at SCSJ, I am responsible for organizing educational campaigns, policy initiatives, and assist with communications relating to the work of our voting rights team and our criminal justice team. The work I do is extremely emotionally taxing. It’s important to do things you enjoy while doing the hard work. I try to organize social outings with my coworkers and do things like printing pictures of cats all over a staff agenda or dressing up like a crazy cat lady on Halloween.

Cara:
What inspired you to run for Alamance County Commissioner?

Kristen:
After attending a few county commissioners meetings, I did not feel like my perspective or experience was reflected on the board. For example, they control the school budget but it’s been over 30 years since the youngest commissioner went to public school. I know what it’s like to be a student in the 21st century and I want to bring that perspective to the board. Plus, nobody else was signing up to do it so I stepped in!

Cara:
How do you feel you’ve made a difference in your community?

Kristen:
In terms of running for office or creating “Twitch,” I feel that I have definitely given people hope. The older generations are excited to see young people stepping up to the plate. That hope pushes me forward when the going gets tough.

Cara:
What advice do you have for others who aspire to make a difference in their community?

Kristen:
Involve the community you are helping. It may be easy to forge ahead with your own ideas, but we won’t be able to make any meaningful change if we don’t involve those directly impacted by the issue.

By Cara Hutto

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