This profile was published as part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who give back in their communities.
Katie Yohe is the Founder and Artistic Director for A.B.L.E. – Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations. Read the full interview below to see what inspires her to give back.
Q1: How do you give back? (Please include the name(s) of any organizations you support.)
A.B.L.E. is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization offering performing arts opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Actors collaborate with a staff of professional teaching artists on a range of projects from original devised theatre shows, to Shakespeare, to film projects. Along the way, actors build confidence and strengthen lifelong skills including speech and communication, focus, creativity, and teamwork. By sharing our work with the public, we hope to challenge preconceptions and stereotypes about these often-misunderstood conditions.
In addition to this, my husband and I are also regular foster parents for Alive Rescue. We give care and love to dogs searching for their forever homes.
Q2: What inspired you to start giving?
First and foremost, it’s fun. When I was 10, my mom signed me up to participate in a show choir called Amerikids. We would sing a various senior care homes, hospitals and community centers. That was my first clue that I could do something I loved and was good at – performing – and make people feel good at the same time. I kept up this work through college with the All Star CAST program at Syracuse University, and then started volunteering with GiGi’s Playhouse of Chicago. The teen drama program we started there grew to become A.B.L.E. Insofar as there is a ton of work involved in building a nonprofit from the ground up, at it’s heart, we’re at A.B.L.E. to have fun. We start every session with a dance party.
Q3: What does giving mean to you? Why do you continue to give your time, talents, money, or more to your community?
For me, I think all of this work comes down to relationship building. The arts are an incredible platform to spark conversation and to bring people together. I think the key to accessibility is recognizing people as individuals with individual needs, interests, strengths, and challenges and A..B.L.E. hopefully is giving a platform for our actors to develop and share their individuality. We foster a community among our actors, their families, our volunteers, and the wider Chicago community as well.
Q4: What would you tell others (women and men) who are looking to start giving back? Share a piece of advice will help them get started.
You’ll be much more invested and likely stick with it much longer if you focus on something you actually enjoy. Also, remember that even a small contribution is better than nothing at all. For me personally, I want to know that what I’m doing has an impact and I think that sometimes people get discouraged if they don’t feel like they’re singlehandedly changing the whole world. Not everyone can afford a financial contribution, and that’s fine. You probably have a skill that seems mundane to you that makes you look like a superhero to someone else. For a small company like A.B.L.E. little things - bookkeeping, photography, tearing tickets, sewing costumes, folding programs, committing to helping in class each week – can make a huge difference. Even something simple like sharing a company’s Facebook posts can help build awareness about their cause and grow their audience.
Q5: Please share a favorite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.
Many of our ensemble at A.B.L.E. start with us when they’re 14 and stay with the program until they leave high school so I love watching them grow up and seeing how working in theatre and film can nurture their creativity and their confidence. One of my favorite stories is our actor Ben. When Ben started with our program, he was almost completely nonverbal. He participated in weekly rehearsals and enjoyed socializing with everyone, but seemed to mostly be dancing in his own world. At the end of every class, our ensemble does a call-and-response blessing called “I Take from the Heavens”. One actor leads and the rest of the ensemble call back with some corresponding movements. After about 6 weeks with us, we asked for volunteers to lead. Ben’s hand shot up for the first time all semester. I figured he would lead with the movements. I was floored when he spoke – clearly and loudly and led the whole group. It was an amazing reminder to never underestimate someone, and to always give them an opportunity. Right now, we’re in the process of editing a feature film – The Spy Who Knew Me. Ben plays a mineralogist working at The Field Museum and it is incredible to see how his language skills, articulation, and confidence has developed over the years.